In the mid-sixties I was working at London's prestigious Dorchester Hotel and a young musical group called The Beatles was leading the British invasion in the USA. It was an exciting time to live in London! I was seventeen and working in a great hotel and at an early age I was thrown into the "wine fire".
Due to an illness of the "wine guy" at the Dorchester, I was told to buy a special uniform and told I was going to be a sommelier! Note: "Sommelier" is a term that a restaurant/cruise line/hotel can give to a server - don't confuse this with "Master Sommelier" which is several years of study and very arduous exams.
On my first week as a "Sommelier", a group of four men sat around sipping their drinks after dinner and one of them handed me a glass of port and told me to describe it. I panicked and then went into a full recitation of exactly what I had heard the other wine guy say to customers. I told them "The wine is coming close to its maturity. It's a typical example of its vintage. Complex and layered! Oh - and the bouquet was very typical of the vintage too!" I did a great job and impressed them - shocked them actually. I went away wishing I knew what the heck my memorized words meant! That's when I started studying wine very seriously. I was determined that this would not happen again.
It took five years before I became a Master Sommelier and a few more before I was writing wine courses. That evening, I was strictly a young guy who could b-s his way through the conversation without actually knowing anything! You probably have met many people like this who have intimidated you because they give the impression they know so much more about wine than you do. Don't be intimidated. Wine is meant for you to enjoy!
Fast forward to retirement in Naples Florida, sitting in a well known restaurant with my wife, and two others.
A nice young man appeared, asked us if we wanted to order wines and inferred he was a "wine expert" and that we were in good hands. Unfortunately his knowledge was basic and we were served the wrong wines. Literally! He brought a white wine instead of a red wine we had ordered. Pretty basic, right? My point is this: we assume some people know a lot about wines, but many of them are just learning, and want to give a good impression. Many of them are doing what I did that night long ago in the Dorchester Hotel: reciting what they have heard or read.
If we are learning to drive we have a sign on our vehicle that says "Student Driver", so others are aware, and can give us time and space, but when we buy wine at the store or order wine in a restaurant, we do not have a sign around our neck which says "wine student".
Let's debunk and demystify wine so you find the wines you like - not what others tell you that you should like. Don't be intimidated and don't be afraid to ask questions.
Just a few days ago we were in a restaurant and Karen said, "this Sauvignon Blanc from South America tastes just like the wine we had from the Loire Valley, I'm confused". I answered, "Great job - you have a great palette! It should taste like the other wine because the Loire Valley was the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc."
Here is my point……most of us are frightened to guess what a wine is or offer an opinion because we are afraid of the big bad wine snob.
Most of us are whim buyers, just looking a for a good wine that will go with the next meal at a fair price. Am I right?
In the Larvin household, our "go-to" summer wines right now are as follows:
Picket Fence from Russian River Valley, Sonoma County 2013 http://www.picketfencevineyards.com handcrafted in small lots picked during the night. It is lightly oaked, and Karen says the wine is dry with evidence of oak mineral. It is light and crisp with a touch of banana. Goes well with fish and cream cheese or can be drunk alone. Tastes like a $20.00 wine. Costs under $12 in most stores. Point of interest: a Margherita Pizza will go great with this as both tomatoes and cheese paired well. It is a wine in which you can have confidence to serve guests with a simple pizza or pasta - or have fun drinking on your own!
Mer Soliel Silver from the San Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, CA http://www.mersoleilvineyard.com is an un-oaked Chardonnay that matures in cement lined tanks. Dry, crisp and food friendly. We have had 2011, 2012 and 2013 and been very happy with them. About $20 a bottle. This wine is made by the Wagner family, famed for the heavily oaked Mer Soliel, and Caymus Specal Selection.
Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay from the Columbia Valley of Washington State https://www.ste-michelle.com is an oaked wine and produced in a huge winery. Chateau St. Michelle makes many varietals, so you might want to try their reds also. The Chateau St. Michelle Chardonnay is a bit stronger than Mer Soliel Silver, depending upon the vintage. We have been enjoying the 2013. We find it to be a nice, well-rounded, buttery wine that goes great with white meats and shell fish. The best news: $12 or less in most retail outlets. Just in case you read or hear that it is "sur -lie", it means the wine is unfiltered.
So now you have a couple pieces of info, one grape varietal (Chardonnay), and three wineries, I hope this short article provokes questions from some of you. I would like to invite the readers of this blog to ask questions rather than me picking a subject. So if you have a question on wine just let us know, we will give an honest answer privately and if you agree, publish it for others to know.
To check prices at present I am using wineaccess.com It's a good site for information on good wines. All three wineries have very informative web sites.
Happy Father's Day to all you Dads out there!