The Gleeful Gourmand: Taking the Mystery Out of Winery Visits

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Taking the Mystery Out of Winery Visits

This week my good friend Alison Althouse writes about what it's like to work as a volunteer at a winery. She talks about how she got her start there, and also some great tips for first-time winery visits. I find this particularly interesting since I've only visited one winery in my life, and it was at The Biltmore, which is a shuffle you in, shuffle you out sort of ordeal with little in the way of learning anything new. And truthfully, I've always been curious about what you should do at a winery. Should you ask questions? If so, which ones? Or should you just shut up and drink? Sit back with a full glass and enjoy Alison's answers:

I volunteer at the James River Cellars Winery. It’s almost laughable until you realize just how much I love working at this place. I work when it fits my schedule, I teach people about the wines we offer at our winery, and I get paid in “wine dollars” for the hours that I’m there. It’s the perfect job for me. I started visiting wineries with my best friend about 2 years ago when she gifted me with a wine tasting/tour and lunch at a nearby winery. This seemingly small event opened up an entirely new world to me.

Wine had always been something of a mystery to me. I’d have a great-tasting wine somewhere and then search in vain to find something similar in my price range at the grocery store. Visiting wineries started to take some of the mystery out of what I liked in the wines I enjoyed. I learned about tannins (I don’t like strong ones), dry/sweet/off-dry wines (I’m somewhere in the middle, depending on the season), and oak vs stainless steel casks (I typically like stainless but can enjoy light oak). The difference from one winery to another can be like traveling between different countries. They all make wine, but each wine maker puts his or her own spin on things to make them unique. Add to that the impact caused by the weather on individual vintages (the year a wine is made) and you have another reason to visit your favorite wineries at least once a year! It was a lot to absorb as I started learning about wines, but I’ve found out some wonderful tips that I’d like to share.

· You don’t have to be an expert in wine to know what wines are good. If a wine tastes good to YOU, that’s all that is really important.

· At a winery, as in life, the only truly “stupid” question is the one that you don’t ask. TALK with the person pouring the wines at your tasting and ask questions. If they don’t know the answer, or aren’t willing to find out the answer for you, then you don’t ever have to return.

· Wine is for EVERYONE (of legal age, of course). Red wine is not just an “adult wine” and Sweet wine is not just for “Kids or beginners”. Each person has their own unique taste buds and their own preferences. If their choice doesn’t coincide with yours, then buy two different bottles.

· Do a little homework and visit wineries that offer tastings. The people pouring for you should be able to share their personal experiences with the wines being offered and give you suggestions on wines you will enjoy at their winery.

When I do a wine tasting at James River Cellars, you get MY opinion of the wines we offer. I will tell you how I’ve used our wines…. I’ll share recipes…. I’ll give you my nicknames for some of my personal favorites (Our Hanover Red wine is my “I have to call and talk with my mom for an hour” wine)…. and I’ll try and make your visit to our winery as memorable as I would want it to be if I were on the other side of the bar. Come visit James River Cellars winery (it’s on Rt 1 in Glen Allen, VA, just north of the Virginia Center Commons mall) and see for yourself. Hopefully I’ll be the one doing the pouring for you!

Here are my favorites right now:

Whites: I love our Chardonel and our Hanover White. The Chardonel is crisp and clean, but still fruity enough to taste yummy to me. I love to use it in sauces (replacing chicken stock in a chicken noodle casserole is a fave right now) and to use on fish when I'm making tilapia in the microwave. Hanover White is sweet and perfectly fabulous when ice-cold and paired with a spicy pizza or thai food.

Reds: I love our Hanover Red and Chambourcin. Hanover Red is similar to a sweet pinot noir. I use it to replace water in many chocolate dishes (brownies, cakes, etc) but love to drink it in the evenings or with whatever dinner I've made. Our Chambourcin is remiscent of a port, but is unique in that it can be served at three different temperatures for entirely different taste experiences. The warmer this wine is when served, the more smoke and spice flavor comes out but, when served cold, you really get that berry-forward taste. It's truly a special wine!

Cheers!

2 comments :

Elizabeth Wilson said...

I was taken aback to learn that the Biltmore is the only winery you've visited. We'll have to make this a new mission in life. To the future of wine tasting, questioning, and purchasing!

Jenna said...

Agreed!! :)

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