Not So Overblown Wine Myth Affirmed: Glassware Does Matter

“The aromatic difference between a rose petal and chickenshit is all in the size and contact point of its molecule to the nose.” ~ Ascribed to Mr. Georg Josef Riedel, CEO of Riedel Glassware

This afternoon, I went over to Urban Enoteca and participated in a tasting put on by Riedel to showcase their wine glasses and the effect of glassware on the taste and enjoyment of fine wine.  The event was started off with the above quote.  What a way to start a wine tasting session, with thoughts of chickenshit on the brain to provide focus.  In the end it could not of been a better way to do it. It provocatively set the stage for testing an idea I had previously held as an overblown myth; glassware matters when it comes to tasting, judging and enjoying fine wines.  Well after today I will never again critically taste, let alone enjoy, a fine wine again without considering the glassware it is presented in.

My approach to this tasting informally leaned on the scientific method; throw a hypothesis out on the tabletop and then disprove it.  I came in believing the whole wineglass-shape-legend-thing was nothing more than marketing hype to get unknowing people to pay a lot money for an overpriced commodity product: drinking glasses.

The tasting consisted of a solid flight of Washington Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon wines presented in wine style specific glasses and a plastic cup.  The wines were tasted first from the “wrong” Riedel glass, then a plastic cup, then the “right” Riedel glass, or different combinations thereof.

Riedel Glasses

The myth quickly was affirmed, glassware does matter. Each wine clearly smelled and tasted not only better, but totally different when presented in the proper glass for its style.

The defining moment of the tasting, a visceral one at that, was when we put the Syrah through the wash-spin-rinse-repeat cycle of the tasting. The guest of honor for this was the 2005 Cuvee Orleans Syrah by McCrae Cellars.  First we smelled and tasted it in the Reidel Glass made for Syrah (Rhone style red wine) it was, in a word, excellent.  Then we tasted the same wine and tasted it from a glass designed for Bordeaux style red wines.  The wine was good, but had clearly lost a substantial portion of its aromatics, along with becoming a bit closed in taste.  Then we tried the Syrah in a Riesling style glass.  In an instant the rose petal turned into chickenshit.  It no longer tasted like quality Syrah, but rather some cut rate plonk with heavy overtones of a rotting vegetable garden.  Without thinking or being told to, I immediately poured the wine back into the proper glass, and SHAZAM…the chickenshit morphed back into the rose petal and the high quality Syrah returned.  The myth was once again affirmed!

During the tasting, Mr. Daniel Vu from Riedel was explaining, at a high level, how the Riedel wine glasses are scientifically designed to to each specific style of wine to deliver the different aromatic and flavor elements of each wine on to our palettes.  He was using the tasting experience as proof of this explanation.  I’m convinced.  As a side note many restaurants pour both red and white wines in Riesling glasses, especially Italian restaurants.  So please consider this experiment the next time you have red wine at a restaurant and it does not come in the proper glass.  It may not be the wine that is not up to par, but rather the glass it is served in is wrong thereby fouling the wine experience.

If you would like to “mythbust” this for yourself it is easy to do.  You can set up a do-it-yourself Riedel Tasting as follows:

1)   Get a Riedel Ouverture Series Chardonnay glass and Bordeaux glass, along with a plastic cup. The Ouverture line is one of Riedel’s most affordable.

2)  Next pour Chardonnay into a Riedel Chardonnay glass. Smell & taste it, then pour the wine into a Riedel Bordeaux glass. Again, smell and taste it, then pour the wine into plastic cup. Again, smell and taste it, then pour the remaining wine back into the Riedel Chardonnay glass. Again, smell and taste it, then make your own evaluation as to which glass the Chardonnay looks, smells and tastes better in.

3)  Next, pour a Cabernet Sauvignon into a Riedel Bordeaux glass. Smell and taste it, then pour the wine into the Riedel Chardonnay glass. Again, smell and taste it, then pour the wine into the plastic cup.  Again, smell and taste it, then pour the wine back into a Riedel Bordeaux glass. Again, smell and taste it, then make your own evaluation as to which glass the Cabernet or Bordeaux blend looks, smells and tastes better in.

My bet is that you will come up with the same answers as I, and the 15 other people, did in today’s tasting.  To make this test even more productive I strongly recommend that you do this with an Off-Dry Riesling and a Syrah, using the Riedel Riesling and Syrah glasses as well.  Expand the smell and taste cycles through all five glasses for each of the wines, the differences should be very dramatic.  The use of the Riesling glass in the cycle really highlights the effect of glassware on your sense of smell and taste of the various wines in this experiment. If you do this, I think you will be astounded by the real affect glassware has on your enjoyment of fine wine.

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Two Mind Benders from DeLILLE Cellars

The wine makers in Washington make great wine. That is stating the obvious, but clearly, I need a reminder of this fact from time to time.  Our producers have gotten so good at wine making I just take it for granted. So when I run across something way above my expectations it becomes time to quit being lazy, explore and take note.

For several years I have been hearing some very good things about DeLille Cellars located in Woodinville, Washington.  Trustworthy Washington oenophiles have been repeatedly telling me that they are producing some extraordinary Bordeaux Style wines from Washington fruit.  The “problem” is that everyone says that about their favorite Washington producers, so I really was not taking note of it, and reinforcing my growing complacency.  Essentially, they were all starting to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher, “DeLille, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa, wa.”  I was tuning them out, how foolish of me.

Prior to this weekend I have had two encounters with their wines. The first was courtesy of Arnie Millan at Esquin Wine Merchants.  He so graciously shared a magnum of Triple Threat at one of his spectacular wine dinners.  It was the Pièce de résistance for the dinner.  Triple Threat is a special blend of DeLille’s Cab Sav wines into one bottling.  DeLille provides this special blend to charities to be auctioned off to help them raise money to support their charitable efforts.  It is an extraordinarily rare wine that is a great pleasure to experience.

Magnum of 2006 Triple Threat

Along with the the Triple Threat, on several occasions, I have had their D2 Cab Sav, and found these wines to be excellent.  They automatically placed DeLille on my mental Top 20 list of Washington producers.  As a consequence of their quality being so good I had become complacent in my thinking and never really went and explored DeLille’s offerings.  What a mistake!

Last Friday that all changed.  I met a friend and business colleague for a meeting at Hectors in downtown Kirkland.  As I sat down he had the waitress bring me a glass of wine.  I reached over to look at the wine list, he grabbed it from me and said I was doing an impromptu blind tasting before we discussed business.

At the first taste my mind began to bend in a way that it only does when when one encounters a seminal masterpiece work of art for the first time.  The wine had the nose of an exceptional left bank Bordeaux and the initial taste and mouth feel of an exceptional Rhone style wine. I was tasting a wine that had perfectly blended together the best elements of two distinctly different styles of wine while leaving their relative individuals weakness out of the mix.  The result is a spectacularly silky, slightly larger than medium bodied red wine.  It has a nearly perfect structural balance of tannins, alcohol and acidity.  It proudly and elegantly displays the taste characteristics of the Syrah grape with lots of black raspberry and plum along with black pepper and sage.  As the wine lingered in my mouth Cabernet Saviugnon components began to express themselves.  There were supple showings black fruits leading to a long smooth finish.   As I tasted this I rapidly became stupefied.  My thoughts were like an old scratched vinyl record that keeps skipping back on itself when played.  All I could think about was this was two exceptional French wines combined in one glass.  What perplexed me even more was that my friend who walked me into the blind tasting is well known to be a “Washington Only” wine connoisseur.  He generally avoids French wines.   Rapidly I started to ask him a ton of questions that essentially boiled down to one: Where in the hell had he found an avant-garde French wine that was so amazing?  He was smiling like a cheshire cat and not providing any answers. Nothing was making sense, my mind bent even more.  The French are so doctrinal in their viticulture.  I was just having a tough time imagining a commercially available French wine in America that would essentially violate most of the French wine making rules, regulations and laws for Bordeaux and Rhone.  Then he stopped me and showed me what it was…a glass of the 2008 DeLille Dyonne Aix.

Mind Bending in a Bottle ~ 2008 Deyonne Aix

My next response was WOWZA…DeLille… REALLY!!!!!  Not to take anything away from DeLille, previous to this, I had considered them in the Top 20 of Washington wine producers.  My mental ranking of Washington producers was about to undergo a major change.  Currently there about 700 wineries in the State of Washington, so were already part of my personal best of the best.   I had just been blown away and started to reevaluate my thinking.  Clearly… with this revelation…I needed to go and explore further.

So on Sunday, I went out to Woodinville and visited DeLille’s tasting room, the “Carriage House” and dove into seven of their other wines.  They were all excellent, but one of them…once again… bent my mind.  Again, WOWZA…Bent Mind…twice in three days!  This time it was a white wine, DeLille’s 2009 Charleur Estate Blanc.  It is a Bordeaux style white, that is 67% Saviugnon Blanc, 33% Seimillon.  This wine may be the single best glass of white wine I have ever had, hands down.  It is a perfectly balanced white wine, with an amazing mouth feel that powerfully expresses the best viticultural qualities of its grapes.

The Best White Wine I Have Ever Had

As the wine hits your nose it displays a sophisticated scent of apricots, figs and grapefruit with a hint of warm bread. As the wine hits your mouth silky and rich notes of grapefruit, gooseberries, and a slight hint of pineapple and toast on a long and satisfying finish.  The structure of this wine was once again in a phrase, perfectly balanced.

Twice in three days my perception of DeLille’s quality had been substantially enhanced.  They are true artists of wine making. DeLille has now knocked one of my previous Washington producers out of my Top 5 List.

After this weekend, my Top 5 Washington producers are:

1)   Leonetti Cellars

2)  DeLille Cellars

3) Long Shadows Wineries

4) Matthews Estate

5) QuilCeda Creek

If you have a chance, make a trip to Woodinville and visit DeLille’s tasting room.  The staff is knowledgeable, friendly and excellent.  If you like wine, you will not leave disappointed and might find something new and amazing.  It is a great way to spend a Sunday.

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French Wine Scholar Class 2: WTH have I got myself into????

This evening’s French Wine Scholar class was all about the wines from Alsace.  The course is fun, educational and entertaining. Each class we sample 8 great wines, learn about history, geography, geology and vinification all in a light manner, with enough humor to make the class not too Cliff Clavinish.  A great way to spend an otherwise quiet Tuesday night.

The Honored Guests from Alsace

Tonight we had a guest lecturer who is a winemaker from the Alsace.  His family has been making wines in the region since the 1500′s.  He has come to Washington to make great Rieslings using old world techniques from new world fruit.  A growing collection of the world’s best wine making talent including the winemakers at Long Shadows Wineries, Dr. Loosen, and Christian LeSommer at Chateau Rollat, in Walla Walla are doing this.

At the beginning of the class the textbook for the course was handed out and as the class went on an oh shit moment hit. I realized that there might of been a bit of a misjudgment in this little endeavor and am walking into a gunfight armed only with a knife. F0r how fun the class is, it is now apparent that the exam is going to be equally difficult.  It is an academic equivalent to the of law in physics about every action having an equal and opposite reaction.  Time to  go find some cheese to go with this whine, and buck up and see if I can get it done.

There were two wines from tonight’s class that are worth mentioning.  The 2006 Marcel Deiss Pinot Gris ($26) and the 2006 Helfrich Riesling Grand Cru Steinklotz ($22).

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Sounders Starting to Openly Address Their Structural Weaknesses

The rumors are swirling about the possible signing of Swedish Midfielder Erik Friberg of BK Hacken in the Swedish Premier League.  BK Hacken has announced the signing on their website, http://www.bkhacken.se/index.php/2010/12/friberg-klar-for-seattle-sounders/ . The Sounders refuse to confirm or deny the signing which indicates that they are waiting for MLS FO approval of the deal, as such this is essentially a done deal.

Friberg is 24 years old and plays both central midfield and on the right wing.  I’m really looking forward to hearing both Sigi’s and Adrian thoughts on the new addition.  Based on some apparent comments from Sounders personnel about him this could be a very solid step in addressing the clubs needs.  It has been alluded that Sounders technical personnel have observed that, “He is a versatile midfielder, who can play wide or in the middle. He has a great engine, strong technical skills, fast feet, and he has good pace. He takes the set pieces for the team and is known for his excellent passing vision.”

One of the elements that the Sounders have been lacking from their MLS life is someone who actually is a play-maker with field or passing vision in the central midfield.  Finally… the Sounders are openly and forthrightly addressing this weakness in the make up of the team.  I’m going to digress from the topic at hand for a moment. Hopefully, this personnel move is another sign of a new policy of club forthrightness that appeared to be implemented at last week’s Fan Alliance Network Meeting.  It is starting to look like the Sounders organization is maturing quickly and is learning the benefits of addressing things with less marketing spin and on more of a realistic and open basis.

With knowing so little about Friberg, I hope the FO has chosen wisely in making this selection.  It is a reasonably safe bet that they have. In the two year’s of the Sounders MLS existence, except for the mixed bag that was FL10; Adrian, Chris and Sigi have done an excellent job of building the depth chart for the club.

The internet scuttlebutt suggests that Adrian is alluding to a second signing coming soon.  My unsolicited suggestion, sign someone who technically fits in Sigi’s system, yet can be a bit of a physical enforcer in the midfield.  I’m getting sick of the other MLS sides fearlessly being able to send their goons into our attacking structure and start beating us like rented mules to knock us off our game.  The Sounders need someone who will cause the Dema Kovalenko’s of the MLS pause when they attempt to do that.  A skillful and technically proficient thug, for lack of a better term, would give the Sounders version of the beautiful game room to breath during the match. If other sides had to physically respect us a bit more than they currently do, I bet you would see our goal production go up significantly.  I’m not a fan of the overtly cheap physicality that exists in the MLS, and would hate to see the Sounders devolve down to them.  However, it is a tactic that used by sides with lesser skills in order to compete with the Sounders talent and speed.  If we are going to have to continually face those tactics, we need a tool to counter to them.  May a second alluded off-season signing address this need.

This apparent action by the club confirms my earlier feeling that the loss of Sturgis and Nyassi in the MLS Expansion Draft a few weeks ago was real addition by subtraction; the decks were cleared to address the Sounders structural  personnel needs. It looks like the club is doing it in an aggressive manner.  This is foreshows good things for the 2011 campaign. I always have wanted to visit Turkey, well, might have to see about scouting the Sounders Empire as it visits the Ottoman Empire in February for preseason training.

Go Sounders Go
Fight Sounders Fight
And the entire world will tremble at your might
We sing for you
We love you so
And we will follow you wherever you may go
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“Captain Tasty Delivers a Rifle Shot of Delight to the Brain…”

There is nothing quite like a really great wine tasting dinner.  The perfect combination of great vino, interesting people and good food can make for a truly sublime evening.  Relaxed and properly lubricated people in no hurry to be anywhere, or do anything, but enjoy the moment can lead to some rather entertaining and interesting conversations.

The title of this entry truly captures the essence of an unforgettable, off the chart wine dinner I attended last weekend.  Arnie Millan of Esquin Wine Merchants (http://www.esquin.com/ and http://www.arniemillan.com/winetalk/static.php?page=aboutarniemillan) and Award winning Chef Jason Wilson of Crush (http://www.chefjasonwilson.com/) hosted this event in Seattle.

Flirting with Perfection

The theme of the dinner was “Flirting with Perfection” and it featured a sample of rare and stunningly mind bending wines rated at 98-100 points by either the Wine Spectator or Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.  Arnie does one of these “Flirting with Perfection” dinners at least once a year, and if you want an over the top food and wine experience, I highly recommend that you attend one.  This dinner was a seven course affair that featured a solid line up of rock star wines covering white, red and desert varietals.

The exceptionally notable dishes in the from the evening included a Rosemary and Cinnamon Roasted Elk course and the Douglass Fir Sorbet that was served midway through the evening as a palate cleanser for the wines.

Rosemary & Cinnamon Roasted Elk by Crush

Yes it was a Sorbet made from Douglas Fir needles, and was served with a slight cranberry addition.  For any specialty food people out there, this might be an interesting item to manufacture and sell.

The following three wines from the evening stood out above and beyond the headline full of rock stars.

Numanthia Numanthia 2004 (98 Parker Points.) The Numanthia is a nice full bodied Temparnillo from Spain.  Parker described it best saying,The wine is a glass-coating opaque purple with a killer nose of mineral, pencil lead, wild blueberry, and blackberry liqueur that roars from the glass.”  What everyone at the dinner found interesting is that after the wine had been decanted it had a solid warm creamy butter aroma on the nose that was quite intriguing.

Greenock Creek 1998 Shiraz Roennfeldt Road (100 Parker Points.) This Shiraz from Australia was the hands down headlining rock star on the a night featuring nothing but top shelf talent.  Robert Parker gave the wine truly high praise, when he said,The wine possesses the concentration of the greatest classics ever produced in such Bordeaux vintages as 1945, 1947, 1959, 1961, and 1982.”  That is rare wine company to be favorably compared to.

2002 Kracher #12 TBA “Nouvelle Vague” This is a desert wine from Austria that a description of “Mind Bender” does not do justice. This is the most extracted pure sweet botrytis affected wine you may ever come across.  The wine is so extracted that after a year of slow fermenting it was only able to reach 3.9% alcohol, which in Europe means it cannot legally be called wine, and is therefore labeled as “partially fermented grape juice”.  Fascinating! Because of its extraordinary qualities and composition, I put this wine on my bucket list wines, in the desert category, right next to Chateau d’Yquem.

If you get the chance, try one of Arnie’s wine events, they are more than worth the freight.

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French Wine Scholar course now offered in Seatlle!

To help feed the growing beast that is my second vice, tonight, I started the French Wine Scholar program through the French Wine Society ( http://www.frenchwinesociety.org/site.php).  The course is being delivered in Seattle by Joel Butler, MW, and Karen Graf of WineKnow, LLC, ( http://www.mywineknow.com/). The classes being held at the just opened Urban Enoteca (http://urbanenoteca.com/)  in SODO.  The course is a nine week course covering all of the major wine regions in France.  It is designed to be a friendly course, that is informative and educational; both for the enthusiast as well as wine industry professionals.

Tonight’s class covered the Champagne region, and the class discussed the process of Champagne vilification, and its history.

~ The Honored Guests ~

As part of tonight’s lesson we sampled 7 Champagnes of different styles, along with a Sparkling Wine from Northern California. We compared and contrasted the different styles of the wine that my hero, Sir Winston Churchill commented, “Champagne ~ In Victory Deserve It; In Defeat Need It!”  During class I was certainly saluting Sir Winston observation.

At the end of the Course, if one chooses, an exam can be taken, and if you pass, you earn the professional designation FWS for French Wine Scholar.  Based on the discussions in class it is clear that this test is very rigorous.  It appears that it will require a level of academic effort and discipline I have not undertaken since college.  What the hell, I’m gonna go for it, call it the academic nerd and masochist in me.  It is time to dust of the study skills and see if I can still get it done in that department.  Pass or fail this should be a damn good time.  This is the first time i took a course where you get to get krunked during class, at least not aided and abetted by the instructor.  I learned a ton and the class is a worthy investment for anyone with more than a passing drinking interest in vino.

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Addition by Subtraction: Sounders Cleared to Improve After MLS Expansion Draft

With the completion of today’s MLS Expansion Draft the silly season of North American futbol is kicked off!  The Rave Green lost two quality players in Nathan Sturgis and Sanna Nyassi to the Vangroovy Whitecaps.  Overall there were a few surprises in the draft such as the Portland Timbers taking Jonathan Bornstein and Robbie Findley, who have indicated that they are on their way out of the league overseas.  The Timber’s either got the steal of the draft or threw away two picks, only time will tell.

Personally, I am truly excited by the outcome of the draft for my Sounders.  I believe this draft is one of those rare cases in sports where addition by subtraction occurs.  The loss of Nyassi and Sturgis combined with the trade of Pete “Backpass” Vagenas to Colorado on Monday has opened up the depth chart in the Sounders CM so much so that it has “Cleared the Decks.”  Now…finally….Adrian, Chris and Sigi are in a position to bring in new, better, faster and physically stronger talent into our CM.  From day one of the Sounders MLS experience, this area has been our single biggest structural weakness.  Now if Adrian and Chris are as good as I think they are, they will address this and be able to substantially improve the club.  With the structure of the personnel as it was, the Sounders were only going to be a solid side that was competitive in the MLS, not a Championship side.  Now the decks have been cleared. The FO is free to make the necessary personnel decisions, without the baggage of existing players, that positions the team to be strong enough to challenge for at least double in 2011, if not a treble!  Even with the sadness of losing two quality players today, everyone who bleeds Rave Green should be excited for the 2011 campaign.

Go Sounders Go! Go Sounders Fight and the entire world will tremble at your might!

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