A Summer Wine Tasting

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The more wine you taste, the more discriminating your palate becomes, and the more enjoyable drinking wine becomes. As a bonus, as you develop your own taste, less reliance has to be placed on what others prefer, that you might not care for at all. The goal is to find out what you really like, experiment a bit with what wines go with which foods, and then, throw away those pointless and misleading wine scorecards! With a few friends, it is easy to organize a very informal summer wine tasting. Just ask each couple to bring a bottle or two, and go pot luck on salads and desserts, while you, the master chef, grill the meats. Yes, you can have the wine tasting outside with a barbeque. Just make sure there is plenty of ice to chill the wines! It helps to have contrasting wine styles and flavors, from different regions. That way, you can best judge which wines best complement your favorite foods. Here, for example, are the wines served at a recent wine tasting that I held at the Tilghman Inn, on Tilghman Island, on the Maryland side of the Chesapeake Bay. You will see that none are expensive. The country and cru bourgeois wines of France remain a great bargain, affordable, unpretentious, and fun to drink. They are just right to serve during the summer. You will surely find your own favorites, or develop new ones as you taste these wines. Start with lighter white wines, and then continue on with more assertive white wines, before proceeding to taste red wines. With the red wines as well, the order would be younger wines first, followed by sturdier or more complex ones. First we tasted Mosieur Touton Sauvignon Blanc 2003 ($6.99). This was a very pleasant light white wine from the Bordeaux region. Sauvignon Blanc can have a fairly grassy taste, but this one did not. It was very enjoyable, and just the thing to enjoy with a Caesar Salad with roast chicken slices. (Watch the vinaigrette sauce. We usually don’t use it, for the vinegar reacts very badly with wine.) Next came a Chateau de la Chesnaie Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur lie 2003 ($8.19). This wine, from the northern Brittany region of France, is often served with shellfish. Our bottle was a bit too sweet, and for my taste the only disappointment of the tastng. A Muscadet, from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, should have some character and rounded flavors, which are helped by keeping the juice in touch with the grape skins and other lees for a period during fermentation. It should not, however, be sweet. Try Marquis de Goulaine Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur lie instead. Next we enjoyed a Dubois Pouilly Fuissee Les Vieilles Vignes 2003 ($11.59), which was the hit of the tasting. This is made from Chardonnay grapes, in the southern Maconnais region of Burgundy near Beaujolais. It was balanced, flavorful and delicious. Serve it with cold salmon for luncheon. Our first red wine was a Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Regnie 2003 ($9.99). Note that Beaujolais, from the Gamay Noir grape, is an exception to the red wine rule. It is very light and full of flavors, and actually benefits by being somewhat chilled. Now, I have been critical of the widely praised 2003 Vintage in France. The growing season was extremely hot, and the grape harvest had to be done early, setting in Bordeaux and parts of Burgundy a record for being the earliest harvest since the late nineteenth century! That is not to confuse heat with quality, as many writers have done. I would be much more cautious in assessing the vintage, particularly its qualities as a keeper wine for the cellar. However, when it comes to Beaujolais, most of which is meant to be consumed with a year or two of bottling (Moulin-A-Vent being the exception), the fruit flavors were enhanced by the hot summer. The 2003 Vintage was wonderful, and this is the time to enjoy it! Burgers and Beaujolais are a natural match. Our fifth wine was from the Bordeaux region, a Chateau Michel de Montaigne Bergerac 2002 ($9.99). This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, and a fine entry level Bordeaux wine. It would go well with the chuck steak on the grill, or perhaps with steak kabobs. (I made steak kabobs the other night, and instead of skewering the veggies, mushrooms and onions and peppers and tomatoes, on the same skewer as the meat, I put them on separately and for a shorter time. So that for dinner, we had the steak kabobs and grilled veggies done properly, rather than having the vegetables half burned as usual!) We finished with a Clos La Coutale Cahors 2002 ($12.99). This country wine from the Cahors region of the Lot Valley in the French Southwest is a blend of Auxerrois, Merlot and Tannat grapes. Cahors wine, called “the black wine” because of its depth, has been made for many centuries. It was exported to Russia in great quantity in the Middle Ages. However, the appellation controlee under current French law only dates to 1971. This is a sturdy and flavorful wine, not a subtle one. It is just the wine to go with your barbequed (or smoked) ribs. The total cost of the wines for the tasting was $59.74 plus tax, and we had an enjoyable treat. You can host a similar event with these wines, or substituting a few bottles suggested by your wine retailer. And forget about the point scorecards!
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