LUSH Reads: Making Sense of Wine

February 26, 2009 at 8:58 pm (Uncategorized, What we are eating, What we are thinking, What we're drinking) (, , , , , , , , )

This past Monday, we had our first ever session of LUSH Reads!, our new book club. Thank you everyone who attended!

Matt Kramer's 'Making Sense of Wine'

Matt Kramer's 'Making Sense of Wine'

The book that we chose was Making Sense of Wine by Matt Kramer, a free-lance wine writer and regular contributor to Wine Spectator magazine. This book, in my opinion, provides a good philosophical and practical introduction to wine, splitting itself into two sections: “Thinking About Wine” and “Drinking Wine” (both things we love to do here at LUSH).

We started out the book club with a blind tasting of three different Pinot Noirs: The 2007 Sineann PN from Willamette Valley, the 2006 Don Cano PN from Argentina, and the 2001 Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet from Burgundy. This was meant to open up conversation about a few of the theories in the book that Kramer puts forth. Namely:

  • How can we compare wine? Can we compare wine based on varietal, region, price point, or vintage?
  • How do wines age? And how do you know when to drink a bottle of wine? Is aging a matter of preference or is there a “peak” when a bottle is at its best?
  • Does the “low-cut dress syndrome” hold true? (Kramer believes that “low-cut dress” wines — the bigger, fruitier, bolder wines — always do better in blind tastings, even among very talented tasters).

The tasting proved to be very successful (although hard to gauge!), and provided us with good fodder for discussion.Vintage seemed particularly hard to estimate, as the 2001 Chassagne-Montrachet still had such bright, lively fruit. The wine with the most fruit on it (although balanced and delicious!), was probably the Sineann. I expected this to be the favorite (and would prove Kramer’s “low-cut dress” theory true), but the Burgundy was actually the darling of the group. Was this because it is a little bit more expensive wine? Or were our tasters too aware of the “low-cut dress syndrome” to fall prey to it?

The next little experiment we did was tasting an inexpensive mass produced Chardonnay from Napa against a tiny production, artisanal (yet still inexpensive!) Chardonnay from France. We wanted to test Kramer’s idea that, because of modern technology, even mass-made big box wines are still palatable, just not that interesting. Rachel grabbed the cheapest bottle she could find at Binny’s: Sutter Home Chardonnay.

The last time I had Sutter Home was probably in college, and needless to say, my palate (and tolerance for poorly made wine) has changed quite a bit since then. I approached with extreme trepidation. The nose: not too bad. A little bit on the sweet, vanilla side, but fairly aromatic and easy. The palate: started out alright, a little bit on the sweet side, but totally palatable. But as I held it in my mouth, it became cloying and slightly rubbery. Yuck. I could not swallow. Other people in the group did not have such a strong reaction, and most people agreed that it “could be worse” and it “was not offensive.” Hmmmm. I was offended.

Our Laurent Miquel Chardonnay (with a little bit of Viognier) from the Languedoc, was absolutely delicious. Good acidity, nice mid-palate richness from the Viognier. Fresh, fun, and interesting. And for $10, just a few more than Sutter Home…

The last theory of Kramer’s that we wanted to explore was that “food is the meaning of wine.” On this point, I agree immensely. All too often, we taste wine isolated from food, which affects what we think of it. Admittedly, it compromises a taster to have food with wine, but it is important to take into account how a wine will amplify food, and be amplified by it. In the last section of the book, Kramer lays out a lot of pairings he likes, and we wanted to try them: smoked salmon with sweet wine, Muenster with Alsacien Gewurztraminer, white wines (over red) with cheese, pate with an acidic red (he recommends Barbera, we had Pinot), bittersweet dark chocolate with Pinot Noir…it was hard work. But we did it. And the lesson I took away is: food and wine are good together. You don’t need to know much else. Lots of different wines go with lots of different food. Find what you like. Eat food and drink wine in tandem as often as possible.

And the lesson I took away from the book as a whole: Don’t be too fussy. This whole wine thing should be fun.

We’ll see you at the next LUSH Reads!



1 Comment

  1. Chicago Pinot said,

    This was such a fun event! Looking forward to the next episode!

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