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What I've Learned

Posted by guest, Mar 26, 2008.

Magazines, not books, defined my life growing up in Brooklyn. During my teenage years, born were aspirational feelings while flipping through the pages of Travel, Food, Wine and Men's magazines. I drew floor plans of homes I would one day live in, homes copied from Architectural Digest; I made lists of places to visit and rooms to rent from the Room With a View pages I tore and compiled and categorized from Conde Nast Traveler; I explored wine regions and learned more about wine by reading than actually drinking during those formidable years. And then there were the Savile Row suits I would wear when I first took sip of some sought after elixir after a long day of traveling to the tables of families and friends in England, Italy, France and Spain, where the wine and food flowed endlessly to the lips and onto the tongues of everyone in joyous mouthfuls. These dreams, these aspirations, came true when I left a nine-year tenure at a magazine publisher to pursue the gastronomical delights of living in Italy and learning how to make wine. I still sit at home and read through countless magazines that clutter my surroundings. And today there is a small part of my past life that can recall the true experiences I had living the life that I had envisioned many years early while scanning the pages of my favorite magazines. So, for this post, I am going to steal a column from two great publications, part Vanity Fair Proust Questionnaire, part Esquire, What I've Learned. Here's a tidbit of what I've learned so far. With many more years of living (and drinking) I hope to add to this list.

A trip to a vineyard will not only inform your senses, it will educate you on the effort it takes to produce every single bottle.

Scores and ratings aside, a wine's true pleasure is its X-Factor, its excitement factor.

Wine is like a woman. Yes, she can be beautiful, but we love her for how she interacts with what is around her.

Smokers have better senses of smell than non-smokers because the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke clogs the enzymes that break down scents therefore allowing the smell molecules to linger in the nose longer.

My Desert Island six-pack would include Rene Rostaing's Condrieu, DuMOL's Chardonnay, Volpe Passini's Tocai, Sean Thackrey's Pleaides, Frog's Leap Cabernet and Haut-Brion , of course.

Winemakers never smell the cork at the dinner table, but will secretly give it a glance to check its porosity.

Two Buck Chuck is brilliant but bad for those who think Chardonnay should actually taste that way.

Balance in life (work and play) is essential and so is balance in the vineyard and in the glass.

Chemistry can help a winemaker understand the long-term potential of a wine.

Cheap Australian Shriaz screwed the potential of the American Syrah market.

Consumers will always be price sensitive, but the goal is to create a conversation, sometimes about the wine itself, but more importantly with the people who are enjoying it. And if we are fortunate, a memory will be made not on the price paid, but the stories themselves.

BYOB means "bring your own bottle" but doesn't have to mean "break your own budget."

A young wine will be more fruit-forward. Think of a Cezanne still life and the thick, rich colors he used in painting his pictures, the fruit almost appeared one-dimensional. As wine and paint age gracefully, the colors will fade and become more savory and complex.

Cat piss is no way to describe a wine.

Smelling is scary, especially when you are not familiar with swirling and fear splashing yourself. But swirling and smelling is of the utmost importance.

Next time you buy a bottle of wine, stop at your grocer on your way home and buy an accompanying piece of fruit that matches the scents and structure. Pour yourself a glass of Chablis and bite into a green apple; the yellow-white pulp may even match the color of the grape juice in your glass.

Dan Petroski is Assistant Winemaker at Larkmead Vineyards in Napa Valley. Dan has an MBA from New York University and worked as an Ad Exec in New York for several years, before switching it up and trading his suit for a move out west.


Blog comment by Chris, Mar 26, 2008.

Smokers have a better sense of smell? Not sure I agree with that, from experience as a smoker. I think any enzyme-binding action would be countered by interference from the smells and flavors of the smoke itself. I agree that people shouldn't be afraid to smell. That's the best part! Thanks for the post.

Reply by Philip James, Mar 26, 2008.

I am also dubious of the smoker's comment. Smoke destroys taste buds i've heard, but of course thats just the 5 basic flavors, and doesnt take into account the rich bouquet that is only detected via the nasal passages.

still dubious....

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Mar 26, 2008.

I like the part about smelling the cork. I never do that either and I'm no winemaker. Why is it important? I don't get anything from the cork.

Reply by Philip James, Mar 26, 2008.

I thought that people smelled the cork as a proxy for smelling the wine. Of course all you smell is wine flavored cork, and its hardly as aromatic as putting your nose inside a glass designed to magnify the aroma.

Not sure what Dan means by porosity (i know what the word means, but am confused over the context), but i was told to look at the cork to make sure the cork doesnt look brittle, which could imply the bottle was stored upright, the cork dried out and lost its airtight seal and so the wine could be oxidized. You can also look at the cork to check for any residue: sediment (ok), crystals (maybe ok depending on what sort they are).

Blog comment by Chris, Mar 26, 2008.

It seems that the topic of corks deserves its own blog post

Blog comment by Dan, Mar 27, 2008.

Guys, thanks for the comments. Yes, Chris, I agree that corks need their own blog post. Maybe next time, but to answer Philip\'s question about porosity, the first evaluation of cork is the visual. When we are deciding on corks for bottling we ask our cork suppliers to send us batches from bales in requested price ranges. From these batches we do a visual sensory (checking out the number of pores in untreated corks). This is one of the quantitative ways of measuring cork quality (it does not necessarily mean that there will be no TCA) it just means that the quality of the cork, overall, is less porous; therefore, better for securing the wine in the bottle. From the batches that pass the visual selection we set up a smell sensory, where we visit the labs of the cork suppliers and smell anywhere from 10 to 50 corks from the selected batches that have been soaking (overnight) in de-alc\'ed (reduced alcohol) white wine (usually Franzia boxed Pinot Grigio or something of the like). We could smell up to 300 glasses of wine in 30 minutes. We are looking for consistency in the batches (and no obvious outliers with TCA). We can smell 49 corks of excellent quality and the 50th may have a hint of TCA and we\'ll reject the entire batch. Although, statistically speaking, this may not be the appropriate way to judge the batch, it is the wishes and the whim of the winemaking team. I\'ll stop there and try to incorporate this into a larger step-by-step overview of corks and cork selection in a later post, as I am supposed to be on holiday this week....

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