Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wine-Down Wednesday: Flights

Tired of just traveling up flights of stairs at home and work? Sure its exercise, but ready for a flight somewhere fun? Maybe Italy, Spain, or even just head over to the west coast were you can exercise your palate? Even though CNN and Frommers have reported in the past few months the US dollar has strengthened in this bad economy, and it's the best time to take a trip for some rest and relaxation- do you really have time to take off work? I have an idea for some traveling, good R & R, and you do not have  to leave the comfort of your own living room. Well, maybe a drive to the local wine retailer, or around town and try out a few local wine bars!

My 'Partner In Wine', Adrienne and I joke " lets leave the husbands and go to Italy", and then we pour ourselves a glass of Amarone as we chuckle! When I am in the mood to hop from different regions of the world in the comfort of my own home, or off a bar stool in a local wine bar- I think of Wine Flights. Wine flights are a way of letting us step into the world of wines by trying a 'little' pour, and learning something new by going from Napa to Washington State; over the pond to Italy or France, and all in three glasses if we choose so.

Wine tasting is the sensory examination and evaluation of wine. While the practice of wine tasting is as ancient as its production, a more formalized methodology has slowly become established from the 14th century onwards. Modernization has developed ways of wine enthusiasts to make tasting part of the social scene; make it fun, and not so pretentious.

Wine flights are one, two, or even three ounce pours of different wines. Often the wines are pre-chosen, and often in sophisticated Wine Bars, a choice is given. Someone in this case is always available to help the novice. Occasionally even someone like me knows the staff are often educated, already tried wines, and might suggest something really interesting. I am a risk taker, and often dive in to new realms of my travel.

Flights can fill three, six or more glasses. Many choices are the same varietals. Others can range from a white with two reds, or all whites. Price ranges vary according to retail prices of the bottles, and or establishment you are visiting. Some can be very pricey for the wines chosen, but can be worth the education you receive.

A wine flight may also be offered as a way for diners to sample an assortment of different wines. These flights may be designed to pair with a prix fixe menu, with each wine pairing with a different course, or may be intended to showcase some other component of the wine. Restaurants in wine regions, for example, may offer wine flights as a way of allowing diners to sample a variety of wines from that region.

If you like Pinot Noir, but you would like to taste three back to back. Wine flights make it possible. You might get a Cloudline, McMinville OR, '07; Louis Loutor, Burgandy, FR, and a Paraiso, Santa Lucia CA. The three choices most likely '07, and a range of light to heavy body wines. These types of tastings are called vertical and horizontal.

Vertical Tasting- different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery are tasted. This emphasizes differences between various vintages.

Horizontal Tasting- the wines are all from the same vintage but are from different wineries.

Stepping from one level to another gives one a chance to compare. The acts of pausing and focusing through each step distinguishes wine tasting from simple quaffing. I am sure you get my point, so let's move on- What to do when three or more glasses are sitting in front of you...

Tasting Stages-

whites- light to dark gold / reds- rose to dark burgundy (aging causes brown coloration)
(bouquet, or nose)
Mouth feel
(body- light/medium/heavy, and sometimes referred to as chewy)
Perceived flavors
(berries, almonds, grassy, musky, etc)
(aftertaste that seals the deal!)

Lets talk about 'Mouth feel'- I feel food is important in the tasting process. Some mature drinkers will disagree, but I have found over the years that less experienced tasters/drinkers will enjoy more complex and mature, or tannic, younger wines if one has coated their mouth with cheese, or meats (like salami). The fat of the cheese and meats can coat the roof of the mouth and cheeks so that the tannins do not cause what I call 'Pucker face'. Bread and crackers on the other hand are more like palate cleansers. Each bite you take whether bread, cheeses or meats will change the taste of the wine. Once the novice is nudged to have a wine they might not have tried again with a piece of cheese, fruit, or even nuts- they tend to agree in giving wine another chance.

Many times I have witnessed a novice refusing to entertain a varietal of wine such as reds if they have had a bad experience with mouth feel- or as I call it 'Pucker Face'. Mature connoisseurs feel that once a wine has aged, reaching its fruit and tannin peak, or balance; accompaniment of food is not required for drinking. Their palates have grown accustomed to many styles of wine, but to avoid this 'distaste' for certain wines have nibbles waiting for yourself and guests when opening new wines until you begin to mature.

Wine classes- offering wine flights can take place up to three or more hours as to give the student time to taste and re-taste comparisons. Most classes serve small plates of bread, cheese, and meats. Having finger foods on hand can help satisfy that craving and some, like bread or crackers, can also help to cleanse tasters palates between wines. This is another great way to try flights, drill in some education, or refresh on any prior education.

Witherspoon Grill, Princeton- Wine Flight Choices

Quick Restaurant Review- This being my third visit to Witherspoon Grill, I find it consistent all around! This visit we shared a bone in Rib-eye, medium rare and cooked on the 'hot spot' of the grill which gives you a nice char (most wait staff do no mind this request), salad, small plate of cheese/fruit, and calamari between two people. Portions were perfect, and food was great in our two and half hours at the restaurant with our wine flights. We also asked the wines be poured into much larger glasses for aeration, as the glasses in photo above were way to small to swirl.

Witherspoon Grill | Steakhouse | Bar | 57 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ 08542
Steak House ambiance, friendly waitstaff, timely food, short wine and food menu. $$-$$$

(Traditional Comparison of close regions- great for beginner)
Chalone Chardonnay, CA '08
Parcel 41, Merlot, Napa CA, '06
Water Stone, Cabernet, Napa CA '05

Pinot Noir Tasting-
Cloudine, McMinville, OR '07
Louis Latour, Burgundy FR '07
Paraiso, Santa Lucia, CA '07

Full Body-  (Cabernet Sauvignon Tasting)
(Vertical Tasting, although not same maker-notes included)
High Trellis Cabernet, Austrailia '06
Light body, great bouquet, but a bit young and tannic
Waterstone Cabernet, Napa Valley '05
Medium body, well balanced and my favorite!
Sagelands Cabernet, Columbia Valley '06*
Med-Heavy body, Bordeaux like complexity though, and goes well with steak
*I did want to note on this wine that the bouquet and finish came off like I had just walked into a Christmas store just after Thanksgiving- Almonds, cinnamon, and vanilla scents in the air, was wild, I had never had a wine that tasted like Christmas!

Little Italy- (Horizontal Tasting- notes included)
Barbera D'Asti, '06
 Light body, was okay, and had hints of chocolate
Luigi Rechetti, Baby Amarone '06
I have two bottles of this in my cellar- '05 & '06
Medium body, bouquet great, well balanced and drinkable now or can age
Rocca Di Castagnoli, Chianti Classico IT '06
Medium to heavy body, I was not crazy about this wine, but I am not a big fan of Chianti, but I would be willing to bet this would be great with a pasta dish. The dislike could be from me having palate fatigue. Many times trying too many wines, and so much food- you hit that road block, and its time to stop.

Wine flights can open up your palate to a more varied selection of wines a small sample at a time, and allow you to visit more than one place in a matter of only a few hours. Most beginners do not understand how to develop and learn their palate, and wine flights are a great mechanism for that. So if you have an opportunity to order a wine flight, travel to places you have not been before, then I say happy travels and enjoy your R&R; until the 'real' vacation begins!

Can it be? The reason why we drink wine is because we want to fly high?

If that caught your attention, then go over and read Fermentation's piece on 'Wine, Dope & Unmentionable Truths'; it might cause quite the stir at your next wine tasting...