Mark Twain, My Grandmother, and Teaching Wine

January 22, 2011

in Beverages,Education,Travel,Wine

My grandmother was a devout Southern Baptist, so her experience with wine was limited. However, she and Mark Twain shared similar views where travel was concerned, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,….” Beyond these qualities, my grandmother treated every trip as an educational opportunity; not surprising considering her 44 years as a teacher.  She instilled the love of travel and lots o’ learnin’ in her grandchildren. This is fortunate considering my profession.

After attaining a couple of wine certifications, I realized that I would need to teach the subject that I had studied for so many years. Yet, only so much preparation can be gained from a book. In order to add  color, depth, and the personal perspective that makes learning not only educational, but also interesting and fun, I realized that I needed to travel to the places that I had only read about all these years.

I am fortunate to work for an employer that has a similar philosophy to both Mark Twain and my grandmother. Four Seasons encourages me to expand my provincial horizons (I am from the piney woods of Lousiana, after all). With the blessing of my employer, I am afforded the opportunity to meet wonderful people, taste amazing wines, and learn fascinating facts that books cannot provide. This allows me to become a more informed, inspiring, and passionate educator for the Four Seasons team and our guests.

A few tidbits from recent trips:

A massive tasting of the wines of northern Greece was organized by All About Greek Wine at Boutari Winery, which led to the revelation that Xinomavro might be the love child of Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, figuratively if not literally. The wines had the sweet, supple fruit of Pinot Noir combined with the acid and tannin structure of Nebbiolo. Delicious, especially with age!

Boutari proved just how delicious by presenting the pristine Boutari Naoussa 1990 and Naoussa Grande Reserve 1993. I wish that library selections of these wines were available in the United States. This would help sommeliers who are struggling to open the door on the wonders of Greek wine.

Boutari Naoussa 1990, Naoussa Grande Reserve 1993, and Naoussa 2007 (l-r)

As would consistent distribution. Many of the wines had regional (and in some cases, local) distribution in the United States. So, the wines were inaccessible to many buyers. Or, they were not distributed at all. This was the case of Hatzivaritis in Goumenissa, Greece. The wines were well-made and delicious, despite 2007 being the first vintage. The Goumenissa 2007 (70% Xinomavro/30% Negoska) had fruit ripe enough to be liqueur-like, cherry and blackberry, though the wine was dry. Cedary and smoky oak notes, a floral perfume, and a touch of green herbs added depth and complexity. The wine was layered, even in youth, with a long supple finish. If only it were available to introduce people to this complex and ageworthy grape.

Hatzivaritis Goumenissa

Sometimes the wines themselves are not the revelation. Small mentions and unexpected occurrences provide perspective, as well. On a trip to Argentina organized by Wines of Argentina, Edgardo Popolo of Doña Paula treated a group of sommeliers to an in-depth lecture on the characteristics of sub-regions in Mendoza. Due to a brief mention of potential by Edgardo, I am going to be watching for Viognier from the Vistaflores area.

That night, our group experienced the zonda, a warm wind that travels over the Andes from Chile. We were told that the wind picks up 1 degree C for every 100 meters as it travels down to Mendoza. I have not confirmed this, but the hot, dusty, and gale-like force pushed us into a taxi for the one-block journey to dinner. If this happens to people, imagine what this can do to grapevines.

These are examples of just a few experiences that provide background when teaching wine. In an age when certification is important for sommeliers trying to establish their place in the wine world, experience is still important for providing perspective and context to our profession. At least with wine, most experiences are enjoyable and seldom come from the “School of Hard Knocks.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alfonso February 3, 2011 at 7:02 am

I love the wines of Greece, seeing as where my people came from was a Greek colony, even if that was 3500 years ago. Francesco Grosso @ Marea turned me on to a stunning Assyrtiko from Gai’a. This summer Kim and I will have to go investigate. We’re gonna blow off Italy and head back to ma roots

speaking of roots, I was just in Fayetteville @ James on the Mill. Great place, nice resume builder… take care, kid

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