Here’s how a wine tasting usually works: You put some money on the counter and, in exchange, you hope to taste some outstanding wine. Occasionally, people are truly out for a strictly educational experience, but let’s get real for a minute here: Most people are in chill-out mode and are hoping to get large pours of really great wine. In exchange, they are likely to buy a bottle or two of their favorites so they can continue what has become an enjoyable experience. I can tell you straight up, I’ve yet to hear someone complain about a large pour or a “bonus” pour!
So, on Saturday afternoons, while most guys are working around the house, spending time with their kids or taking a well-deserved nap, I am hanging out with customers in the Tasting Room, pouring wine into their glasses and telling the stories of the wines they are tasting. I love it when the room is full and people are having a good time. And, it’s even better when the customers really like the wines in the lineup. My plan is always to help our customers find some new favorites and give them a solid, “Enjoy the vino!” as they head out the door.
To that end, the Saturday tasting lineup typically consists of four local wines, two whites and two reds – the staff and I research every wine in the store, so you can count on every wine on our tasting bar being delicious. For the most part, we showcase wine from the Pacific Northwest because that’s what most of our customers are interested in. Recently though, I decided to shake up the Saturday lineup and named the tasting, “Wines You’ve Never Tried Before.”
A couple of weeks before the tasting, I starting working with the distributors to identify delicious wines made from lesser-known grapes. This isn’t as easy as you’d think. Across the world, wine is made from more than 3,000 different grape varieties, but the truth is that most wine comes from about two dozen grapes and those are the ones we are all most familiar with. I second-guessed myself a number of times wondering what the reactions would be and if I was potentially risking our otherwise strong reputation, especially with our regulars.
The first Wine You’ve Never Tried Before was Aligote by Steele Wines (CA). Aligote is the second most widely planted white grape in Burgundy, following the Chardonnay grape. Aligote is also widely planted in Hungary and other Eastern European countries. Very few customers had ever tasted Aligote before, but, happily, it was very well-received! Score one for the unknowns! Steele’s Aligote is crisp and packed full of apple flavors, with nice acidity. This a very food-friendly wine and pairs nicely with salads, cheeses and seafood. Also, at less than $20 per bottle, it’s affordable and a great value.
The second wine in the lineup was Pinotage by MAN Vintners (South Africa). Pinotage is a relatively new grape, which was created by crossing Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Because of its Pinot Noir background, MAN’s Pinotage had a certain familiarity to it. Pinotage is a delicate red wine, full of red fruit. But, whereas Pinot Noir has a unique “forest floor” flavor profile, Pinotage has flavors of cinnamon and clove. Like Pinot Noir, this wine would be a good partner with salmon, but the spicy flavor profile would pair nicely with barbecue. Our customers liked this one too and even better, it’s only $14. Again, a terrific value and worth taking a risk to step outside your box.
The next wine was Lemberger by Kiona Vineyards (WA). Lemberger is red grape that is primarily grown in Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany. Lemberger is known for combining flavors of dark fruit and black pepper. Lemberger is a great wine to enjoy with roasted pork roast and grilled foods. I was surprised that a couple of customers had not just tasted Lemberger before, but they had tasted Kiona’s Lemberger.
The last wine in the lineup was Marechal Foch by Airlie Vineyards (OR). Marechal Foch is a French-American hybrid that is commonly grown in colder climates. I grew Marechal Foch in Iowa because it makes a high quality red wine and can handle the brutal cold of winter. “Foch” is more of a fruit forward wine, but it develops nice spice flavors that make it a good match with spicy Thai, rich pasta dishes, or your favorite barbeque. Because this wine is made in Oregon, several customers had also tried this wine before.
In the end then, I’ll have to get more creative next time if I want to stick to the title of “Wines You’ve Never Tasted Before” but it was fun to treat our visitors to something new and different and to hear their reactions. A few of our regulars gave me a hard time, but, then that’s what they usually do, so I’m used to it!
The moral of this story is that wine tasting is just that – an affordable way for you to taste wine, ask questions and decide if you want to take a bottle home with you. Keep your mind open because your palate may be up for the adventure even if the grape is currently unfamiliar to you. And, don’t wait for me to find it for you, if you have a wine you want to taste, give me a shout and I’ll be glad to order it in for you.
No matter what wine you’re drinking, please drink responsibly. Don’t ever drink and drive. We want to see you again soon in our Tasting Room!