In my quest to better serve D Magazine and People Newspapers readers in making deliciousÂ wine choices, I am spending seven hoursÂ every SundayÂ for the next 12 weeks in a classroom studying aboutÂ wine. And tasting wine. It’s a completely altruistic endeavor. You know. For the readers. Local wine guy Darryl Beeson is teaching the International Sommelier Guild‘s Wine Fundamnetals Levels I and II classÂ downtown at El Centro College.Â IfÂ I can manage toÂ complete the 84 hours,Â pass theÂ final, and the blind tasting, I will be a certified sommelier.Â Students are anÂ interesting mix of people from telecom and software execs looking to make a career change to restaurant servers and wine stewards to housewives with a passion for wine. One guy drove all the way from Tyler. What could you possibly have to learn about wine that would take 84 hours? Continue reading after the jump for highlights from my first class.
I won’t bore everyone with scientific details and historical facts–most of the time. I do want to note that the first grape cultivation and wine production are said to have started somewhere between 4000 and 6000 B.C. around the Caspian Sea and in Mesopotamia, which is present-day Iran. Most people assume the earliest developments were in Egypt.
We tasted six wines in between lectures and lunch. First up were two Sauvignon Blancs–a California and a New Zealand. The 2006 Raymond from California was much lighter in color and complexity than the 2006 Brancott from New Zealand. The Brancott is crisp and fresh with bright notes of grapefruit and fresh herb. You can pair it with seafood, salads, veggies, and spicy foods.
One of the definingÂ aromas of a good sauvignon blanc is the scent of cat pee. Don’t worry, you won’t taste it, but the winesÂ are easy to pick out in a lineup because of that distinction. Also of note: Sauvignon Blanc is the variety grown in the Loire Valley at Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume.Â It is also used to makeÂ White Bordeaux, which is oaked and often blended with Semillon. Oaked Sauvignon Blanc is also knownÂ as Fume Blanc thanks to Robert Mondavi who made up the name.
The trend to ageÂ ChardonnayÂ in stainless steel tanks rather than oak barrels is gaining momentum. Big, buttery, woody Chardonnays defined California white wine for the past 20 years. They are still popular, but consumers are looking for something new. We tasted a 2004 Falcor from Sonoma Valley and a 2005 Four Vines Naked Chardonnay. Just by looking at the color it is apparent which wine was aged in wood. The color is a little darker and has a slight golden hue. However, once you stick your nose into the glass for a whiff, there is no mistaking it. The Falcor smells like dessert–a butter-drenched, toasted coconut muffin. It is complex, but not balanced. The flavors mimic the aromas and just overpower the fruit. It’s much harder to identify an unoaked Chardonnay in a blind tasting. Look for apple in the nose and tropical fruit flavors. Chardonnay will also be more structured than some other whites with similar flavor profiles. For those of you in love with White Burgundy (Chablis, Montrachet, and Pouilly-Fusse), you’re drinking Chardonnay.
We also tasted aÂ Domaine de la Quilla Muscadet, Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais, and an Echelon Viognier.