Does anyone here remember when I used to fastidiously write about wine once a week?
I love wine. I love demystifying wine. And for a spell, I loved writing about wine. The double edged sword of writing a blog is that you get instant feedback from your readers. A notable absence of feedback sends a clear message as well. Especially if there is a consistent pattern over a period of time.
The message I was getting loud and clear was that precious few of you cared to read about wine. At the beginning I was writing all those posts for my friend Jess. And she left for the California coast, where she’s able to get cheap bottles of decent wine from Trader Joe’s and even Whole Foods.
For better or worse, Albany seems to be more of a beer town, and I’m coming to terms with that. Plus, I am not immune to my surroundings. Wine is less a part of my everyday enjoyment of food and life. These days, more often than not it will be a bottle of beer that I open with dinner instead of a bottle of wine. So be it.
But last weekend I was really excited to participate in two structured wine seminars at the Saratoga Wine & Food and Fall Ferrari Festival. And dammit, today I’m going to tell you about them. If enough of you click through, I may even feel compelled to write another wine post or two before the year comes to an end.
Last year I spent the entire time at the festival wandering the tents at the grand tasting. And that was a lot of fun, but it was also exhausting. Plus I missed out on a Master Italian Wine Seminar with Kevin Zraly. The things people have to say about him are amazing.
This year I was going to change all that. But perhaps I erred too far in the other direction, choosing to spend the majority of the event in a chair, as I also attended the Cast Iron Chef Challenge and the Italian wine and cheese pairing seminar.
At least the wine and cheese seminar came with food and drink.
I’m really enjoying my emerging friendship with The Cheese Traveler. The good thing about someone like Eric is that he keeps you on your toes. Every time I eat a cheese, I am keenly aware that he probably knows of a better version of it, and that he’ll be able to rattle off a story about its production from the top of his head. It keeps me from slacking off and accepting good cheeses as great ones.
The cheese served was good, but it wasn’t anything awe inspiring. The best pairing was the first one, which put Grana Padano Sravecchio Oro del Tempo PDO with an Italian sparkling wine made in the style of Champagne, Ferrari Bruit, Trento DOC, NV. What made this pairing great is that both the wine and the cheese improved when consumed together. Although in a tasting setting, with tasting sized pours, it was difficult to really get enough wine on the palate to really explore and enjoy the pairing fully.
What is always fun about wine festivals is the opportunity to try new things. For example in this seminar was a wine from the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia that was made from a varietal called Ribolla Gialla. Now this isn’t one of the world’s great grapes, but it did have an amazingly intense nose. I called the aroma passionfruit. The wine experts say, “Lemons and citrus fruits complement undertones of candied orange and lychee fruit.” But we fundamentally agree that it’s redolent of something both tart and sweet.
There was also a Nebbiolo that is apparently grown on hillsides so steep that they require a helicopter to help pick the grapes come harvest.
I didn’t find that this seminar helped to demystify Italian wines or provide some magic formula of how to pair wines and cheeses at home. Most of the pairings were fine, but only the first one seemed to really connect. Which just goes to show exactly how hard it is even for experts to create stunning combinations of wine and food.
But demystifying Italian wine might be more up the alley of Mr. Zraly.
Unfortunately, as we were sitting down to start the tasting, a nasty storm was headed straight toward Saratoga Springs. However, we had a tent, and that tent was full of wine. So while some people were checking their smartphones looking for news of tornado sightings, I figured that we would be fine.
Still, the pace of the presentation got faster and faster as the sky grew darker and darker. I have to say it got pretty dark. To his credit, Mr. Zraly was able to make it through all six wines on his list. They all came from the Piedmont region, and all from around the town of Asti. This included two Barbera d’Asti bottles, and it was interesting to see the difference in style.
I did walk away with a neat trick from the class though. It was covering the mouth of the glass with one hand while swirling the stem with the other. This prevents the agitated aromas from escaping the glass, and provides a more concentrated blast of aromatics to evaluate the wine.
Hopefully I’ll get to come back to the festival next year and really get the full Kevin Zraly experience. Apparently he tastes different wines every year. Perhaps if I keep on showing up, and if he indeed covers a different region each time, maybe in a decade or so I’ll come to realize that I finally understand Italian wine.