Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Going Back to School on Wine Education

Just like the kids who every morning set off for the bus stop, wine writers have to go back to school every fall.

Oh sure, there are still things to study over the summer. Bottles keep arriving at my front door like so many textbooks -- some weighty tomes that need a lot of thought and analysis, others a quick read over dinner. And there's the occasional trip to the big city for a lunch-and-learn seminar at the DB Bistro Moderne or Per Se.

But things really heat up after Labor Day. First, we have to choose our field trips: Burgundy or the Mosel Valley or Mendoza? And the PR people who work for wine growers -- I think of them as my tutors -- always have suggestions about new things to try and new things to learn. Like Andy Rooney, they are always asking, "Have you ever thought about why...?"

Then there is this new education tool called a "webinar." In the old days, kids out in the boonies would be sent reading materials by mail, then they would turn on the radio Saturday morning to hear the lecture. With webinars, a winemaker in Chile or Australia, who could spend more money than Congress taking a plane north and still not catch up with all of us writers, merely has to set up a camera in front of a bunch of vines and lecture us via the internet.

Like a couple of weeks ago. The folks at Barossa Valley Estate make some really neat wines, especially two shirazes -- Ebenezer and E&E Black Pepper -- so the tutors set up a seminar for winemaker Stuart Bourne to talk to us via webcam from his Barossa vineyard while we sipped wine, trying not to get cracker crumbs in the keyboard.

I always do advance prep, and sometimes my friend Anthony helps with my homework. So here we are in my kitchen at 10 a.m. tasting these four wines before the noontime webinar. We immediately fall in love with the 2006 BVE E Minor Chardonnay, which has a sort of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc attitude. Next, there is the 2006 E Minor Shiraz -- lots of spicy fruit like a jazzed-up Russian River Zin. Wow!

Then we taste the 2004 vintage of Ebenezer and E&E Black Pepper, which regularly gets ratings in the 90s by the guys who write the textbooks. Eb has great, raw-meat, steaklike aromas, and Pepper has fruity balsamic and green olive notes. Both sport that trademarked Aussie fruit balminess, but neither is totally satisfying, like an apple pie with great filling but no crust. I turn on the computer to catch Stuart, but Anthony has to take off. What a guy -- helps me study even though he doesn't have to write a report!

Next day, I re-pull the corks on Eb and Pep -- education never sleeps -- then the next, then the day after -- and gradually they turn delicious. Should have decanted on that first day! But, if you study hard enough, you finally get it.

"No drinker left behind," I say.

This article appeared in slightly different form in my weekly wine column in the Delaware regional newspaper, The News Journal.

Until next time....

Roger Morris

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