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Novice develops thirst for knowledge

Tim Mutrie

“First, the nose,” instructed a friend, who then proceeded to engulf his beak with the mouth of a Chardonnay glass filled with a splash of some red wine and draw a deep, nasal breath.I followed suit, “Ah yes, the nose always knows,” I uttered back through clenched teeth. Continuing on, my friend launched into an overview of the various ritualistic charades akin to wine tastings: the sip, the swish, the spit (though rarely utilized), and of course the legs.It was Friday afternoon and I was having my first go at the free-for-all in Wagner Park that is the Food & Wine Classic.Having little experience with wine and none with tastings (of grand variety anyhow), that morning I spent the first grand tasting of the weekend sampling food and wine indiscriminately and with shopping-spree like urgency.The highlight to my wanderings had been dropping stock compliments on vintners, that I’d heard from fellow volunteers.”Assertive, yet subtle,” or so said Heather Buxton.”Aggressive, but not overbearing,” said Todd Hartley.Oftentimes vintners replied “Exactly!” or “Very perceptive,” or, in one hilarious case, “Well put,” to these and other catch-all phrases. And soon each booth and vintner became a testing ground for curiously worded, tight-lip, accented phrases to be spoken without actually saying anything.”Spicy, yet diminutive,” offered Justin Kinghall.As regimented as well-versed haiku, the pseudo compliments, and the wine, kept flowing. But into the second tasting of the day, taking my cue from other novice winos, I started dropping the coy bit and began asking real questions of the vintners. I guess you could say I developed a thirst for knowledge.”So where’s this Chianti from?” I asked one woman vintner.”Chianti. In Italy,” she replied.Point taken, I smirked and scurried off wishing I’d tried to maintain the seasoned, restaurateur facade. Nonetheless, it was only when I “came out” as an utter ignoramus, that I began learning about wines of the world.Gossett, for instance, I now know to be a top-notch champagne. Their Brut, my favorite of the weekend, is hearty and smooth, and decidedly refreshing. A fine find from Portugal was the Ferreira, 20-year-old tawny port (though I learned that not all ports are from Portugal). It’s a tightener for sure; heady with hints of caramel and vanilla.Gewurztraminer is a delightful member of the white wine family, to which I was first introduced over the weekend. Fruity and lively and similar to a chardonnay, gewurztraminer is traditionally German, though it is produced in California, New Zealand and elsewhere.Reisling, another of the white wine family I’d never formally met, proved to be an exuberant and lively white that struck me as extremely appropriate, along with several chardonnays and sauvignon blancs, on that beauty of a spring day.Best of show, for me, would have to go to Babich’s sauvignon blanc (about $10), from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Finding it an immediately refreshing, well-balanced wine, I likened it to lemonade in speaking with Babich’s kindly vintner, and I think I ruffled a few feathers in doing so.”Only in terms of its refreshingness and quench-factor,” I hedged.Learning as best I could from my own vintner/taster indiscretions, relations and in turn, rations, improved. And so I forged on in the time-honored manner of tasting wines – legs, nose, sip, swish, swill.And before the bell sounded to end Saturday evening’s grand tasting, I turned in my glass, I was grand tasted.


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