Just like the previous three nights, tonight has been spent on the floor with my Sommelier books and an array of bright highlighters sprawled out before me. Our final exam, which consists of multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and blind taste testing, is this Saturday. Throughout the past six weeks, I have absorbed an immense amount of information and a lot of wine. Trust me, by the end of an eight-hour class, all twelve of us are perfectly fluent in French and easily picking up on the hint of black African violet that our instructor has identified as he sips and swirls. 😉 Sitting alone staring at a book as the text seems to slowly morph into an indecipherable, despondent mash of French laws, Italian regions and German labels presents a side to obtaining the Sommelier Certification that is completely different from the lively classroom sessions. I know it’s necessary, and the information truly is fascinating…but I also have to admit that each time I turn the page and see yet another grape varietal from yet another region which is restricted by yet another law, an inaudible groan escapes my lips. There’s a lot to learn, but that feeling of interminable opportunity for knowledge and progress is a primary reason why I have grown to love wine.
I believe that in order to appreciate something, you must first understand it. For this Wino Wednesday, I want to share with you some wine facts that, as they did for me, will hopefully help you to better understand and enjoy the wine that you have in your glass tonight.
The very first thing that we learned (and actually spent a whole day discussing and tasting) was the difference between New World and Old World wines. I realize this may be common knowledge to some, but before the Sommelier class I had no clue that those terms even existed, let alone what they meant. Old World wines consist entirely of European countries. For example, the wines that France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal produce would be considered OW wines. New World wines basically encompass the remaining wine-producing regions: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, and the U.S. So what’s the difference? When evaluating wines, there are three pertinent categories of scents: Fruit, Oak and Other Complexities, and Earth. OW wines, as a whole, are generally more Earth driven, with Fruit being the lesser of the three that can be detected. NW wines, on the other hand, are the opposite; you will typically get much stronger Fruit with these wines, with only a small amount of Earth coming through in the background…although in my opinion it is sometimes difficult to tell that some of the higher quality California reds are NW and not OW. To try this out, pick up a bottle of French Bordeaux or Burgundy (which are the most obvious OW “earthy” styles for me) and a bottle of Shiraz (which is the same thing as Syrah) from Australia. Pour side by side glasses and do your own mini tasting; the difference will definitely be noticeable.
Another way to distinguish between OW and NW wines is that NW will typically have a higher attack. Attack is the intensity of scents that hit you as you swirl and smell a wine. An OW wine has a weaker attack due to the fact that the grapes are picked less ripe than those of the NW. The fact that wine growers in the New World will normally wait to pick their grapes until they are extremely ripe means that most of their wines will have a higher viscosity and be more full-bodied (which means more alcohol). This also means that, although there are certainly exceptions, most are not meant to age in the bottle but should instead be enjoyed relatively soon after purchase.
What I’m drinking:
To go with tonight’s Tom Yum Goong Soup from Thai on the Beach (easily one of the best Thai places in Ft Lauderdale), I chilled a bottle of 2010 Rosé d’ Anjou from the Loire Valley in France. During the food and wine pairing section of our class, we were told that Rosé goes well with spicy food and since I’m a huge fan of Thai, I’ve been looking forward to giving it a try for weeks. The ripe strawberry and slight cream that shine through instantly calm my on-fire mouth…Prost to a perfect accompaniment!
What’s in your glass tonight?