Introduce Yourself

Snooth User: georgetollman

Aspiring wine lover

Posted by georgetollman, Feb 1, 2015.

Hi all,

Just want to introduce myself.

I have recently started taking an interest in wine and have come to the point where I want to start learning more about it. At this point I can identify which lines I like, and which I don’t, but I really hope to be able to take it a step further and understand what makes it so that I like certain wines and that I don’t like others.

I’d also like to start experimenting with wines from different countries and regions. So far I’ve mostly stuck to wines that I know from California, but I’d like to broaden that interest a little. Any suggestions from you guys would be much appreciated of course?

I’m hoping to tap into the expertise that you guys have in the field as I’m sure many of you know a heck of a lot more than I do. If there are any resources that you guys can recommend that will help me learn about wine I would sincerely appreciate it.

Cheers,

George

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Reply by GregT, Feb 1, 2015.

Well looks like you have plenty of mentors.

Sadly I have none.

Try some of the wines they talk about. But remember, the only way to learn is to taste. You can read and watch but that's kind of a waste if you want to learn about wine. You can't really tell much about this chocolate bar I'm eating by reading about it now could you? Reading only matters once you've established some kind of context. I could tell you that something reminded me of the 1998 St. Emillions, but that would be entirely useless to you unless you'd had a number of wines from 1998 and a number of wines from St. Emillion. 

So taste as much as you can. If you're near any wine stores that do tastings on weekends, even if it's only a drop or two, go to those, taste some wines, and then go to some more.

What you can do is write down the wines you like and those you don't and make some kind of note as to what it was you liked or didn't like about it. Eventually you'll see a kind of pattern. Then try something from somewhere else and see how it fits in.

It's kind of like going to a brand new city. At first you don't know where you are. But each day you go out and you start to figure out where you are in relation to other things. That's what you do with any field of knowledge and wine is no different.

Best of luck. One day you'll be a mentor and I'll be trying to learn everything I can from you.

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Reply by dvogler, Feb 2, 2015.

Welcome George,

What varieties are you trying from California?  If you're trying Cab Sauv, try some from Washington state if you can get them in Illinois.  Greg gave a good analogy.  It takes time to absorb all the information and be able to recall it to make informed decisions.  I'm the furthest thing from a knowledgeable wine person, but I know when Greg mentions St. Emillion, it's predominantly merlot, which I love.  All these dots will eventually get connected for you and you'll be able to walk into a store and recognise relative bargains etc., besides knowing where these wines come from and what grapes they're made from.  In the meantime, take some notes and enjoy the process!

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Reply by georgetollman, Feb 2, 2015.

Thanks for the warm welcome guys. Really appreciate it.

@Gregt Thanks for all those suggestions. I agree that the only way to learn is to taste. You can sit on the sideline as much as you want but will never really truly learn it until you participate and actively taste. The great part is that it's fun. That goes for anything really. I like your idea of making notes and keeping track of what I like and what I don't. I should also probably try to see if I can go to some wine-tasting events to start immersing myself into the community a bit more.

@Dvogler Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the variety that I seem to be most attracted to so far. Great idea about trying some from different places and getting a feel for the differences from place to place (if there are). I'll have to look into St. Emillion like you both mention!

Again, appreciate the help. I'll keep you guys posted on how I'm getting on, and hope to absorb as much info as I can from these forums.

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Reply by dvogler, Feb 2, 2015.

I think Greg mentioned St. Emillion as an example.  It's fairly expensive.  You could get a Bordeaux style blend, also called Meritage, from California or Washington that would be similar. 

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Reply by EMark, Feb 2, 2015.

Let me add my welcome, George.  We look forward to hearing about your wine adventures.

I have to say, there is a bias on this board towards U.S. produced wines and, I also have to confess, that I am one of the main U.S. bigots.  That being said I have been able to learn much about non-U.S. wines from some of the participants, here--to the point where I have sought out and bought non-U.S. wines that have been discussed.  In fact, GregT is among the most knowledgeale in that regard, he is very generous about sharing that knowledge.  

I had to chuckle, though, at Greg's analogy of comparing a new wine experience to moving to a new city.  He recently moved from NYC to the left coast.  So, I'm pretty sure that metaphor was extracted from personal experience.

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Reply by A Oak A, Feb 2, 2015.

Welcome Georgetollman :)

In your exploration of wine, might I persuade you to learn about the complexities of French wine culture. It is far more interesting than new world wine history. Many of the most common grapes originate from France anyway. I've been studying the different wine regions of France and learning about the grapes, the French classification systems and how they label the bottles. 

New world wine make it so easy. It's all written right on the label. Winery / year / grape. No mystery what so ever. Old world wines are not labeled so simply. You often will need to do your homework in order to know what you are drinking. For example, Chaeauneuf du Pape. Do you think the French name the grapes anywhere on the label? Nope. So how do you know what it is? You have to do a little bit of research of that region and learn what grapes they are legally allowed to grow. 

It's a never-ending process and quite fascinating. 

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Reply by EMark, Feb 2, 2015.

New world wine make it so easy. It's all written right on the label. Winery / year / grape. No mystery what so ever. Old world wines are not labeled so simply. You often will need to do your homework in order to know what you are drinking.

Pardon my contrarianism, AOK, but are your really denigrating transparency in labels?  I think a lot of people might disagree with you on that.  OK, I would.  ;-)

For example, Chaeauneuf du Pape. Do you think the French name the grapes anywhere on the label? Nope. So how do you know what it is?

Sure I know what it is.  It's wine.  I know GregT or DMCKER or DVogler on Snooth suggested it to me. So, I'll try it.

Now I am hyperbolizing here, AOK in order to make a point.  We need labels so that If you recommend Bodega Incredible Reserva Rioja to me, I can find it on-line or in a retail store.  That is all we really need.

The fact is that New World wine labels fixate on grape names is neither no less nor no more valid than Old World wines fixating on geography.  It's just different.   Let's look at Chateuneuf du Pape, which I am now going to start to abbreviate as CdP.  (Actually, I think that the most interesting thing about Chateuneuf du Pape is that the name is derived from the castle ordered built by Pope John XXII in 1307.  Now there must be a reason why no other Pope took the name John until 1960-something, and I truly hope that one of our history geeks jumps in and explains that.)

Both white wines and red wines are produced in the CdP region.  The red wines are pretty easy to find on retail store shelves here in the U.S.  By law red CdP can be made only from these grape varieties:

  • Cinsault
  • Counoise
  • Grenache noir
  • Mourvedre
  • Muscardin
  • Picpoul noir
  • Syrah
  • Tennet noir
  • Vaccarese

I suppose that is good information for the consumer, but there are no rules on how to blend these together.  A bottle of CdP may be a combination of Mourvedre (45%) Grenache (30%), Syrah (15%), Cinsault (10%) and Counoise (5%).  As you state, it is highly unlikely that this information will be printed on either the front label or the back label.  Right next to that bottle on a store shelf may be another bottle of CdP from a different maker that is 100% Grenache.  Both of these wines follow the CdP AOC rules to the letter, but they are certainly different wines.

So, what is a wine lover to do?  That's easy.  Drink them.  If you like it, it's a good wine.  If you don't like it, move on and try something else.  I think that when you are talking about Old World wines, you have to relyon finding a maker whose wines fit your palate.

I'm not trying to bust your chops, AOK, your post just hit me weirdly.

FWIW, I think I'm going to have a Priorat, tonight.

 

 

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Reply by georgetollman, Feb 2, 2015.

Dvogler, great I'll check it out.

Emark, you say that there is a bias to local wines. Nothing wrong with supporting wines from home soil :) At this point, I'm so new to the industry that I'm sure there is plenty to explore with local wines.

A Aok, French wines sound very intriguing and mysterious as well like you mention. I think that is definitely something to consider for once I get more familiar with the basics first. At the moment I'm having trouble enough with wines where everything is labelled on the bottle as it is. Ha!

Thanks.

 

 

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Reply by GregT, Feb 2, 2015.

AoK - it's not that difficult if you think about the history. In Europe, the guys would go out and plant some vines and if a particular vine put out some pretty good grapes, they'd take cuttings, root those, and get more of that grape. When invaders or travellers showed up or when people travelled elsewhere, they'd see something that looked promising and maybe they'd give it a try. So they pretty much didn't know what they were growing half the time.

In a few place they knew what they had, or sort of - they had four or five grapes and they liked one or two more than the others. It's not like they field tested all of them to find the very best - that would have been simply impossible. But you figure the Romans spread a lot of grapes around, then you had the Franks, the Goths and all kinds of others.

When they started shipping these things around, and they were doing that several thousand years ago, wine from some areas became more highly prized than wine from other regions. Remember there was no refrigeration and hygiene was bad so wines were consumed close to home.

But there was always some trade. And England was too cold for grapes and consequently became the biggest market. Closest to England was Bordeaux, so they shipped.

But they shipped wines from inland, not wines grown in Bordeaux, at least initially. It was a port, not a winemaking place. Big reds were basically peasant wines and the bigges ones were mostly from hotter regions where the grapes got riper and consequently you got higher alcohol. So you have south France, Siciliy and south Italy, and Spain, and none of those wines really travelled too well unless they were fortified. Bordeaux was cold and foggy and the wine was never a big red, but they were close and consequently, they dominated the English market and eventually people started making more wine right there. 

But those wines were not as big as the southern ones so they'd sometimes add a little from down south. Not a big deal but remember they labeled the wine by the region it came from because often as not they didn't really know or care exactly what the grapes were anyway. People planted a few different grapes so that if the weather was bad or something, they'd at least get some kind of harvest. The idea of monoculture is very new and we take it to a stupid level, planting whole vineyards of single clones!

Anyhow, in the early-mid 1900s the Europeans got very involved in passing various laws regarding their particular regions. They pretended that there were centuries of history behind whatever they concocted, but basically it was the wealthier, more powerful, or at least more troublesome folks who got their way. So if you grew Grenache and I grew Cab and you didn't like Cab, you made damned sure Cab wasn't going to be allowed in the region when you set the rules. Happened all over Europe. But they were making a lot of these rules in the period between the wars and after WW2, which was way before America got back into wine in any real sense. Most wine was locally consumed anyway, so people knew what they were getting from their region and they knew who made the best stuff. And sometime in the later 1900s Bordeaux stopped adding wine from other regions. They figured that their land was as good as anyone else's.

Then comes Mondavi and he starts teaching people to drink by grape. The US didn't have any regions. We did, but we killed off all that tradition with Prohibition. So nobody gave a damn if a wine came from Napa or Indian Lake. Mondavi and others looked at what were the most expensive wines in the 1960s and 70s and they decided to emulate those. It happened that those were from Bordeaux, so there you go. Bordeaux whites weren't all that popular, but people knew about Chablis - remember Gallo used to make "Pink Chablis"! So Chardonnay got included.

Basically things just went from there. So in the US people care very much about grape varieties. In Europe they do too, but they think that the region is more important than the variety.

You'll figure out that it's not just one or the other. You grow Cab or Pinot Noir or Riesling pretty much anywhere and in the end, you can taste it blind and you'll know it's Cab or Pinot Noir or Riesling. They are very distinctive. OTOH, you grow Syrah five or ten different places and you have five or ten completely different wines. So clearly the grape matters and clearly the place matters and probably most of all, clearly the wine making matters.

You can spend the rest of your life figuring all that out.

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Reply by A Oak A, Feb 2, 2015.

QUOTE

Pardon my contrarianism, AOK, but are your really denigrating transparency in labels?  I think a lot of people might disagree with you on that.  OK, I would.  ;-)

QUOTE

Not criticizing. Just saying that reading old world labels is not nearly as clear cut and dry as reading new world labels. You can pick up nearly any new world wine at the store and instantly know what's in the bottle. You can't do that with French wine unless it comes from a lower classification where AOC rules allow or require them to put the grape on the label. For example, some Vin de Pays wines will have the grapes on the label. Not all VdP is bad, but it is a lower classification of French wine right above VdT.

QUOTE

Now I am hyperbolizing here, AOK in order to make a point.  We need labels so that If you recommend Bodega Incredible Reserva Rioja to me, I can find it on-line or in a retail store.  That is all we really need.

QUOTE

Is it really that simple? I just need the label so I can find it online? How about you educate yourself so you know what your buying without having to whip out your phone and Google before going to the register? It's much more rewarding to be able to read labels and know what region it comes from, the classification and what grapes are involved. 

Chateauneuf Du Pape is an odd duck among the other wine regions in France. Most regions are legally allowed to grow only one grape. Some are allowed more than one: perhaps 2 or 4. But CdP had 18. 18?? What's even more odd is that they don't have regulations on blending percentages. How odd is it that the appellation with the largest number of grapes to choose from is also free to mix it up however they want? It's like a free for all. Basically, they can do whatever they want as long as they meet quality standards.

But over 70% of the grapes in that region is Grenache. Another dominate grape is Syrah. Therefore, it's safe to say that with virtually any CdP, you will be drinking Grenache and Syrah, but any number of other red grapes may be involved (From your list). Some of those grapes are lesser varietals that are used probably in very low percentages (As to top off a barrel with some extra space at the bung).

Good post GregT. Interesting facts on the history of France wine and why they really only had the option to label bottles regionally. I suppose they could have made up names for the grapes and put them on the label, but they didn't.

The French are very determined to not alter their labeling traditions. With all the discoveries of grape varietals and parent grapes, they easily could have switched long ago, but they didn't. Old world wine is all about tradition, and maintaining those traditions. New world wineries are more like science labs. They could care less about tradition. If they have to build a 10 million dollar machine to filter and put the juice through a malolactic fermentation....so be it as long as the wine tastes better.

Good point about Mondavi. The lack of regions were definitely a factor, but it's also a marketing strategy. Someone drinks Cabernet and says, "I like that. I'll drink Cabernet." So they go to the store and buy Cabernet. I imagine a big part of his strategy was to make it easy for people to learn what they like so that they might want to buy more wine. That's the problem with old world labeling. People have been confused by it for years. New world wines make the learning process simpler so you can quickly know what your're drinking. You can't really do that with French wines unless you do some research. Which is my point because I'm not really talking about the reasons why old world wines are labeled regionally, but more of the fact that it is the way they do it and that some research is necessary in order know what you're drinking. 

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Reply by Badge4, Feb 3, 2015.

GregT and A Oak A great points both of you. Very educational reading for me. Not a major drinker of French wines but none the less I do enjoy learning about them

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Reply by EMark, Feb 3, 2015.

Not criticizing. Just saying that reading old world labels is not nearly as clear cut and dry as reading new world labels.

Sorry, my bad. I completely misinterpreted your original post.

 

I then started another lengthy epistle on some of your other statements, but then realized that I was getting wrapped around the axle regarding some silly things.  So, I am going to limit my comments to a few items--mostly to get some clarification in areas that intrigue me.

I'm not sure your statement about most French wine regions are constrained to a single grape is correct, and I am refering only to AOC wines, here.  I know there are zillions (now, that's hyperbole) of AOCs in France, most of which I have no familiarity at all, but to my knowledge the only ones that have single grape restrictions are in Burgundy, where they allow only Chardonnay grapes to make white wines and Pinot Noir grapes to make red wines.  Are there others?

Somewhat off track, Alsace is one of the more interesting areas.  They grow several different wine-making grapes, and they offer both single-variety bottlings and blended bottlings.  The thing that I find exceptional is the fact that single-variety bottlings of Alsace wine will indicate the grape type--e.g., Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris--on the label (and I may have learned this from GregT).  As is common in other French regions, Alsace blends do not seem to have any disclosures on the labels.  Edelzwicker can be any blend of several allowable grape varieties.

Just as an observation, there seems to be a movement in U.S. wines to use "generic names" on their labels.  This trend seems to be popular in California's Central Coast and in Washington for both blends and varietal bottlings.  You are also beginning to see the nomenclature "Field Blend" ocassionally--especially on "Old Vines" wines.  These are well-crafted quality wines, also.  I am not talking about low-dollar junk wines like Apothic Red.

I just thought of something else.  Except for wines from the state of Washington, the world "Reserve" on a U.S. wine means nothing to the consumer.  It means whatever the marketing guy who put it on the label wants it to mean.  I know there is no cross-border consistency, but if you see the word "Riserva" or "Reserva" on a Spanish or an Italian or a Portuguese, you are legally guaranteed that minimum aging requirements have been met by the maker.  In all honesty, I don't know if there is something similar in French wines.  I've never seen or heard of it.

I know that there is no upside to disputing GregT, and, in fact, he is one of my Snooth heroes, but I want to mention one more thing.  I am of the opinion that the purpose of the U.S. wine industry moving to grape variety labeling was two-fold.  First, to respond to objections from Old World makers for using such descriptions as "Champagne," "Burgundy," and "Chianti."  Second, to "declare independence" from the Old World, establish and American tradition (maybe, "style" is a better world) and to define their own market space.  Now, while Robert Mondavi was, absolutely, a force, if not the greatest force, in pushing the American wine industry to worldwide prominence, I seem to remember when reading Frank Schoonmaker's obituary a few months ago, that he is the person that introduced the idea of labeling wines with the grape variety--in the 1930s.  I know I have read about people being able to taste varietal bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon wine from the 1950s from makers such as Inglenook, BV and Charles Krug.  So, I'm not sure that the industry waited for Bob to come along and tell them how to do it. 

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Reply by GregT, Feb 3, 2015.

You're right Emark - I didn't want to get into that but yeah, we had Pink Chablis and Hearty Burgundy and all that. Gallo and a few others made it and Mondavi didn't want to be considered in their league. He didn't really have a lot of options other than fantasy names or grape varieties. And there were indeed other producers of single-variety wines but remember that the US wine industry was tiny. We completely obliterated it with Prohibition and then with the image of wine for the next thirty-forty years. The word "wino" was basically for the bums and what did they drink? Wine. Cheap stuff of course.

Sophisticated people drank cocktails in the US. So there was a little cachet to calling your stuff "Merlot" as it seemed a cut above the MD 20-20 or Thunderbird that people associated with wine. I use Mondavi as a kind of proxy because he was so influential.

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 3, 2015.

Don't forget 'Fume Blanc'--a major Mondavi marketing success, which put sauvignon blanc on the American wine map.

So Roberto wasn't thinking only in terms of varietals--also Loire locality ripoffs that couldn't be complained about. The guy was a whiz at what he did. Or is it Wiz?

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Reply by GregT, Feb 4, 2015.

Both. He championed a lot of things. May not have been the first or the originator, but he is the one who made the difference. One thing he was big on was having people taste the wines rather than simply rely on marketing. That led to wine tourism. He is largely responsible for that. The rest of Napa perfected it and now it's becoming a world-wide thing. In fact, there are places (Temecula?) that exist ONLY for tourism because the wine itself isn't worth a lot.

Fume Blanc was brilliant.

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 4, 2015.

Yeah, when he built the current winery and started the jazz concerts, internal winery tours and so forth that was very cutting edge for Napa (or anywhere) at the time. A great shaper, presenter, showman and ambassador. Good at assuring decent wine quality, too, and recognizing good vineyards. The right man in the right place at the right time, and so many have reaped the economic and cultural benefits of his leveraging.

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Reply by A Oak A, Feb 4, 2015.

QUOTE

I'm not sure your statement about most French wine regions are constrained to a single grape is correct, and I am refering only to AOC wines, here.  I know there are zillions (now, that's hyperbole) of AOCs in France, most of which I have no familiarity at all, but to my knowledge the only ones that have single grape restrictions are in Burgundy, where they allow only Chardonnay grapes to make white wines and Pinot Noir grapes to make red wines.  Are there others?

QUOTE

When using the word "Regions" I was actually referring to sub-regions or appellations or even villages. Sorry if I was wrong in the way I used that word. Also, instead of using "Most", I should have said "Many". There may not be as many single variety "regions" as I implied however. I was just trying to make the point that CdP is unique for having 18.

When we look at Rhone cru wines, you will see that more than one of them is only allowed to grow one varietal. For example, Condrieu and Chateau Grillet may only grow Viognier. Saint Peray may only grow Marsanne and Roussanne.

Outside of Rhone, you have others. In Beaujolais for example, Gamay is the only red grape allowed in Morgon (And probably some other Beaujolais cru as well). Morgon is allowed to grow about 3 or 4 whites though (Chardonnay, Aligote and maybe Pinot Gris).

Pouilly Fume (Loire Valley) is only allowed Sauvignon Blanc and some Chasselas.

Regarding your reference to Alsace displaying the grape on the label, according to what I have been reading, displaying the grape is typically an indication of a lower classification of wine. I haven't read anything about Alsace classifications so I don't know how they do it up there. 

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Reply by EMark, Feb 4, 2015.

Thanks for the responses, everyone.  This has really helped me.  I never thought of R.Mondavi as being the originator of wine tourism, but it certainly makes sense.  Am I wrong in my thought that the Mondavi winery in Oakville was the first one built with the intention of hosting, educating and entertaining visitors?  I don't know when Tasting Rooms first started popping up.

AOK, I think we're on the same page, now.

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Reply by A Oak A, Feb 4, 2015.

A friend of mine recommended me to read "The House of Mondavi". Paints a pretty interesting picture of the Mondavi family. Robert was somewhat of a pioneer, but there's an ugly side as well. 

http://www.amazon.com/House-Mondavi-Rise-American-Dynasty/dp/1592403670/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423072316&sr=1-1&keywords=robert+mondavi

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 5, 2015.

Robert only existed as a separate entity because he had a falling out with his brother.  I got here right after it happened and literally those early Mondavi and Krug wines were the first wines I ever tasted.  My folks took us to Mondavi and Krug when those, Inglenook (a very closed shop), BV and Martini were the Napa wineries.  Robert Mondavi, like Robert Parker, did a lot for the democratization of wine and its elevation from Gallo Hearty Burgundy to world-beater, but it wasn't without a fair bit of drama. 

When Peter Mondavi dies (he turned 100 in October 2014) it will be truly the end of an era.  Robert, Ernest and Julio Gallo, Frank Indelicato, Graaf, Daniels, all the pioneers will be gone. 

Great thread, y'all.

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