Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The mega-tasting

Dogs have a far more powerful sense of smell than humans do, but even they can’t employ endlessly it in a focused way. Dogs trained to sniff out explosives work only four hours a day, after which they need to frolic, run around, rest. Intense smelling is hard work even if you have a brain and sensory equipment that are well designed for it.
The mega-tasting confronts the wine taster with the same problem. Especially in the winter, which is the down time for winemakers in the northern hemisphere, various regions sponsor fairs at which importers and merchant can sample bottles from dozens of producers. Wine professionals say they start suffering fatigue at some point and are unable to make more than broad distinctions among the wines they taste. They need to frolic, run around, rest.
A few weeks ago, I felt a premonition of fatigue when I picked up a list of the wines to be poured at a tasting of selections from Louis Dressner sponsored by Chambers St. Wines, which has had a very close relationship with the importer since the store opened in 2001. The premonition began to be realized with disconcerting speed. I arrived when the tasting began at 12:30, and the person at the reception desk suggested I start in a small room that featured Italian wines, many of which were reds or whites made with skin contact, which imparts more flavor along with some tannins.
I could almost feel my palate start to cramp up as I worked my way through the room. The mere sight of an ambitious wine that would have greater concentration made me wince. Lighter reds meant to be drunk young gave both relief and pleasure, for example the Bera e Figle 2010 Arcese and the Cascina degli Ulivi 2011 Semplicemente Rosso, both about $15. Acidity, which is a good thing in a wine meant to be served with food, became a liability, and I was unsure about my judgment of the more expensive wines, though a 2010 Chianti Classico from Montesecondo and a 2008 Valpolicella Classico Superiore from Monte dall’ Ora in the high $20s both seemed like they would be worth the money.
Whites from the Loire and Germany were like fresh, cold water after a heavy dose of Italian reds – a response that made me question the received wisdom that reds must always follow whites in a meal and never the reverse. Louis Dressner and Chambers Street both champion wines from the Loire, and those from Domaine de la Pepiere, Domaine du Closel, and Francois Pinon, all but one under $25, were worthy of the hype.
For me, though, the Weingut Knebel Rieslings were the revelation of the tasting. Their 2010 Von den Terrassen was a steal at $17, a great introduction to the grape for those who think they don’t like it, and their 2011 Hamm at $37 was as defined and beautiful as a geometric proof, the acidity, the sugar, the nose in perfect balance.
Palate revived, tasting funk averted, I made my way through the rest of the tasting with thoughts of the warmer months in mind, according to the notes I scrawled in the margin of the roster of producers. The 2011 Gaillac from Causse Marines were nice summer porch wines, I wrote, and the two 2010 reds from Zelige-Caravent cried out for a grilled steak, maybe even on July 4.
Afterwards, what could be more patriotic than sniffing a little of Mauro Vergano’s Vino Aromatizzato Americano with its herbal aromatics, or, for more frugal souls, some Cocchi Americano, while listening to Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra and watching the fireworks with your feet up on the deck? Think of it as a frolic for the palate. 

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