Wine’s role in society has long been appreciated as an important part of civilization dating thousands of years and mirroring personal experiences in our own lives. Since wine is about the moment, it often becomes the memory of a great adventure.
The adventure may express itself in the simple discovery of a new wine in an unexpected locale. Or it may be that beautiful glass of Champagne enjoyed in celebration of a special occasion or a great Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon highlighting a splendid meal to mark the closing of an important business deal.
Can we say the same about a martini, margarita or glass of cola? I doubt it.
During the holidays, I was enjoying an evening with wine friends, and it didn’t take long before we began reminiscing about our varied experiences. Whether a part of travel to distant places, trade tastings, celebrations or just experimenting with different wines, it quickly became clear that the love of wine can be an adventure unlike any other beverage or culinary delight.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to experience many rewarding adventures with wine — some expected and others coming as a complete surprise.
On the recent wine tasting cruise in the Mediterranean, our group of enthusiasts sampled many superb wines during our tasting events and wine pairing meals. But my true adventure was discovering new wines while sampling the local wines onshore. I recall the complete delight I experienced in Kotar, Montenegro at lunch at a hill-top restaurant on the river. I had no idea what to expect from the local varietals. The setting and meal were spectacular, but it was the wine that became the memory.
The same was true in Dubrovnik, Croatia, where over lunch in the busy marketplace. I had previously enjoyed Croatian wines (produced by Napa’s own Mike Grgich in his Croatian Grgic Vina Winery) at home, but the experience in Dubrovnik completed the adventure.
On the other side of the rewarding versus disappointing equation, I vividly recall several years ago tasting through all of the heralded 2000 First Growths of Bordeaux along with their comparable counterparts of the Right Bank. While the wines overall were all right, they did not live up to my expectations nor those of most of the others attending the tasting. It was a great “once-in-a-lifetime” tasting adventure but also disappointing since the wines did not deliver their touted potential and critical acclaim.
An adventure is an “exciting or remarkable experience where the outcome may be uncertain,” only adding to the exhilaration of discovery. Since wine is all about the moment, it often provides the perfect expression of the adventure.
My Jan. 25 column – “Is blend a dirty word?” – attracted several comments expressing a range of thoughts.
Jon — I can fully understand the usual blending grapes that add to or moderate the character of the predominant grape. But what can you say about blending white wine into some Italian reds?
In 1872, Barone Benito Ricasoli of Castello di Brolio in Tuscany published a paper outlining what he referred to as the “formula of Chianti,” which was a blend of many varietals both red and white. The formula called for 20 percent white varietals. This remained until the 1970s and 1980s when it was reduced. In 1995, it became legal to use 100 percent sangiovese but many still blend other (primarily red) varietals for stylistic reasons. White grapes are also blended into red wines of the northern Rhone (viognier and syrah) and southern Rhone (grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne, picpul, etc. with grenache, syrah and other reds) for aesthetic and traditional rationale.
Frank — Blending is such an interesting subject as it takes into consideration so many factors in addition to making an interesting finished wine. How a wine is listed on restaurant wine lists is one. Listing as a “varietal” as opposed to ”proprietary blend” has proven to be a cleaner direction for many diners. As with other business decisions, marketing and economics play an important role in product development.
There’s no question that the categories listed on restaurant wine lists plays heavily into the vintner’s decision as to pursuing the varietal rather than proprietary route. However, both coexist in the market and one should not necessarily be considered as inferior to the other. We are in an evolving market, and that makes it all the more interesting.
Allen Balik, a Napa resident, has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 30 years.