In my posts here on WineSpectator.com, I plan to discuss the mystery of winemaking, relive the greatest wine experiences I have ever had, profile some amazing people in wine, discuss recent wine trends, speak about food-and-wine pairings and dissect new wine regions. I’m also looking forward to answering your questions and reading your responses. But let's start with a little bit about what I like.
Sommeliers answer to many people. We deal with our chefs and owners, with pushy, badgering salespeople and, of course, with diners in our restaurants. For every customer who is complimentary about the wine list, there is also a critic, complaining about what is or is not on there. But ultimately we must take a stand on wine. One of the pleasures of my job is the ability to build a wine list based on my own beliefs.
A wine list is a curious form of self-expression, I admit, but not unlike what you can learn about a record collector by what comes out of her speakers or about an art collector by what hangs on his walls. My list is my wine collection, except that people are free to buy what they want from it at any time. Sometimes it can be a bit sentimental to see the last bottle of a great wine sold, but in every sale there's a new opportunity to replace one great wine with another. Ultimately, that's one thing that helps keep what could be a repetitive job interesting.
So what does my wine list say about me? Sure, there's lots of expensive Burgundy (white and red), vintage Champagne and cult wines from California. But the only way to properly answer that question is with two words. Balanced wines. It's almost a cliché, but you can't get around it--balance is still the key quality for me.
How do I define balance? It's when no single aspect of a wine jumps out over any other. If the alcohol shoots through on the finish, it's not balanced. If the wine is simply bright and fruity and there's nothing else you can say about, it's unbalanced because of fruit. Wines that I consider unbalanced get a lot of play in the press and a lot of people come asking for them, but my first responsibility is to find wines that complement my chef's food--and no matter where it's from or who made it, an unbalanced wine will rarely work.
Alcohol is a key component to balance, and it's one of the raging debates about wine right now. I prefer lower-alcohol wines, not more than 14 percent. They taste better to me, sit better in the mouth. I can drink a few glasses with food without getting tipsy. That means something to me. I've had higher-alcohol wines that are balanced--I've had great high-alcohol wines--but in general, for my own drinking pleasure, I wouldn't choose them over a balanced wine of lower alcohol. Elevated alcohol levels can also provide a sensation of sweetness and, except for certain varieties, I like wines to taste and finish dry.
This question of alcohol has been in the forefront of my thoughts in the past year, as I've put my money where my mouth is and started to participate in winemaking in California with Parr Selection. An essential question for me has been how to produce tasty California wines with typicity that have moderate alcohol levels. I can tell you that it's a challenge, but I disagree with winemakers who claim that ripe flavors cannot be achieved with lower alcohols. I'd be interested to hear what you think about this, and I'll tell you more about what I've learned from winemaking in my next entry.
Bryan So — CA — May 21, 2007 3:13pm ET
Rajat — May 21, 2007 3:58pm ET
John C Winkelmann — Cincinnai — May 21, 2007 5:01pm ET
Rajat — May 21, 2007 5:53pm ET
Trevor Witt — Waterloo, Ontario, Canada — May 21, 2007 8:34pm ET
Andrew Schaufflervircsik — Clarkdale, AZ — May 21, 2007 9:25pm ET
Rikki Iglesias — Minneapolis, MN — May 21, 2007 9:29pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — May 21, 2007 11:37pm ET
Kirk R Grant — Ellsworth, ME — May 22, 2007 12:28am ET
Les Gouttes De Dieu — DC — May 22, 2007 12:47am ET
David A Zajac — May 22, 2007 8:23am ET
Jason Carey — willow, ny usa — May 22, 2007 10:13am ET
Anacleto Ludovic — paris france — May 22, 2007 10:27am ET
Rajat — May 22, 2007 2:51pm ET
Rajat — May 22, 2007 2:55pm ET
Rajat — May 22, 2007 2:56pm ET
Rajat — May 22, 2007 3:25pm ET
Larry Schaffer — Central Coast — May 22, 2007 5:08pm ET
Rajat — May 22, 2007 9:16pm ET
Eric Olsen — May 22, 2007 10:01pm ET
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — May 22, 2007 10:17pm ET
Rajat — May 23, 2007 2:47pm ET
Quek Li Fei — Singapore — May 23, 2007 9:34pm ET
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