I’ve been in a little bit of a drinking rut lately. Not that this is a bad thing. I have just been drinking the same good stuff that I know I like. This weekend I shook things up a little. First, with a comparative tasting, then a visit to a new brewery and finally I tried a new (to me) beer from an old favorite.
Wine & Beer
I didn’t have any mead or cider this week but did have some excellent wine and beer.
Friday Night’s Comparative Tasting
I am not a somm. It’s the first thing I say when people point to me as the person at the table who should pick the wine. I do have the ability to recognize certain flavors and I’m good at pairing. Plus I drink a lot so I know the basics of climate and styles. But, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know much. I’ve been saying for a while that I need to learn how to recognize a few things in wine. Primarily fruit. I don’t know why, but I can tell you the complete spice profile but ask me to recognize fruit and you’d think I subsist on bread and cheese. The best way to learn is by doing so I decided to do.
Tasting #1 Syrah v. Shiraz
Syrah and Shiraz are made from the same grape but express differently. The grape, native to France, is easy to grow and one of the most popular in winemaking.
You’re likely to find that Shiraz comes from the “new world” (U.S., Australia, S. Africa) whereas Syrah comes from the old (Europe). In the event that your Shiraz is from Australia, it was probably made using old world methods.
Generally, Shiraz is made with very ripe fruit for a fruit forward profile. They are also peppery. They are low in tannin. If they are smoky it is subtle. Syrah, on the other hand, is smoky, rich and earthy. Same grape, different expressions. This makes for a fun comparative tasting.
I rely heavily on Wine Folly for learning about wine. I appreciate that it is designed well, by a somm, but with zero pretension. If you follow me on Instagram you saw that we had quite a bit of Wine Folly stuff on the table including a video on tasting, tasting mats and flavor wheel.
Finding wines for a comparative tasting was not easy. I strongly recommend, if you don’t live in a place with instant access to a variety of wine, planning way ahead and bringing a few different lists with you. Kris and I spent forever trying to put together this tasting. We thought we were going to have to wait for our next trip to the city. Luckily, we were able to find a Shiraz from South Australia and a French Syrah. Both were of 2015 vintage.
We poured the wines and went through the process from this video. We were careful to take time to go through everything: look, smell and taste. I recommend doing this any time you try a new wine because you will find yourself drawing comparisons far sooner than just casually drinking with food.
We tasted the Syrah first. We agreed that it was dark ruby. Kris gave the viscosity a medium low but I thought the legs were super pronounced so I went with medium plus. This is an area where I struggle and one I’ll be sure to focus later tastings on.
Neither of us could get fruit but I now know, based on the style notes from the book, producer notes and bottle that this is what black fruit smells like. I did get black pepper and some other savory notes. There may have been cigar box.
Very light. Soft & round. Tannic. 10 second tart finish.
The Shiraz, we agreed, was deep garnet. I gave it a medium high viscosity again, and Kris came in lower. The intensity was definitely medium low again. Neither of these were punching us in the nose.
I knew, based on the syrah, that I was smelling black fruit. Is that cheating? Or is it learning? I also got eucalyptus and pie crust/baking spices/vanilla. The producer completely disagrees. But I felt very confident. I also thought there was some oak flavors – and I was right on that. Oddly, my tasting experience is almost opposite what should have been expected. Did we pick to rogue wines? Maybe. Do we have a lot to learn? More likely answer.
So, what does this mean? That you shouldn’t read anything I have to say? That I should take a class or two? It shows that it’s important to take the time to think about what you’re drinking and take time to sit down with resources and learn what it is you’re smelling. I can at least now clearly identify black fruit. And my spice radar is pretty darn good. I’m interested to see how my tasting notes improve as we do more of these. I cannot recommend comparative tastings enough: you will think about what you’re drinking far more than you ever have.
Equipment & Provisions
We used red wine glasses.
I never use my nice wine glasses (they are a pain in the ass to clean). For a tasting it’s a good idea to use a glass that was made for what you’re drinking. I use Riedel (rhymes with needle) vinum glasses.
We used the Wine Folly Tasting Mats.
Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine was on the table.
We watched two videos to prep.
If you’re going to taste, do it right. Part of this is not being afraid to swish the wine all around your mouth. Part is knowing how to breathe correctly to best taste the wine. This video teaches you how to taste with the mats. See the tips at the end of this post for notes on breathing. We also read in the book and the site.
We had charcuterie & cheese.
After the initial tasting and note taking we enjoyed the board and yes, it totally enhanced the flavors of the wine. Our board had genoa salami, prosciutto, 1000 day aged Gouda, brie, goat cheese, Vermont honey, mixed nuts, dried cranberries, olives, water crackers and whole wheat crackers.
Saturday’s Southern VT Beer
Yesterday was a gorgeous late summer day. We’ve both been working extra lately so we decided to pull the cord around 11 a.m. and head out. We hit two spots along the bottom of Vermont.
If you’ve ever driven across the bottom of route 9 in Vermont you’ve likely stopped at Hogback mountain to take in the 100 mile view which includes views of several mountain ranges in VT, NH and MA. Across the street was the Skytop Diner. After sitting empty for a while it’s now home to Beer Naked Brewery. They are still expanding and will have pizza on site soon but yesterday there was Polish food being cooked up outside and it smelled incredible. Sara & Jason are super friendly and know their stuff.
For under $10 you can get a road-safe tasting of the four beers on tap, and keep your tasting glass with Jason’s hand drawn logo. Kris and I split a tasting since we were continuing on to Brattleboro.
Curly Jefferson Farmhouse Ale
Beautiful, clear straw with a super white light foam head. 5%. Wheat on the nose and a great clean malt taste. I generally do not drink farmhouse ales but I would drink this one, which says a lot. Very clean and fresh, perfect for summer and true to the style.
Hazy, straw but no sediment or floating bits. Very pretty. 4% means it’s an easy one to drink with a touch of tartness that I really enjoyed. Again, not my style but done so well that I couldn’t help but like it. Super clean and fresh and true to style again.
Medium dark straw and clear. Another gorgeous beer. In my notes I describe the nose as confusing. This isn’t a bad thing. At only 5.25% ABV this is a different take on IPAs than I am used to and would probably win a belgian yeast lover over immediately. While not what I seek in an IPA still an excellent beer that I would drink when I wanted something different.
Hop-Sedition Double IPA
Medium gold double IPA. 8.5% gives it a little kick. Really interesting on the nose. I could have smelled it a lot longer but drinking won out. Boozy, a little spicy and something deep… like vinyl. Or the seats in a late 70’s or early 80’s station wagon. Totally not what I expected but again: clever, creative, clean beer. I’d totally drink it again although not if I was in the mood for a hop overload. It’s more complex than that.
The last stop on our little drive across the state (all 48 miles of it) was at Whetstone. This brewpub sits on the Connecticut River and looks at New Hampshire and Mt. Wantastiquet. They have great food and beer, some of which they brew. We headed straight to the rooftop bar and made our way to the bar. I was psyched to see Crooked Stave on tap. I was even more psyched when I took my first sip while looking out on the splendor of New England.
Crooked Stave Petite Sour Rosé. Everything about this 5% sour is good. The color is a beautiful amber and atop it sits a gorgeous head. The nose is crisp, tart, a little bready and with some floral/perfume notes along with sour apple. The taste is perfectly balanced. A little sour, a little floral. It’s like if Soft Parade went sour. If you’ve ever had Soft Parade and like sours it is seriously your new favorite beer.