Tastings help expand palates of local wine lovers
June 20, 2001
Local wine lovers tastes are changing. We see it on every visit to our favorite retail wine outlet. We are aware of it at the monthly tastings. We hear it from people who like to talk wine as a result of something they've read in this column or elsewhere.
You are buying fewer and fewer of the low end wines and more and more of the medium priced wines and above. You have discovered, or are now discovering, there is a world of taste difference between the $6-8 wines and those selling for $15-20, a difference which is well worth the additional dollars.
When we first started the monthly wine tastings in May of 2000, we selected the wines on the basis of price as well as quality. Invariably, we began each tasting with at least two under $10 wines, then worked our way up the scale to better wines, usually topping out at about $18-20.
It was always obvious, sometimes painfully so, that price did determine quality. As the tasters filled out their score sheets the inexpensive wines were always rated substantially below those with higher price tags and justly so.
We've always said there were two reasons to attend a tasting. One was for the pure pleasure of the wine. The other because it would be an educational experience. You learn more about yourself and your tastes when you have the opportunity to compare seven or eight wines in a two-hour period. You would never go to a wine store, buy eight different bottles in varying price ranges, line them up on the kitchen cupboard and taste a couple of ounces out of each one. You'd be looking at perhaps a $125 to $150 investment in foolishness. But at a professional wine tasting, you can do just that at a reasonable price and compare for yourself one winemaker's product with another.
This is not a sales pitch for the Meridian tasting. Martins in New Orleans has them virtually every week. There are tastings conducted in Jackson. The Silver Star Casino tried tastings a few years ago, but failed to get the word out and attendance was low. In addition, the people conducting them lacked knowledge, they literally only poured and stood back. I know. I attended one but only one.
I've never been to one in Jackson which, I understand, are usually conducted in restaurants. But I've been to a number of those in New Orleans and enjoyed them all. So will you, if you ever have the opportunity.
But to return to our original premise …
What we are seeing is an ever increasing sophistication of taste here in Meridian. We could not offer today some of the wines we have tasted in the past. We couldn't and we wouldn't.
It was universally agreed that last week's Australian wine tasting was the best yet. But interestingly enough, the lowest priced wine tasted, a $14 sleeper called Hill of Content, a blend of shiraz and Grenache, was one of the best received of the evening. One of those golden finds you stumble across now and then.
If you read this column regularly you know that we touted a $40 bottle of Clarendon Grenache as potentially the wine of the evening. Critic Robert Parker had rated the wine at 93 on a 100 point scale. The distributor had assured me it was something very special. Both Parker and the distributor were right.
It was a blow-you-away wine. You're not going to buy it every day at $40, but when the right special occasion comes along you're going to be heading to Edna's, or your favorite wine store, in order to make a special evening even more so.
Every other one of the seven wines served, the Elderton Shiraz, the Frankland Isolation Ridge Shiraz, the Pikes Shiraz, carried a retail price of between $20 and $28. Every wine was a hit. If we had served some of the lesser Australian wines, we could not have said that. Australia, like every other wine producing country, makes good, better or best wines, along with some not so good.
Patrick O'Byrne, the ambassador of the Australian Premium Wine Collection who conducted the tasting, was as charming as advertised and as knowledgeable.
It was a remarkable evening.
But O'Byrne, the pleasantness of Northwood Country Club, the wonderful post-tasting meal, none of the other elements of the tasting were as important as the wine itself. Great wine makes for a great evening, whether it is at your house, my house or Northwood.
This is not intended as a criticism of those who buy Woodbridge, Turning Leaf, Chilean wines or others in that price range. They do deliver their own fair level of value for the money. But just once, do your own tasting. Buy a Clos Pegase Chardonnay at about $18 and drink it against a lesser chardonnay of your choice. Take home a Rosemount Show Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon at $22 and try it back to back with an under $10 Cab. Then you decide. It's the only way to know for certain.
As for the future, the next tasting will be July 26. We are attempting to arrange an assortment of what is considered the world's greatest wine, burgundy from France, both red and white, for that date.
In August, we hope to taste Spanish wines, and there are some very good ones being produced in that country. The date will probably be Aug. 23 because of the Labor Day holiday. We look forward to sharing great wines with you then.
Stan Torgerson, a longtime Meridian resident, has written a wine column for several years. You may contact him by e-mail at email@example.com