Videos

Walla Walla What?

7 October 2018

It was the morning of our Red Mountain AVA excursion, a pre-Wine Bloggers Conference tour of one of Washington’s hottest wine regions. Chomping at the bit to start exploring the delights of Washington wine, Liz Barrett, my cohost of Name That Wine, and I decided that a little breakfast tasting was in order.

Lu Lu Craft Bar + Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant overlooking the Columbia River in Richland, about an hour outside Walla Walla, challenged us to blind-taste two wines off their list of some 25 by-the-glass offerings, mostly from Washington. I must admit I’m not as familiar with Washington wine as I’d like to be — and I was certainly much less so when we filmed this, before the start of the conference.

Liz and I dove in nevertheless, discovering two surprising wines that got us really excited about delving deeper in to wines from Walla Walla and Washington in general. If you haven’t tried a Washington wine recently, it’s time to put one in your glass.

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Inexpensive Pinot Noir That’s Actually Good

29 August 2018

Thrift is rarely a virtue when it comes to buying Pinot Noir. The oldest of the various Pinot varieties (such as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier) and the grape responsible for red Burgundy, Pinot Noir is notoriously fickle. As The Oxford Companion to Wine says, “Pinot Noir is very much more difficult to vinify than Chardonnay,” Burgundy’s most important white, “needing constant monitoring and fine tuning of technique according to the demands of each particular vintage.”

And that’s not just true in Burgundy. Wherever it’s grown, Pinot Noir requires a lot of attention if it’s going to be any good. That means if you purchase a cheap Pinot, you’re taking a much bigger risk on quality than you would be on, say, cheap Malbec. There’s a reason the wine choices at weddings tend to be Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but rarely Pinot Noir.

Because good Pinot Noir is so difficult to make, I feel skeptical of Pinots that cost less than $20 a bottle, and I abhor those that cost less than $15. But there are exceptions to every rule.

On a recent Name That Wine episode, I asked the owner of one of my favorite Chicago wine shops, In Fine Spirits, to select a Pinot Noir for us to blind-taste in honor of International Pinot Noir Day. It was quite a surprise when we discovered where it came from, and an even bigger shock when we learned the price!

Delicious Pinot Noir can be found in quite a range of countries nowadays. In the video below (spoiler alert!), I present Liz with another Pinot Noir of indeterminate origin. She knows nothing about the wine other than that I acquired it during my travels. Watching her try to figure out what the grape is and where it’s from is great fun. But more important, this video illustrates yet again that talented winemakers around the world are producing all sorts of unexpected delights, often for extraordinarily reasonable prices:

If you enjoyed these videos, please do subscribe to our YouTube channel! We have a fantastic time bantering about the wines, while trying to avoid spilling on ourselves after filming too many episodes in a row.

Name That Wine: On Location

9 February 2018

I’m especially excited about our latest two episodes of Name That Wine, the blind tasting-themed web series I started with my dear friend Liz. This time, we’re on location in one of our favorite Chicago wine shops, In Fine Spirits, and we’ve asked owner Jarran Conger to share some wines with stories.

In Episode 9, Jarran selects a delicious white from an unexpected location, and he tells us why he thinks women winemakers tend to be better than men:

And in Episode 10, Jarran shares a red with a surprising connection to our North Side Chicago neighborhood, Andersonville:

Both wines prove to be quite good values for the money, as is usually the case at In Fine Spirits. They’re worth seeking out!

If you like Name That Wine, please do hit the “Subscribe” button on the YouTube site. The more subscribers we get, the more interesting places we can shoot our show!

The Eye-Opening Experience Of Blind Tasting

15 January 2018

I still get a little nervous before every shoot of Name That Wine, a blind tasting-themed web series I recently started with my friend Liz Barrett. There are so many wines in the world, and attempting to identify where a wine comes from and what it’s made out of, based just on how it looks, how it smells and how it tastes, is a daunting business. There’s no surer way to decimate your ego as a wine writer than to go down in raging flames in a blind tasting. Indeed, for every success I’ve had on Name That Wine, I’ve had at least two spectacular failures.

Fortunately for me, my self-esteem isn’t closely associated with my blind-tasting skills, and filming Name That Wine has been a hoot. What a learning experience! Some of the lessons I’ve learned so far:

Trust my instincts. In a recent episode we filmed, I had reason to suspect that a wine was Old World (European), and yet in the end, I went with New Zealand. What? Why did I do that?? Argh! I realize now that I was thinking about what the wine shop owner would most likely have chosen for our tasting. I was doing as much psychology as analyzing the wine itself, and while that might sometimes be helpful, that kind of thinking has bitten me in the backside more often than not. From now on, I have to pay more attention to the wine than who chose it.

I’ve got blind spots. Egad, do I have blind spots. In one episode we were presented with a Tempranillo, but Spain never even crossed my mind. And that wine I thought was from the Old World but then decided was from New Zealand? It was from Spain. I’ve been to Spain several times, but I realize that I’ve never been to Spanish wine country. That makes a huge difference. I also realize that I haven’t written about Spanish wines in ages and ages. Which is so odd, because I love Spanish wine. Clearly, it’s time to reacquaint myself with it.

There are lots of delicious non-odd wines out there: This likely isn’t news to anyone but me, but it’s something that bears repeating. Wines that everyone has heard of — Champagne, Argentine Malbec, Rioja — are not famous by accident. They are famous because they are very frequently very delicious. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely because you too enjoy ferreting out unusual treasures, and certainly we should continue to do that. But if we ignore the famous names, we deny ourselves some of the world’s great vinous pleasures.

If you’ve never tried a blind tasting yourself, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Even if you think you know little about wine, a blind tasting can be great fun and easy to organize.

A blind tasting is a great way to learn more about the kind of wine you like. For example, let’s say you always gravitate towards Cabernet Sauvignon. You might purchase three Cabs — your favorite, one that’s less expensive and one that’s more expensive — and do a little comparing. Can you pick out your favorite? What is it about that Cab that makes it your favorite? And heck, throw a curveball or two into the mix, and add in a Malbec or Nero d’Avola or some other hearty red. Can you differentiate it from the others?

Or let’s say you’re not sure what kind of wine you like, but you know you prefer white. Assemble a German Riesling, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a Chablis, a California Chardonnay and an Alsatian Gewürztraminer. Bag them and mix them up, and have someone else number the bags, open the wines and pour. With that selection, the traits you value in a white wine should become clear.

If it’s reds you prefer, purchase a New Zealand Pinot Noir, a French Pinot Noir, a Spanish Garnacha, an Argentine Malbec, a Washington Syrah and a California Cabernet. And have a party! The results should be most illuminating.

Tasting the wine and thinking about what precisely you like or dislike is immensely helpful, particularly when you’re faced with an unfamiliar wine list or when you’re in a large wine shop. Do you prize juicy acidity? A lush, round mouthfeel, perhaps? Or maybe minerality? Or sweetness or dryness?

I’ve discovered that in whites, though I adore all sorts of different kinds, there are two that I love above all others. I love whites with a note of butter and/or popcorn balanced with bright acids (like white Burgundy), and I love whites that have ripe fruit, or even sweetness, mixed with sharp acids and spice (including wines like Mosel Rieslings as well as Sauternes). In sparkling wines I seek toasty, bready notes paired with pinprick bubbles. Rosés that I love are lusciously fruity but bone-dry, with a strong shaft of minerality. In reds, I look for ripe, cool, clear fruit; focused acids; and notes of mocha and/or sweet tobacco really float my boat.

If you haven’t made a study of wine but you know what it is you like, you’ll never be lost. A good sommelier or wine store employee can direct you to exactly what you’re looking for, as long as you can give them a little guidance.

So what is it you look for in a wine? Have you tried doing a blind tasting yourself? I would love to hear about either or both in the comments below! And if you haven’t already, please subscribe to the Name That Wine channel on YouTube. It’s the red button. Thank you!

Name That Wine: The Debut Episode!

28 November 2017

What’s the scariest thing you could possibly do? For many wine writers, the answer is likely the same: blind tasting. What could be more embarrassing than, say, guessing a wine is Pinot Noir when in fact it’s Cabernet?

In fact, the only thing scarier than doing a blind tasting is doing a blind tasting on video, so that everyone can watch you get it wrong. So that’s exactly what my good friend Liz Barrett and I decided to do.

In our new web series, Name That Wine, we get other people to buy us wine, and we challenge each other to figure out what it is. We had a blast doing our first tasting:

Subscribe to our channel on YouTube (hit the red “Subscribe” button below the video on this link) to be among the first to watch future episodes!