Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Young Connoisseur…part 2

“David Grega is a certified sommelier and wine consultant living in the Napa valley. In addition to consulting and wine writing David made wine for his own label “Bellum Cellars” in 2008. E-mail for more information."

A sommelier! “What an important and official sounding title” I thought to myself as I was introduced to Jeff, a sommelier at a newly opened wine bar in my home town of Sacramento, California. I knew right away that I wanted to be able to call myself a sommelier. That summer I frequented the wine bar whenever I could, asking Jeff questions, trying to learn everything I could about the world of wine. Because I was a struggling student just out of the military, I focused on the wines that I could afford. Rose wines and whites were generally less expensive than reds, so that’s where I began my wine experience.

I learned about the impact that geography and climate have on wine through tasting these types of wines. A white wine, for example, tends to be more honest about where it’s from or just easier to discern a style and location. I quickly learned that flavor profiles in white wines were prone to quick and drastic changes as a result of climate, whereas red wines were less obvious. Think of the change in flavor and smell of a white wine as a light switch where there is simply off and on. The change in a red wine is more like the track lighting in an art gallery with a slower progression from off to on. I learned about the difference between new world and old world white wines. Wines from cool old world regions tended to have more muted, mineral, or even green tones. Compared to white wines in warmer new world regions the flavors and aromas are much more intense and fruit oriented. Many white varietals and roses are un-oaked, or are at least oaked far less than reds. This allowed me get to know the flavor profiles of white varieties quicker and easier when I began tasting. That being said, there are certainly discernible differences in cool old world red wines and warmer new world red wines, but the whites helped me hone in on just how much climate and geography affects a wines’ flavor and aroma.

I’m not sure how I understood this so early on in my wine adventure, but I believed that there was something more to wine than just tasting and drinking. Each time I visited the wine bar, I made a real effort to get to know the people working there. Through my interactions with people at the wine bar and the new wines I experienced, several things became crystal clear to me. The enjoyment of wine, that is, drinking or tasting, is only half of what wine is all about. The other half is rooted in the human spirit. Wine is as much an act of the heart as it is of the senses. The context within which we all enjoy wine is truly the most important part. Only when one can grasp this concept can he or she unlock all the joys that wine has to offer. You, the reader, will come to find that my blogs are as much about what is around the glass as what is in it. Once I understood the bigger picture of wine I also knew, without a single ounce of doubt in my heart, that a life of wine shared with family and friends, meant a life of stimulation and happiness, of loving and being loved in return. There is no better time in our history than now to incorporate these ideals into our lives. There is no better way to live life.

One beautiful afternoon I was sitting enjoying a glass of Cremant d’ Alsace when a few well dressed people walked into the wine bar for what seemed to be a business lunch. I noticed that throughout their lunch there was one gentleman in the group who would wax poetic about a wine they were drinking or about a recent soiree in Napa Valley. It was obvious that he had a decent knowledge of wine. Shortly after his party finished their wine and food, they picked up their brief cases and whisked back to the “real world” far away from the fantasy I seemed to be enjoying. There it was -- the epiphany I was waiting for. I knew then, as the businessmen walked out the door, exactly what I needed to do. In order to truly understand the world of wine, I had to dedicate 100 % of my time to it. I couldn’t have a day job, my focus had to be on everything wine. I knew that this would require sacrifice, both financially and in my personal life. What was more important to me was finding what would get me to where I needed to be. I would find my way into the wine industry through the sommelier program at the Professional Culinary Institute (PCI) in Campbell, California. What took place over the five months I spent at PCI would change my life forever and propel me head on into the world I live in now….Part 3 to be posted next week..

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