Compare, contrast, taste, enjoy
Compare and contrast. Contrast and compare. This key principle about learning wine bears frequent repetition.
Back in school days, those "compare and contrast" essay questions on English literature exams struck me as a real pain; but in the long run I know they helped me develop analytical thinking skills. In real life, setting yourself to a similar task with wine can be just as instructive ... and tastes good, too.
It's easy to come up with specific "assignments" for comparison: Taste two different grape varieties and try to discern the differences; sample wines made from the same grape in different regions; compare variations among similar wines of different vintages, or just sit down at the table and pay attention as you enjoy your dinner, learning how food-and-wine matching works by comparing your reactions to disparate wines over the meal.
If you're worried about wasting wine (or drinking too much) by opening two bottles, invite friends in to share the experience ... or just recork the partially finished bottles, stick them in the fridge, and save them to enjoy another day.
Today's tasting, a follow-up on Wednesday's report on an excellent, value-priced 2004 Muscadet, returns to the Loire to try another white from a different subregion (Sancerre) made from a different grape (Sauvignon Blanc) in a very different vintage (the record-breaking hot summer of 2003).
Although these are almost too many variables for a quasi-scientific comparison, it was still fun to contrast the unctuously aromatic Sauvignon Blanc against the lean, tart Melon grape character of Muscadet; to note the more evident minerality of Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine, and to mutter about the atypically fat, fruit-forward and almost "California-style" ripeness that the summer of 2003 conferred on many Loire wines. Tasting these two wines against each other on successive nights brought all these differences into sharp, memorable contrast.
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Paul et Jean-Marc Pastou 2003 "La Côte de Sury" Sancerre ($21)
Transparent straw color with glints of gold. Lovely mixed citrus aromas, lemon and lime, tangy grapefruit, even a hint of tangerine. Full and ripe, almost an oily mouthfeel; soft citrus, so fruity that the steely Loire acidity and old-vines minerality, though certainly present, take a back seat to the sweet and juicy fruit. Loire traditionalists may be offended, but it's a mighty slurpy Sauvignon Blanc. U.S. importer: North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Calif. (Feb. 8, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: I think of seafood and fish in general with Sancerre, but would err on the side of richer, sweeter shellfish like lobster or crab with this fat '03. It made a surprisingly good match with a Chinese-style vegetarian dish, the tofu and bok choy stir-fry with toasted Sichuan peppers and five-spice featured in yesterday's Wine Advisor FoodLetter.
VALUE: At $21, this is pushing the margin of value, particularly in comparison with Wednesday's Muscadet at half the price. I paid well above the median for this wine, though, and - setting aside the issue of personal preference for the 2003 style - it's a white wine of real quality, arguably competitive with other wines at the $20 price point.
WHEN TO DRINK: As a general rule, quality Sancerre can age and improve for five years or more under good cellar conditions. How the idiosyncratic '03s will fare in the cellar is anyone's guess, but I'd look for this one to dry out a bit over time, which might be a good thing, although the tradeoff is that its intriguing citrus flavors will likely fade.
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South Beach Wine and Food Festival
My friend Barbara Freda, a professional chef and first-rate wine-and-food writer, will be covering the upcoming South Beach Wine and Food Festival in Florida for WineLoversPage.com this month. Here's Barb's brief preliminary report on the event, which benefits Florida State University's hospitality-education programs and is open to the public:
Wine and food celebrities from the international stage will convene on Miami's South Beach Feb. 24-25 to share their wares and their talents with the world ... well, at least with that part of the world that can make its way to South Beach.
Events at this year's South Beach Wine and Food Festival,
The Grand Tasting Village will host more celebrity chefs and dedicate an area to their cookbooks, as well as tastings from local restaurants and samplings of wines and spirits. A live auction in the Tasting Village on Sunday will feature wine-country trips, rare vintage wines, jewelry, lifestyle packages and much more.
Attended by more than 20,000 people last year, South Beach Wine and Food Festival's proceeds benefit Florida International University School of Hospitality and Tourism Management's Teaching Restaurant and Southern Wine & Spirits Beverage Management Center in Miami.
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.
Friday, Feb. 10, 2006