Testing Your Glasses

Of course, you can always taste wine at home.  We do so every day, with our dinner.  But that’s not the same thing as a wine tasting.  A true wine tasting requires more than glasses and bottles.  It requires attention to the aromas and tastes that emanate from your glass, to the way the glass affects your senses, to the color and viscosity of the liquid and, most of all, to the pleasure one wine gives as differentiated from another.

So since you won’t be in a winery’s tasting room in the immediate future, here’s an idea for having a wine tasting experience in the comfort of your own home.  It will work at any time, and we have tried it out in the past.  It’s particularly fun in these difficult days.

Photo courtesy of Wine Cooler Direct.

  • Choose your glasses. If you’re like us, you probably have a lot of wine glasses.  Some are for everyday use, others for special occasions.  Maybe you have some for reds, others for whites and still others for Champagne.  And perhaps there a few of those little tasting glasses that you might use for dessert wines. For this experience, choose several of them.
  • Choose a wine you know you enjoy. This is no fun with plonk.  (Oh, that’s right, you don’t have any plonk in your cellar.)  No matter how fancy the glass, lousy wine is never going to taste good.  Now pour some of the chosen wine into each glass.
  • Experience the wines in each glass. This is the real effort you need to make.  Don’t just sniff and sip.  Think about what you’re doing and how the same wine differs from glass to glass.  Smell the wine in each glass before tasting any.  Really breathe them in.  Notice any differences?  Try to put those into words.  Now do the same after tasting each one.  Discuss with your significant other.  We have been surprised how much aroma we get from a tasting glass. This is because of the shape of the glass, which wraps around your nose while smelling the wine.
  • Decide which glass you prefer and use that glass for the rest of the bottle. You might be surprised and you might not agree.  That’s okay.  The whole reason for wine tasting is to suss out what you like and don’t like (or at least like less).  And it’s just fine if the two of you like different glasses.
  • You’ll get the maximum advantage of such a test if you can articulate why you prefer one glass over another. “It tastes better” doesn’t say much.  “I get an immediate impact right at the front of my tongue with this glass and the taste seems to linger longer.”  Now that’s saying something, and since everybody’s mouths and tastes are different, it’s not unusual to get different opinions.

Reidel is surely the world’s largest manufacturer of quality stemware (and some wares without stems).  We’re not sure how many different types of glasses they make.  We looked at their catalog and stopped counting when we realized that they make hundreds of different kinds.  No one, maybe not even the Reidel family, uses hundreds of glasses but if you do have several in your cabinet, it’s a lot of fun to test them with the same wine, one next to the others.


The Perfect Winery

With wineries shuttered in California and much of Europe, it seems somehow wrong to review a particular wine tasting establishment this month.   (Was it only a month ago that we were happily writing about Far Niente?)  So we have taken a backward glance at all the wineries we have visited over a lifetime of this wonderful diversion of wine tasting and suggest our idea of the perfect winery visit.  If there is a winery in heaven, this is it.

The perfect winery would definitely be situated in the midst of a verdant vineyard.  You’d enter the property up a long driveway, with vines on either side.  And of course, we’d be there in early September, so the vines would be heavy with grapes.  A good example can be found at Trefethen, in Napa Valley’s Oak Knoll AVA.

Photo courtesy of Château Pichon Baron.

The building itself would be real, not a castle built to impress winery visitors.  Chateau Montelena in Calistoga is probably the most beautiful we have visited.  It was a rich man’s mansion in the 19th century and has been used for winemaking since the 1970’s.  Of course, it might actually be a castle, or rather a château.  There are many such to be found in Europe, especially in France of course.  It’s tough to choose just one, but we are especially taken by Château Pichon Baron in Bordeaux.

In addition to the beauty of the building, the perfect winery would have an artistic or cultural attraction at a level consistent with the quality of the wines.  A tour at Mouton Rothschild includes a visit to their museum of wine art, but we cannot think of a winery-cum-museum that can top Hess Collection in Napa.  The display of modern art, mostly abstract, would be right at home at any art institute in the world.

Photo courtesy of the Hess Collection.

The tasting room would not be a bar.  It would look like and feel like a plush but refined salon with beautiful furnishings.  You’d be welcome and made comfortable, with a server who has a great deal of knowledge not only about their offerings but about wine in general, a real sommelier or educator.  There are many tasting rooms like this that we’ve been lucky enough to see in our travels, but Jordan in Alexander Valley sticks in our mind as our favorite.

And then there would be the wines – what wines!  In the whites, there would be Dry Creek’s Sauvignon Blanc and Etude’s Heirloom Chardonnay.  Beringer Private Reserve would be the Cabernet Sauvignon they’d serve, and the Bordeaux blend would be (naturally) a Bordeaux from Château Margaux.  There would be some Boisrenard de Beaurenard for Rhone-style red wine.  Sangiovese fans would be treated to a well-aged Biondi-Santi Brunello and those with tastes for Spanish wine could enjoy a Vega Sicilia.  Oh, yes, there would be Château Yquem for dessert.

Photo courtesy of Château Yquem.

Hey, you can’t blame us for dreaming, especially in times like these.



A Fantastic Place to Visit

Each month Power Tasting features a Place to Visit.  It’s in Wine Country somewhere, but is not necessarily wine-related.  We’ve taken you to small villages, medieval cities, a trade show and great wine bars.  This month, we’d like to suggest that everyone take a very close look at a very special place: your own immediate neighborhood.

We live in Manhattan’s West Village sector.  When it’s not raining, we take brief walks and we get to see our neighborhood in a very different way.  The streets are almost deserted, both of cars and pedestrians.  There are more people in the park than we’d like, so we avoid it most of the time.  Some people are wearing masks; most aren’t.

But it’s still New York and it’s still spring.  We don’t know a lot about flowering trees but we think Google is telling us that the white ones are calley pear trees and the pink ones are well, pretty pink trees.

We’re walking along streets we don’t usually take.  Even though West Street is on one side of our apartment building, we don’t usually walk there because there’s really no place to go.  Normally, the traffic on this major artery alongside the river is quite heavy, so a walk amidst the fumes isn’t very inviting.  But with the traffic almost all gone, it’s more pleasant, even though there’s still nothing very interesting along it.  But with our horizons shrinking in, we have found a little spot where the city has planted a mini-garden and a park bench, sadly often occupied by a homeless fellow.  There are a few restaurants we have pledged to try when the city re-opens.  And we’re seeing the back end of the Whitney Museum, a view we don’t usually get.

When we have gotten into Hudson River Park on a bright sunny day, we see New York in suspended animation.  There’s the biergarten that will hopefully return with warmer weather.  An interesting statue of the New York symbol, the Big Apple.  The river itself, with fewer boats than usual.  Two long piers, one that reaches well into the Hudson and provides stunning views of the city.  Remember, all these sights are not more than ten minutes from our door, on foot.

We live along the Hudson River

New York is all about BIG.  But these days, we’re seeing New York in miniature.  We take the time to notice the 19th century row houses, the cobblestone streets, the tall, new glass-and-steel apartments and the chipping paint on some of the older ones.  We know those things were there before but now we’re seeing them as the only parts of outdoors that are readily available to us.  Quite frankly, we look forward to the time when we will walk by these things without taking special notice.  When we’ll smile at passers-by, not walk into the street to avoid breathing the same air as they do.  When we can board a plane and go wine tasting.

It will be better someday.  But our neighborhood will always be a place to visit.  And then, when you do, you’ll be able to stop in a trattoria for a glass of wine.

Staying Home

Like everyone else, we’re staying home. Yes, we go out for walks around the neighborhood and in the park across the street.  But there are still too many people about and not enough of them are wearing masks.  So mostly we’re indoors.  Here are some wine-related activities we’re engaging in (different than usual in some respects) that you might be doing as well.  And please send your ideas for other blues-chasers to lgsjr@powertasting.com or leave a comment here.

  • Zoom happy hours Since we can’t get together with friends, we do it virtually. We held a Passover-commencing event, with red wine in hand.  A few days later, it was an Easter family gathering (in French) with a Champagne toast.   We all wondered why we didn’t do that more often.  We’re setting up two-on-two happy hours now with friends far and wide.  Yes, we know all about the potential security problems with Zoom, but we haven’t experienced them.  If Beijing wants to listen in to our friendly conversations, we can live with that.
  • Raiding the stash We suppose that most Power Tasting readers always have some wine at home and they’ve put aside a few bottles that they consider “special occasion” wine. With Passover and Easter in the past month, there were a few occasions that were indeed special.  But then there were evenings that were, well, just Tuesdays or Thursdays.  We’d make a little nicer meal and open one of those stashed-away bottles.  It’s hard to feel celebratory these days, but a great wine does dull the pain.

Photo courtesy of The Spruce Eats

  • Pizza night We sorely miss going to restaurants, and we bet you do, too. A lot of our favorites said they’d be open for pickup and delivery. That doesn’t seem to be working out too well for them, so they’ve stopped.  But pizzerias have always had a delivery business, so some but not all are still going.  We’ve been ordering on Friday evenings.  Some of the pizza places in our neighborhood have wine as well, so we order from them, if only to help their revenue a bit more.  One had a pretty good Nero d’Avola, so we bought a few extra bottles before they stopped delivering.  Another had a pretty poor Primitivo; we’ll stick with our own wine the next time.
  • Having an occasional digestif Cognac and Armagnac are wines, so to speak, if you push the boundaries of drinks made from grapes rather far. Whiskey and Rum would be wine if grapes grew where they make these liquors.
  • Ordering more The California wineries depend heavily on tasting room traffic for their profitability. Without us wine tasters stopping by, they’re not doing as well.  We’re getting a lot of sales phone calls from our wine clubs, and even from some wineries we have visited but are not members.  We’re doing our bit by joining another club and buying a bit more than usual.