Well, my dear readers, I’m going to have to admit something to you here: my husband and I may be the very tiniest bit of wine snobs.
Okay. Maybe that wasn’t something new that I’m admitting. Maybe anybody who has read more than a single entry on this blog (and some of you who have only read one, in fact) knows that we are serious about our wine. I mean, we’re not jagoffs about it by any stretch, but it’s a little difficult going from life in the heart of American wine country back to the Puritan blue-law state where we can’t even have our favorite Central Coast wine delivered to our house. (Sorry Pittsburgh, you know I love you, but these archaic booze laws simply must go!)
So since our state is not the most wine-forward place around, you can understand why our decision to do a state liquor store-sponsored wine class caused me to feel the very smallest amount of trepidation. Could there be a person in this city who understood the finest intricacies of good wine? Let’s not kid ourselves: we Pennsylvanians don’t really have a good handle on making good wine with the soil and climate we’ve been given (unless you like wine that tastes like Kool-Aid, that is), so what were the chances that someone would be educated and informed and able to share delicious wines with us here in the ‘Burgh?
We met Pete Hanowich last year at the Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival, where he was representing the Pittsburgh Wine Festival and his monthly seminars, last year referred to as Wednesday Wine Flights. We were intrigued, so we put it on our 2011 list. And this year, though the day of the week and name has changed (they’re now the Tastin’ Tuesdays seminars), we signed up for our first one: Latin Class – A Wine Vacation in South America.
Each place was set with 8 glasses of wine. The Latin American wines featured the reds more prominently, which was fine with us. We’re still far more casual about white wines, but we do love experimenting with new varietals.
Here I am with the brochure for the seminars. If you’re local, you’ll find these at the registers of all of the liquor stores. For the remainder of 2011, the seminars run on the second Tuesday of each month, from 6-7pm.
Once everyone arrived, it was time to dig into the wines. Pete prepares a list of all of the wines you will be sampling in the course of the evening, as well as their current prices and PLCB (Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) numbers (this was our first clue that Pete is the real wine deal in Pittsburgh – he understood that it would be much easier to give a liquor store attendant a specific number to look up, than to send them into the aisles searching for the 2008 Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay).
The first two wines that we sampled were whites from Chile and Argentina. This is when it started to get REALLY interesting.
One of the things I love most about visiting wineries and sampling wine from different areas is learning about what makes each wine unique. Some wines just grow better in certain areas, like the zinfandel of Central Coast, or the ice wines and Gewürztraminer of the NOTL region. Climate, temperature, and even culture influence the creation of wine, and I love love LOVE learning about these little details.
So, the climate issues of South America deal largely with the Andes Mountains and the valleys surrounding them. The elevation is higher in these areas, and the presence of the mountains greatly affects the winds and weather that each area receives. In addition, when both Chile and Argentina decided to begin producing wine for the world (as opposed to just their own palates), they went about it in different ways. The Chileans used French influences, feeling that the French had an established history as winemakers that could help them hone their craft, while the Argentinians stuck to what had worked for them and chose to create their wine culture on their own.
Seriously guys, this stuff is fascinating to me!
This is the point in the seminar when we started to really get wrapped up in Pete’s teaching style. I felt like I was learning so much about the wines, in part because we’ve just recently started to appreciate South American wines and have a lot to learn, but also because Pete’s explanations were so easy to understand. Wine snob though I may be, I sometimes find myself getting lost in discussions of tannins and acidity, and Pete’s down-to-earth defintions were really helpful.
Sure, it was easy for me to like this guy because he’s your everyday Yinzer: he’s built like my dad and talks like my Uncle Joe, but unlike my dad and Uncle Joe, Pete really gets wine (sorry guys, I love you both, but you’re Miller Lite guys through and through!). And he gets wine in a Pittsburgh way. Let me elaborate.
The second white wine we sampled was the Crios De Susana Balbo Torrontes, from Argentina. The Torrontes is a grape that’s unique to this region, and it’s apparently a wine of great division and strong opinions. Pete described it to us as ‘the Vincent’s pizza of wine: you either love it, or you hate it.’ He took a survey from the class, as to who liked it (about half of us, most of whom said we really liked it), and who used the ‘technical term of: this wine tastes like crap.’ That was basically the other half of the class.
But perhaps my favorite quote of the night came when it was time to sample the rosé. This was the Crios De Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec, a rosé made from Malbec grapes (Malbec being the type of wine to recently replace Michael’s previous favorite, Pinot Noir). Rosés are one of those things we’ve avoided for years and years as… well… wussy wines. Yes, I said it. We’re kind of judgy about rosé wines. It’s like the kind of thing you think should only be enjoyed by your friend’s mom, who wears mom jeans and keeps a box of rosé in the fridge.
And that’s basically how Pete eased us into sampling the rosé. He said, “A terrible thing happened in America in the 1970s, and it was called Sutter Home White Zinfandel.”
I almost lost it. Do you know, in Pittsburgh, how hard it is to go to a liquor store and ask for a zin, and not have the clerk direct you to the white zinfandel? Now we know who was behind this tragic event. Sutter Home, shame shame shame!
The rosé was decent, and I could imagine it working quite well how Pete described it should: a “sitting around the deck while people show up” wine.
We followed that up with a Colchagua (that’s a region of Chile) Calcu Red Blend that was so thick and chocolatey that it was almost like a port. The closest description I could come up with is those chocolate-covered-cherries that are so popular around Christmas. Yeah, in a wine. Tasty, but I don’t think we’ll be buying a case of that any time soon!
We tried a Chilean syrah cab sauv blend, and then. Oh, then!
We had a glass of the Argentinian 2007 Xumek Sol Huarpe Syrah. Oh, it was so delicious! We all know that my two loves in wine are zin and syrah, and this certainly delivered. Blackberry, vanilla, chocolate, and smokiness all in one delicious, lovely glass. I was sold!
Michael, however, was won over by the final wine of the night, the 2009 Ruta 22 Malbec. This wine is from Patagonia, which is an area that apparently has temperature shifts similar to those we experienced while living in LA: the weather can stretch across a range of over 40+ degrees through the course of a day.
To give you an idea of our preferences in wine, I took a picture of our tasting notes from each of our favorites.
All in all, we had a wonderful time at the Tastin’ Tuesdays seminar. While we were there, we were fortunate enough to be able to register for the upcoming Big Buck Reds class in November, which features samples of some of the more pricey, extravagant wines (and you know how much we love a good fancy bottle of wine now and then).
If you’re new to wine, or even if you’re a seasoned pro, there will certainly be something for you to learn, and plenty of tastes for you to enjoy at these seminars. We will absolutely be back for more!