Sometimes it takes a much-needed retreat to my hometown in Wisconsin in order to bring me back to the basics. My dad’s 70th birthday celebration lassoed nine of fifteen siblings from around the country back into the heartland—along with a whole new slew of Hausmans (nearly a dozen) under the age of twenty. Walking through the door with my boyfriend (poor victim… this was the first introduction), I swear there was screaming, crying, laughing, dog biting and something spilled before I even closed the door.
This trip not only brought a menagerie of kids…it also delivered a myriad of blank stares when it came time to tell them about my latest meanderings in wine. Though many of my Miller-based Milwaukee clan regarded wine as merely choice between white and red, they were interested to learn more about how I was lured into this profession (maybe ‘concerned’ is the adjective I would use for some). As a result, seemingly simple questions arose that I had neglected to address in a long time—simple questions that can lead to a lot of confusion and aversion towards wine if left unanswered.
Above all, wine is a food. That is the most crucial perspective that has single handedly paved the way to my own personal appreciation for wine. Understanding how to taste and how to pair with food has made it so that rarely will one ever find me sucking down a glass of red or super high acid white without appropriate fare to balance.
I believe my family was shocked. I possibly consumed the least in those few days. But ever since I’ve been of legal age to drink (before then was another story), I seldom catch a bold buzz. I drink to learn, pair and taste regions around the world. To enjoy life’s most delicious nectar.
My aunt wanted to get more into reds for her cardiovascular health, but like many doesn’t like them too dry (like Chianti) or sickly sweet (like cheaper reds such as Yellow Tail Shiraz). She just wanted smooth and ‘drinkable’ reds, as she put it—no harshness of tannin, acid or an abundance of sugar, as I translated. She also mentioned headaches with red wine, but I soon learned she rarely goes European with her selections and almost always stays American (she has that solid Midwestern patriotic pride). I recommended newer world styles with older world alcohol levels (anything under 13.5% tends to be a bit kinder to the head). If staying new world, I told her to check out velvety Malbecs, soft Merlots, Pinots that checked out over $15 (yes, there are some for less I like, but they are farther and fewer between), Shiraz and Syrah from Cali, Washington and Australia as well as some reds blends. From the old world, I suggested she check out some Rhone blends from France, Tempranillo from Spain as well as Garnacha. There are even some fabulous finds in southern Italy that are robed in more fruit than most old world reds. I reminded her, though, mind the alcohol. Do not get those in the 13.8’s and higher. My customers who relate to her experience have found several now they can enjoy whilst helping the ol’ heart if they follow those rules.
One of my sisters apologized for liking Riesling and Lambrusco. I informed her that those can be some of the most sophisticated, complex wines in the world—certainly for the former. She admitted her confusion when picking them out, so I gave her the quick synopsis. For the most part, there are two kinds of German Riesling on the shelf: Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (marked QbA) or Qualitatswein mit Pradikat (QmP). The former allows chapitalization (added sugar) and although is wine of ‘quality’ versus the simple table wines (tafelwein), it is not the best level. QmP is the most superior. Various rules make it so, but the most important is that they reach natural levels of sugar and sweetness without chapitalization. Of wines with QmP status, they can be: Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and Eiswein—all certainly bizarre names if you’ve no familiarity, and all represent different harvest procedures, picking times and vinification methods (a blog in itself). I have always loved what importer Terry Theise brings into the states: Schmitt-Wagner, Darting, Selbach-Oster, and Leitz to name a few. Theise is also one of the most beautiful wine writers and will teach you all you ever wanted to learn about German and Austrian wines. In fact, he just published a new book: Reading Between the Wines, a book that is undoubtedly at the top of my Amazon wish list.
My brother felt like an old man admitting to his unfounded love of port. I was only too eager to relate mine! But first, with a chuckle, I had to address his generous pour. Perhaps, I suggested, he take it down a notch? Port is meant for sipping not quenching. The alcohol is usually 18-20%, and the typical pour is 2-3 oz or thereabouts. Port and other various dessert wines are perfect after dinner when everything else just seems to be too much—too much acid, tannin, etc. Ports are soft, rich and reminiscent of crème brulee. The perfect ending. We sipped on Noval Tawny, but some of my other favorite producers include: Niepoort, Porto Kopke, Taylor Fladgate and Quinta Santa Eufemia (incredible white port house).
I got the inevitable sulfite question and screwcap dilemma. To which, I responded: Sulfites are naturally occurring. Most wines that do not add sulfites at all will never be complex, as they have little aging potential. But more importantly, very few are noteworthy. I carry Our Daily Red at the store, which is quaffable. But it won’t inspire poetry.
As for screwcaps… eh, I don’t know. They’re fine. I get it. No more corked bottles. But they are screw caps. Sterile, boring, unromantic screwcaps. Plus, I like what a little seeping oxygen usually does to a wine—something that can only happen with corks, not caps. I’m a die hard romantic. And perhaps that’s reason enough to keep fighting the good fight?
My dad’s wife wondered why I unconsciously swirled the glass without stop at the table? I guess it’s a habit. I am always trying to get more oxygen in the glass, unlock the aromatics, provoke evolution. Keep in mind, 80% of the tasting experience is held in your nose. Without a good swirl, you can’t get inside the wine. That’s why I cannot understand restaurants that pour big in small glasses. I mean, even hefty pours in large glasses can be difficult. In an ideal world, I prefer places that pour small and give you a little carafe to the side.
And no, I am not a fan of stemless. It warms the wine, it’s hard to swirl and, albeit petty aesthetics, the glass gets all marked up with paw prints.
Within moments of greetings and hugs, I was handed a glass apologetically and met with relief when I approved the wines for the weekend (my God, yes… I still like $12 wines!). We consumed solid standbys: 2008 Verget Macon-Villages, 2008 Montebuena Rioja, 2006 Monte Antico Rosso, and 2009 Susana Balbo Crios Malbec as well as some more obscure, inexpensive white Bordeaux, Spanish whites and French reds.
When asked what I am drinking these days, I didn’t hesitate to say that my favorite values were coming from the South of France: Corbieres, Madiran, Provence, Languedoc, Bandol… My most recent sips have been from bottles of 2005 Chateau Guiot, 2005 Chateau Valcombe Cotes du Ventoux, 2006 Domaine Faillenc Corbieres, 2007 Chateau d’Oupia Minervois and the 2006 Sainte Eugenie Corbieres. All retail under $20.
And finally, can I ship from Colorado? I certainly can! But it can be costly. The best thing to do is shoot me an email at: email@example.com, and I’ll be happy to send you a list for your nearest competent wine seller (so important to find a passionate, enthusiastic wine guru if you want to further your own education and interest). I found that Delafield’s nearest was Sonoma Cellars in Oconomowoc, but honestly even the little teeny section inside the market in downtown Delafield was impressive. The shelves were hardly stocked, but what they had was thoughtful and off the beaten path. Downtown Milwaukee is home to the Thief Wine—a little wine bar and shop within the Old Third Ward’s Public Market. You can order up flights (three 2-oz tasters) that are served in Reidel stemware (sounds petty, but you tell me what other Milwaukee bars serve wine in fine stems).