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Top 10 Ways to Embarass Yourself at Wine Tasting

Last week we posted an article entitled “Top 10 ways to show off at wine tasting”  (Top 10.)  Today, we are focused on 10 ways to stand out from the crowd – but in a bad way.  Hopefully everyone will consider this a list of things not to do rather than a list of suggested activities.

  1. Show up at the winery with no appointment or advance notice and expect to be accommodated.  This is especially aggravating when a huge group shows up unannounced – a family reunion or the noisy bachelorette party – and piles out of a van or bus and descends on the tasting room.  All or most wineries have specific visit restrictions (per day and per week) in their permits and cannot take all comers. Also, with the exception of the mega-wineries, most wineries have limited staff and simply cannot comfortably handle large (unexpected) crowds.  So hey, why don’t you check online before you show up and see if reservations are required, or recommended.  Even if they are not, maybe show some courtesy and call ahead and see how busy they are and if they can accommodate you.
  2. Visit five or six or seven wineries in one day.  Unless you are an accomplished professional expert at wine tasting instead of wine swallowing, this is simply too many places to visit.  After the second or third winery you’ll have blown out your palate and you’re just wasting your time. And thus everyone else’s.  Moreover, that many winery visits doesn’t even allow you sit down and soak in the atmosphere or absorb any information. We call these “running tastings” because the groups that do this seem to literally run through the tasting room, hardly stopping to taste or engage.
  3. Complain about the cost of the tasting.  Yes, we know, you visited Napa way back when you had hair and wine tastings were free; and the wineries back where you come from have free tastings.  Apologies for discussing business but, well, wineries are businesses.  If your tasting is $30, or $40, or $100, it’s because that’s how much wineries have to charge to cover all of the saps who visit and don’t buy any wine.  Also keep in mind that in places like Napa Valley, an acre of undeveloped land costs upwards of $500,000 an acre.  In other words, it’s super expensive and not a fair comparison to your favorite winery in your neck of the woods.
  4. Complain about the cost of the wine.  See the discussion in #3.  If you want cheap wine, go to a cheap winery.  Even in Napa you can visit wineries that sell cheaper wine. If you go to Opus One and complain about the several hundred dollar bottle of Cabernet, that just makes you look bad.
  5. Complain about the size of your pour.  Wine tasting rooms are not restaurants or bars.  You are not purchasing a glass of wine, you are purchasing a series of small tastes. The objective is to put enough wine in the glass – 1-2 ounce pours are common – to enable you to evaluate the color, aroma and flavor.
  6. Gulp your wine.  Wine gulpers – the visitors who don’t even bother to swirl or sniff – can make it through an entire tasting in 5 minutes or less.  Slow down.  Maybe even sit down.
  7. Get sloppy, stupid drunk.  Violations of #6 often lead to this embarrassing outcome.  Tasting room managers all have war stories about the person, or groups, that confused wine tasting with getting hammered.  The results are many, and we have seen broken glasses, people falling down, yelling and screaming, and even crying (melancholy drunks).
  8. Complain that the white wine is “too sour” or “not sweet enough.”  That’s probably what the wine maker was shooting for!
  9. Say that the wine is “not good.”  Unless you are a sommelier or other qualified wine industry expert, stick to simpler evaluations:  “I like” or “I no like.”
  10. Leave without showing your appreciation.  If you had a great time at the winery, consider buying some wine. It might even reduce or eliminate the cost of your tasting. If you don’t want to buy wine, buy something else, like a winery souvenir.  We often buy hats or sweatshirts from wineries where we didn’t love the wine but really enjoyed our time (and our wine tasting guide).  If you don’t feel like buying anything, leave a generous tip for the tasting room staff.

See you around at a winery some time soon and we hope we don’t cringe when we see you.

John & Irene Ingersoll

July 10, 2017

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Hiding in Plain Sight

Hiding in Plain Sight

For twenty-seven years we lived in Los Angeles.  I’m not sure what that says about us.  We’re gluttons for punishment? Sturdy folk?  Addicted to 72-and-sunny temperatures 365 days a year?  For all that we enjoyed about Southern California (and it really was mostly the weather), we made an annual pilgrimage each summer to Northern California wine country to get the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles out of our systems, at least for a week or two.  During these many trips, we have had occasion to stay at a number of hotels, inns, and B&B’s in Napa and Sonoma.  Somehow, during these many trips north, we managed to miss a place that we recently discovered and believe to be a true “hidden gem” in Sonoma:  MacArthur Place.  It is hard to explain how we missed it exactly, since the property is located on Broadway Street, which is the road that dead-ends at the Sonoma Plaza.  Without exaggerating, I can say that we have probably passed MacArthur Place (which is just off of Broadway on MacArthur Street) at least 40 or 50 times.

We learned about the hotel as a result of a work meeting that was held in one of their meeting rooms. We had a chance to walk around the property and fell in love with the grounds and the way the suites and cottages were laid out across seven acres.  We also thought the location was ideal – located in a quiet neighborhood away from the crowds on the Plaza, but still only a 10-15 minute walk to all of the fun and excitement.  Since first seeing the property, we have stayed there three separate times, each time getting an opportunity to try out a different room type.  At MacArthur Place there are 64 guest rooms, although the term “rooms” is not entirely accurate and understates the grandeur of many of the spaces.  During our first stay, we did in fact have a “room” – a standard king room that was very spacious and comfortable.  As we were to find over our next several visits, the bathrooms at MacArthur Place are something special.  Like the rooms, they are spacious and have all the touches of a luxury hotel.  But what really sets them apart from other hotels is the shower – a large walk-in European-style shower that might inspire you to shower multiple times a day. Unfortunately, we are recovering from a 5-year drought and cannot indulge in that type of luxury, but we may have showered a little longer than usual if we are being honest.

Macarthur place king room
King Room at MacArthur Place, Sonoma

On our second visit, we found ourselves in what is called a “premium” suite.  It was indeed premium – a gorgeous King bed with a large seating area with couch and chair that really made the room feel open and grand.  For this room, the special touch was a set of shutters that could be opened that exposed the hydrotherapy tub to the rest of the suite and the fireplace.

premium suite
Premium Suite at MacArthur Place, Sonoma

The third and final time that we stayed at MacArthur Place we felt like we hit the jackpot;  we ended up in one of their Cabana Suites, which features all of the amenities of the other rooms but with a really, really special feature: a private patio with an outdoor rain shower to complement the already lovely indoor European shower.  There is something decadent about taking a hot shower outside when the temperature outside is in the 50’s or 60’s.

Cabana suite
Outside patio, Cabana Suite, MacArthur Place, Sonoma

We have nothing against chain hotels.  As a result of dozens of business trips each year, we have been Marriott Gold or Platinum Elite for several years now.  Many chain hotels, including the Marriott’s Ritz Carlton properties, can be fantastic and unique places to stay.  We have to say, though, that places like MacArthur Place can make a vacation (or, for people like us who live locally, a staycation) a truly romantic and unbeatable experience.  The privacy and peacefulness of the property made us feel as if we were miles from civilization, which was welcome at times during our stay.  We also appreciated the ability to walk out of our room and be in the middle of the action within minutes, enjoying first-class restaurants and wine tasting rooms.

In the spirit of confession, we are also suckers for hotels with a cool story, which MacArthur place definitely has. For one thing, the property did not start out as a hotel or a lodging place, but instead was part of a 300-acre working ranch with vineyards, orchards, cattle, and horses.  Some of the original buildings are still standing and make up part of MacArthur Place’s lodging space, conference space and spa.  In the structure that houses the restaurant, there are numerous nods to the equestrian history of the property, most notably in the name of the restaurant itself, Saddles.

We generally do not like to eat in at our hotel if we can walk or make a short drive to local restaurants. On each of our stays we did walk to the Sonoma Plaza for dinner, but we felt compelled to try Saddles as it has a reputation as one of the best steakhouses in the county.  We were not disappointed by Saddles at all, and have had lunch and breakfast there multiple times.

So next time you’re driving up Broadway on your way to the Sonoma Plaza, take a gander to the right when you’re approaching MacArthur Street; the property starts on that corner.  If you are not in a hurry, take  a right on MacArthur and pull into the parking lot and take a walk around.  Even if you are not ready to take the plunge and stay there, try out their bar – either before or after dinner.  They have  a small bar but an expansive wine menu with some gems from Napa and Sonoma.  Every time we stay, we make it a point to finish our evening at the bar.

John and Irene Ingersoll

 

July 9, 2017

 

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Top 10 Ways To Show Off At Wine Tasting

Wine tasting trips can be fun and exciting, especially if the destination is a superior winery located in a renowned wine region such as Napa Valley, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Rioja or any of the New World regions (Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina).  These trips can also be intimidating given the massive amount of science that gets shared at a wine tasting – chemistry, botany, enology, viticulture, meteorology, soil science, and so much more.  Like all disciplines, grape growing and winemaking have their own lexicons and the jargon of the business can be overwhelming to say the least.  Next time you go wine tasting with your friends, we want you to stand out from the rest, but in a good way.  Go forth armed with these 10 suggestions and leave your friends stunned with your knowledge, sophistication and charm …

  1. Follow the Five S’s.  Yes we know that when you and your friends were in college you gulped the $5 chardonnay down like it was water.  You must leave that in the past and from now on you must learn to savor the wine and faithfully follow the Five S’s of wine tasting:  See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor.  Yes, you’re eager to taste the wine, that’s natural. But wine tasting requires a bit of foreplay and you’re just going to have to wait before you get the wine in your mouth.
  2. Have something interesting to say about the wine.  The whole point of the Five S’s is to make observations about the wine.  So when you’re in the “See” mode, tell your group what you see, and try to be more descriptive than “it’s white” or  “it’s red.”  At most wineries you’ll taste both white and red wines and you should pay attention to the different levels of clarity, viscosity, brightness and color.  If you’re tasting a Sauvignon Blanc, for example, you’ll be sure to impress if you use “pale straw” as a descriptor.  For extra points, you might identify the appearance of green as a secondary color.  When you have moved on to the red wines use words like “garnet” and, if you are tasting a very dark wine, “inky.”  Okay, once you’ve seen and swirled, it’s time to sniff, the step considered by many sommeliers and wine experts to be the most important part of the wine tasting experience.  So stick your nose in that glass and come up with something better than “it smells like alcohol” or “it smells like grape juice.”  Yes, there is fruit juice in your glass, but come on, you can do better than that.  When tasting white wines, there are some basic flavor profiles that you can build your comments around:  citrus, tree fruit, stone fruit, and tropical.  Try these phrases on for size:  “I’m definitely getting citrus on the nose.”  If you want to push it a bit more, get more specific:  maybe you’re picking up hints of lemon.  The truly ambitious show-off might be so bold as to identify grapefruit …or even pink grapefruit!  At a wine tasting for Chardonnay (especially one made in the “French” style) or a Pinot Grigio, identifying citrus is a safe bet.  For other whites, the predominant aroma might be apple, pear or one of the stone fruits (peach, apricot, nectarine).   Some white wines, including those that have been aged in 100% new oak, will present tropical fruit aromas (pineapple, mango, papaya, banana).   In truth, it is not uncommon for a white wine to have aromas of several flavor profiles. You might throw out to the group something like “I’m definitely getting citrus but is anyone getting stone fruit as well?”  You can then debate whether it’s more like peach or nectarine, and whether it’s ripe or unripe.

When you move to the red wine part of the tasting you’ll have two basic profiles to choose between:  dark fruits (blackberry, plum, blueberry, dark cherry, black raisins, fig) and red fruits (red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, currant, cranberry, pomegranate).  When tasting a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec or Tempranillo, stick with the dark fruits:  “Lots of blackberry and blueberry on the nose.”  Red fruit aromas should be expected with Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo:  “I’m picking up a strong cherry aroma.”  Of course, fruit is just one of the aroma profiles that a dedicated show-off will need to be able to share with his friends.  Red wines have so many secondary aromas that need to be identified; it’s simply not good enough to focus on the fruit.  When tasting a wine from the old world, “earth” is always a good bet, or more specific descriptors such as “mushroom” or “forest floor” or “dirt.”  There are too many secondary aromas to list here but a brilliant professor from U.C. Davis invented a wine aroma wheel that the dedicated tasting show-off will want to buy or at least study online before going out with friends.  Here’s the wheel:

wine flavor wheel

 

One of the keys to showing off is to not appear to be showing off.  This is tricky, we know.  Most people fail at this because they act and sound like they are giving a lecture on wine.  That’s an amateur move. The professional show-off has a more nonchalant style:  all comments and observations will be offered as if talking to himself or herself.  “Hmmm, I think I’m getting vanilla and tobacco on the nose.”

3.  Oak.  When your wine tasting guide tells you that the wine was aged in oak, you must ask “was it new oak or neutral oak?”

4.  Fermentation.  For white wines, ask if the wine was fermented in stainless steel or oak.  When this question has been answered, ask whether the wine went through malolactic fermentation.  If the wine guide beat you to it and already told the group that the wine did in fact go through malolactic fermentation, ask “do you know that percent?”  Many wines go through the entire malolactic fermentation process (100% malo) but wine makers can and often do mix wine that went through malo with wine that did not to yield a 50% malolactic fermented wine (or higher or lower percentages).

5.  Rosè.  When tasting this wine, ask your server how long the grapes were “on the skins.”

6.  Harvest conditions.  Sound very interested in the conditions that existed for the vintage you tasted.  Was it a cold or warm year?  Lots of rain vs. drought.  Did they pick early or late?

7.  Terroir.  If you get to ask about terroir you’re sure to impress – after all, it’s a French word, and who isn’t impressed with a bit of French? Terroir refers to the place the grapes are grown – the weather, soil, microclimate, elevation, sun exposure, etc.  A beginner show-off could start off with a question about soil.  Intermediate and advanced show-offs will delve deeper and ask questions about, for example, which way the vineyard faces or what impact the local topography or geography (e.g., mountains, rivers, valleys) has on the vineyards.

8.  Farming practices.  The discriminating show-off will definitely want to know more about how the grapes are grown and how the vineyards are tended.  Does the winery irrigate or are the vineyards dry-farmed?  Are the vineyards organic or managed biodynamically?  What kind of canopy management system is employed in the vineyard (yes, “canopy management” really is a thing).

9.  Brix.  As you progress to PhD-level of showing off, you will want to start asking some very technical questions about the wine-making process.  You might consider asking your tasting guide:  “At what Brix level were the grapes picked?”  He or she likely won’t know but you’ll look like quite the stud with this question.

10.  Food pairing.  Now you’re ready to mix your knowledge of wine with your knowledge of food.  “This Sauvignon Blanc would go beautifully with Italian Sea Bass.”  “This Cabernet needs a thick, juicy steak to stand up to it.”  The more you taste the more specific you’ll be comfortable getting:  “This Moscato would go great with cheese – blue cheese that is.”

Okay you’re ready now to go out and impress your friends.  To avoid being overly annoying or coming across as a complete and utter snob, do not ask all 10 questions at every winery you go to. Spread them around over a few days of wine tasting. Pick your spots and use as much subtlety as you possess.  Good luck!

 

John & Irene Ingersoll

July 5, 2017

From 0 to 100.

From 0 to 100.

Yesterday we passed another milestone: we reached 100 countries where our blog has been read.  This is a proof-positive of the global nature of our lives today as well as the wide reach of social media and the scale of blog platforms such as WordPress that are used literally all over the world.  For the record, our 100th country was Armenia, the former Soviet republic tucked between Turkey, Georgia, Iran and Azerbaijan.  Without question, this new reader was not our first ethnic Armenian as many countries (including the United States) are home to Armenians.  And we know for a fact that our good friend Vadim has read the blog.  But we are grateful to Armenia for getting us to this surprising milestone and we look forward to seeing how many of the world’s other 96 countries we can penetrate.  Here are some fun facts about the 100 countries in which our blog has been read:

  1. The United States accounts for about 75% of our total views.  This is expected given that we are in the US and we write our blog in English.
  2. The United Kingdom is our second largest readership base – also expected given the language in which the blog is written.  The fact that the blog is read in so many other countries is a reflection of how ubiquitous English has become we suppose.
  3. Croatia accounts for our third-largest viewership among the 100 countries.  We did go to Croatia late last year and some of our most memorable posts have been about that trip.  (A link to our last post from that trip is here: Croatia blog post).
  4. Of the 100 countries, there are only two with which we were not previously familiar:  Mauritius and Cape Verde.  Thanks for the 5 views from Mauritius, we now know that it is a tiny island east of Madagascar.  As for Cape Verde, it is also a tiny island, but this one is off of the northwest coast of Africa.
  5. Our very latest new viewer comes from the Palestinian Territories which comprise Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Because we are sticklers we are not counting this as 101 because the Territories are not a country.  But there are over 4 million residents there and we look forward to more readers there.
  6. Six out of the seven continents are covered – North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.  We have not recorded any readers in Antarctica and we may never do so.  The way IP addresses are recorded is generally by country and Antarctica is the one continent that has no countries.
  7. We have only visited 25 of the 100 countries that read our blog.  Clearly we have to crank up our travel plans for the future!
  8. Virtually all of the countries in which the blog has been read permit the consumption of alcohol.  However, there are two (Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia) that do not permit alcohol to be consumed, and we are grateful to our intrepid readers in those countries.
  9. Seven readers have been identified as being from the European Union, which is also not a country so not counted as one of our 100.  But it did cause us to do some research and we learned that occasionally IP addresses will identify generically as “EU” when people are working in headquarters locations.
  10. Our final, and perhaps most important fun fact, is that wine is something that people all over the world have interest in regardless of the political structure in that country, dominant religion or class structure.

We appreciate all of our followers and will try to keep posting interesting and meaningful stories and experiences.

John & Irene Ingersoll

June 24, 2017

 

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Happy Blogiversary to Us

Happy Blogiversary to Us

One year ago we decided that we wanted to start a blog about life in Napa Valley wine country and our experiences visiting the restaurants and wineries here.  Almost immediately we felt that Napa Valley was too narrow a focus as our travels took us to other California wine region and wineries in other states.  Before the blog was 6 months old, we found ourselves in Europe writing about our adventures with food and wine across four countries.  A year later, we can say that our blog is still focused on sharing our food and wine experiences, but we no longer feel compelled to limit ourselves to any particular region.

When we started we had no plan for, well, anything – frequency of posts, mix of content (food vs. wine vs. travel), length of blog.  To the question “how do I become a writer” there is an old joke response:   “You write.”  That’s how we started this blog: we wrote.  Our first post was about a visit to a wine pick-up party where they served a whole roasted pig to accompany the wines being poured.  That first blog can be accessed here:  A Bovine and Wine Saturday at HdV.  As soon as we published the article as better title came to mind “A Wine and Swine Saturday,” but we were too lazy to change it.  Faithful readers will know that as often as possible we title our blog posts with some sort of play on words that we hope qualifies as “clever.”  More often that not, though, the titles are more corny than clever.

After the first post we managed to write another 57 over the following year – almost 5 a month.  This might sound disciplined but the truth is our blog posts have had peaks and valleys rather than coming out in a steady stream.  Each of our first three months we managed 3 posts.  In August, we were very active visiting restaurants and wineries and we managed to publish 6 posts. Then came October, our most prolific month, where we published 12 separate posts about our California, Oregon and Europe trips.  The past few months the “day job” and other personal projects have brought our monthly volumes back down a bit.  Our goal as we head into Year 2 of our blogging adventure is to be a little bit more consistent – at least a blog post a week.

Looking back on the past year there are some facts and figures that blew us away:

  • We went from 0 followers to just over 8,000 at current count.  Writing a blog should be a labor of love because there is no guarantee, when you push “publish,” that anyone will see it, read it, or care about it.  The first follower was a delightful surprise as have been the ones that came after.
  • Our blog has been read in 95 countries according to our analytics reporting.  Our first follow, in fact, came from Australia from some fellow wine bloggers that we consider to be among the best in the world.  As a thanks we will provide a link to their blog:  The Wine Wankers.  Of course we could not have expected or even dreamed of such a wide reach. We have friends, family and colleagues in probably 20% of these countries; the others we have been able to reach using social media, in our case primarily Twitter.  We would like to give a shout-out to all of our international followers and a special recognition for the one visitor in each of the following countries that has read our blog:  Tanzania, Mauritius, Fiji, Djibouti and Antigua & Barbuda.  Hey, tell a friend about us, maybe we can get multiple readers in your country.
  • A large majority of our views come from the United States, not surprisingly given where we live, the language in which we we write, and how we distribute our blog.  Our second-largest viewership comes from the United Kingdom, followed by Croatia, Canada, Spain, Australia, France, Italy, Germany and India.  As we look down the list we realize how popular wine has become across the globe; even in countries where it may violate local laws and/or customs to purchase or consume wine we have followers.
  • Wine is being produced almost everywhere.  As we have pushed our blog across our WordPress platform, Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels, we have met wine makers in so many places.  It was a definite learning for us, for example, that all 50 of the United States produce wine.  In addition, our eyes have been opened to the excellent wines being made in parts of the world where grape growing is not a traditional form of agriculture.

As we buckle down to Year 2 we promise to sacrifice ourselves for our readers by visiting as many fine restaurants and wineries as we can and tasting wines from all over the glob.  Keep sending us your comments and questions and hitting that “like” button when you appreciate what we have done.  We hope to avoid a sophomore slump and will do our best to come up with witty/silly/clever/corny headlines and interesting content.

John & Irene Ingersoll

May 6, 2017