Eugene Weekly : Wine : 9.2.10


Wine Schooling
Sample and sniff, trust your senses
By Lance Sparks

Labor Day, back to school, first of the turning leaves, first icy snap in the morning air: Waves of nostalgia wash through my veins. I want new tennies, a new backpack. I yearn for that crack of new books opening, the polished pages, stiff spines. I need new Pee Chees.

I loved school and learning — OK, not always. There were some very nasty parts, but I attended so many schools, in so many places (23 before college, a Navy brat’s life), nastiness was not always avoidable and usually had nothing to do with what happened in the classes, more with events that took place on playgrounds or on the bus home. Still, I loved school; new knowledge dazzled me, still does. Despite Art Robinson, I don’t remember any teachers trying to enslave my mind; quite the opposite.

Which brings us to gaining an education in wine. First, though, wine is just wine, fermented grape juice, not some arcane subject like physics. True, the chemistry of wine is hugely complex, but is mostly studied by folks who make wine, and we’re looking at learning about wine as imbibers, not so much producers, but even for tipplers, wine is complex, part of its charm. There are thousands of wines, from many countries and regions, so many that folks who aspire to degrees like master of wine or master sommelier must study for years before acquiring credentials.

But studying wine merely for pleasure can be fun — and relatively cheap. Of course, the novice can enroll in actual classes, some taught at the college level, some taught by retailers and others. Such classes can be very valuable, laying down a foundation of wine lingo, exploring the roles of soils, climate, wine-making. Reading also helps. Most important, perhaps, might be training that tunes students’ senses — learning how to smell and taste carefully and critically.

For the more casual students of the vine, Labor Day is a prime time to start wine schooling. In wine-world, Labor Day marks the end of tourist season and onset of harvest anxieties, and almost all the wineries open their tasting rooms, even some which rarely open to the public. Many make special arrangements — music, art, arrays of nibblies to match the vinos. Fees for tasting are mostly nominal, deferred with purchases. Go online or call around for details, then jump in the flivver, tour country lanes and launch your education. Suggestion: Take notes. You’ll be surprised, years later, how much you’ve experienced. Also: Don’t worry about not knowing “enough”; just trust your taste.

Continue your wine curriculum all during the year by visiting retailers who hold regular tastings. Or attend special events, like:

“Pours for Paws”: First Annual Southern Willamette Artisan Wine & Food Celebration, Sunday, Sept 19, noon to 6 pm at Meriwether Winery, Hwy. 126, west of Veneta/Elmira junction, a benefit for Greenhill Humane Society. Free admission, but $5 gets a glass for tasting among the wines produced by some of the state’s best small labels — Capitello, 5H, Shadow Mtn., Opine, J. Scott, Sarver, Brigadoon, others. Many of these are rarely seen on market shelves but are top quality, from passionate but tiny producers. Good grub, great wine, live music, a worthy cause. And a real learning experience.

Final note: Try new wines; in fact, try ’em all. Here’s one: Argiolas Costamolino 2008 Vermentino ($14), crisply dry white from Sardinia, flavors of pears/apples, minerals, note of lime zest, yummy with pastas, like Mario’s carbonara at Friendly Street Market.

To be continued, with review, next column. We will not have a final exam. Don’t eat the paste. No wines match with paste.