Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fear—Or Why I Say, “Bring on the White Zin!

What are the three words that make wine enthusiasts all over the world shudder? 

“White Zinfandel, please.” 

The response to this is only rivaled by the similar phrase, “What is your sweetest wine?” 

Let’s admit it, we have all been there and judged that.  But should we?
Before you tar and feather me…with wine, of course…hear me out.

I have often said that wine drinkers are made not born.  And when it comes to wine, the biggest obstacle to making more wine drinkers is fear.
People fear looking stupid, and wine is an incredibly intimidating subject.  With labels in French, Italian, or Spanish, it is hard to know how to even pronounce some wines on a list.  Then when the expert swirls the glass around, inhales deeply, and names off numerous fruits (and sometimes vegetables, minerals, or animals), most have no clue what all this means, let alone how it is done.  It is daunting.  Really daunting.

In order to make a wine drinker, drinkers have to first find a drink they like.  Honestly, few people are going to begin with a dry, tannic wine.  Most need a “gateway wine” to get their feet in the wine door.  In my very scientific poll of wine drinkers (aka my Facebook friends and followers), many started with “wines” like Boone’s Farm, Annie Green Springs, or Wild Vines (gasp!).  Mogen David, Blue Nun, white zinfandel, moscato, moscato d’ Asti, and fruit-based wines were the most common training bras for the big bosom of the wine world.  Many that started with these wines—like me—now drink dry, tannic, serious wines.  But to get over the trepidation of the unknown world of wine, concessions must be made. 
Wines like white zin, moscato, and Blue Nun should be considered training wheels for wine, the practice sips preparing future wine connoisseurs for other wines.  These wines play an important part in the development of taste and knowledge.  (They also play important roles in the bottom lines of some liquor stores; the sales from these styles often allow for the ordering and sale of other, more expensive wines.) 

Our job is not to belittle others for their choices and attempt to make ourselves feel more prestigious based on the wines we know and drink.  Our job as wine lovers, educators, and sommeliers is to move drinkers to other wines they may like, and then keep exposing them to different wines, expanding palates one person at a time. 
So pour the Beringer White Zin, pour the Barefoot Moscato, pour the Ruinite Lambrusco!  The only word that should make the wine industry shudder is the word “No” when answering the question, “Would you like a glass of wine tonight?”

Wines to move beginning wine drinkers away from the “gateway wines”:
Moscato d’ Asti—a gateway wine itself, but it is less sweet than many other moscatos, and at least consumers see the DOC/G label on the Italian bottle.  Asti Spumantes can also fit in this category.

Riesling…any riesling—German, Oregon, Washington, New York.  My favorite producers of semi-sweet rieslings at great prices are Chateau St. Michelle, Starling Castle, and Polka Dot. 

Gewurztraminer…any gew├╝rztraminer—similar to rieslings in body and style, this aromatic wine is a palate pleaser.  Though harder to find than a riesling, many more producers all over the globe are producing this varietal.

German wines…anything German—look for the words spatlese and auslese on the labels; these terms designate sweeter wines of higher quality.

Italian pinot grigio—generally more supple than New World pinot grigios, these are often slightly softer and fruitier than bitterly acidic.

Prosecco—some bubblies like Champagne and Cava may still be too dry and acidic for a beginning palate, but Prosecco is an Italian sparkling that is creamier and less tart than many others.  A great starter sparkling!


Thursday, April 3, 2014

As Luck Would Have It--Dr. Konstantin Frank

Luck often has nothing to do with planning a successful vacation.  Often times, family trips take months to prepare and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears… maybe even some screaming.  Such was true for the excursion my family and I made to Upstate New York and the Finger Lakes wine region. 

The trip had been planned for over six months.  All family members’ schedules’ had to be synchronized.  Plane tickets were purchased.  A Canadian outing was added to the two-week vacation.  Lodging via a home exchange was carefully orchestrated with another family.  Hours of online searches and reservations were made.  Must-see destinations were researched. Anticipation was building.
Then two weeks before the trip, my dad died, unexpectedly and suddenly, in his sleep.

An entirely different kind of planning began in my family.  Extended family and friends were notified.  Arrangements were made for memorial services. Final resting place decisions were discussed.  His mother—my grandma—had just fallen very ill and was in the hospital in a coma-like state.  My siblings and I were already alternating trips to the out-of-town hospital to make sure someone was with her every day, and then we had to plan her son’s funeral.  And she wasn’t even awake or aware enough to be told what had happened to her only boy.
The details were all dealt with in their own ways in their own time.  Our grief was dealt with the same way.

The days passed and it came time to make another decision:  did we continue with our intended vacation or not?  Because we were doing a home exchange and another family was already planning on coming to stay in our home, the choice was fairly straight forward.  My family packed bags, finalized any post-funeral decisions, and said goodbye to my grandma, praying she would improve and this farewell to her would not be final. 
I cried when I left my grandma at the hospital to catch our flight.

I cried every single day of our twelve day trip.
I changed our flight to come home early when I learned a close friend’s father was facing the same fate as my own dad.

This story is not to make you believe I disliked the Finger Lakes region.  Quite the opposite:  I loved it there!  The many wineries I visited impressed me.  I immersed myself in and drank nothing but local wines.  Shipping home eighteen bottles and joining a wine club ensured that I had Finger Lakes wine to enjoy for the next twelve months.  As I opened and sipped each bottle after returning home, I savored the wine, remembering the roller coaster of that trip.  I had created an emotional connection to the area. When I finished my final bottle of New York wine about six months ago, I thought it would be my last for a very long time.
Finger Lakes wines that made their way to Wyoming with me.

Imagine my delight, then, when I happened to wander into an isolated, small-town Wyoming liquor store and looked at the shelf to see a bottle of 2012 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling, not only a Finger Lakes wine, but one of my favorite wineries from our trip, the exact wine club I joined for a year.  It was my lucky day!  I bought two bottles—one to open that night and another one to savor later.
Though the price was only thirteen dollars (retail in Torrington, Wyoming), no dollar amount could be placed on the emotional connection I again felt to the wine region.  As I poured, swirled, and sniffed, the aromas wafted to my nose:  wet rock, green apple, and light floral.  I closed my eyes and smelled again the bittersweet days of that trip. 
2012 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling, my lucky find.
As I sipped, the good acid, green apple, and soft floral tastes covered my palate.  The view of the vineyards and stunning Keuka Lake from Dr. Frank’s front windows came to my mind.  The lush green forests surrounding the water and the fresh air enveloped me once again.  I thought back to all I learned about wine on that trip and the knowledge of how important Konstantin was to the American wine industry:  grafting vinifera vines to North American root stock and proving that traditional varietals could be grown in the U.S. 
At Dr. Konstantin Frank's winery, an important part of American wine history.

Beautiful Keuka Lake from Dr. Konstantin Frank.

Finger Lakes beauty.

More of Keuka Lake's beauty.
The long finish made me ponder that life is like that wonderful glass of Dr. Frank Riesling.  Though the harsh pain from difficult times in our lives is as intense as the first sip of that dry Riesling, over time the hurt softens, but it still lingers, just like the finish of this wine.
Yes, I was so lucky to experience a wonderful trip to an important—though lesser known—American wine region. I was lucky to again find the wine that took me back to that vacation and reminded me how affected I was by the experience.  I was lucky to consume a glass of wine that evoked such an emotional response.  Events can be planned and fine tuned and retuned and planned again; however, lucky for us, luck will always have a place in the circumstances of our lives.