This year, let’s set an intention to expand our Wine IQ. Here are seven DIY experiments that you can produce, at home, with a friend or small group.
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1 Take a Sauvignon Blanc flight: Sauvignon Blanc is a (Karine Lauverjat Sancerre), California (Rabble Sauvignon Blanc) and New Zealand (Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc), you experience something new, while sticking with something familiar.
2 Try an unoaked and oaked wine together: The effect of oak is noticed most with Chardonnay. If you are in one camp over the other, open your mind to well-made expressions of each, such as the Domaine Brocard Chablis Sainte Claire and the Raeburn Russian River Valley Chardonnay.
3 A Pinot Noir flight: Pinot Noir is susceptible to mutations and is arguably more sensitive to its growing environment than any other grape variety — and we love that! Burgundy (Domaine Jessiaume Bourgogne Rouge) gives you structure and spice, California’s Sonoma Coast (Decoy Blue Label Pinot Noir) offers silky, luxurious textures and Oregon (Cooper Mountain Vineyards Willamette Valley 2017) gives you the best of both worlds with bright, ripe berry fruit, a hint of earthiness, and a touch of baking spice.
4 A flight of all ages: Regions of the world all specify different aging requirements for a style and labeling term on a wine (such as “Reserva”). An easy way to do this is with Spain’s most famous wine region, Rioja. If you stick with one producer for this flight, you really notice the effect of both barrel and bottle aging on the wines. The CVNE Rioja Crianza (2 years total aging, 1+ year in wood), Reserva (3 years total aging, 1+ years in wood, 6+ months in bottle), and Gran Reserva (5 years total aging, 2+ years in wood, 2+ years in bottle) is an excellent “vertical tasting” for learning and enjoyment.
5 Taste the many faces of Sangiovese: Sangiovese is the great grape of Tuscany. With its hallmark sour cherry flavor, fresh herb aroma, and leathery texture with bottle age, it’s easy to see why the American palate has been won over by Sangiovese. Seek a high quality producer such as La Torre for a Rosso di Montalcino (young vines, aged 18 months in cask) and a Brunello di Montalcino (older vines from prime hillsides, aged 42 months in cask).
6 Get to know Nebbiolo: What Pinot Noir is to Burgundy, Nebbiolo is to the Piedmont region of Italy. Nebbiolo’s high levels of structure and fruit concentration lead to some legendary, cellar-worthy wines. The grape is finicky about where it is grown, making it a sort of enological soulmate to Pinot Noir, so most plantings take place in this northwestern corner of Italy. A softer expression can be found in wines labeled “Langhe Nebbiolo” for a great introduction to the grape (such as DeForville Langhe Nebbiolo), while a deep dive into the terroir and subsequent power of the wines can be found in Barolo (Giacomo Grimaldi) and its neighbor Barbaresco (Fontanabianca)
7 Trust The Process, Veneto Style: The Veneto is known for producing oceans of Pinot Grigio and Prosecco, but don’t forget about the amazing wines of Valpolicella. The Corvina grape is a staple, blended with other local varieties to create wines ranging from light and fruity to dense and rich. Taste a Valpolicella (Brigaldara), Ripasso della Valpolicella (Santi Solane Ripasso della Valpolicella) and an Amarone della Valpolicella (Tommasi). Amarone involves drying grapes on straw mats to concentrate sugars and slowly ferments to create incredibly complex, intense wines. “Ripasso” wines take the leftover Amarone pomace and re-ferments with a regular Valpolicella. When you taste this flight, you will notice an increase in flavor, aroma, structure and texture.
These are just a few of the many DIY wine experiments that have made a huge impact on my Wine IQ. Go ahead and pick one — and don’t forget to share your experience with me at Michael@passionvines.com.