“I always have a problem liking things I'm told I should like.”
― Karl Pilkington, An Idiot Abroad: The Travel Diaries of Karl Pilkington
It’s hard to understand what you like about a wine until you know what particular characteristics about that wine are pleasing to your palate. Learning this is easier than you may think. And by learning this, you’ll be better able to communicate with retailers when asking for help selecting a wine. You’ll be more relaxed ordering wine in restaurants and happier with the wines you bring home. And no, it’s not necessary for you to become a wine “geek”, or study enology.
Of course, there are courses available, both formal and self-study. And then there are the “experiences.” You can combine a fun experience with a vacation and come back with both wine and an appreciation of why it is that you like what you do. I enjoyed just such an experience at Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma last October.
Your host at the winery will start you with three wines. Ravenswood
being famous for Zinfandel, that will be one. You’ll also have Carignan and a Petite Sirah. Of course, you have the opportunity to taste these individually, but more important is learning what these varietals contribute to red blends (the fastest growing segment in America today).
Zinfandel, for example, contributes bright fruit with peppery spice and aromas of red fruit and clove. It’s often higher in alcohol than other varietals, which some people describe as creating a “hot” finish. Carignan has saturated tannins and provides the acid that is necessary for a clean finish. Petite Sirah contributes body and structure, enhancing the mouthfeel. Since I’ve already said you needn’t become a wine “geek”, I’ve kept these descriptors simple. Your host will provide you more information
Starting out with a 20 milliter (ml) measuring tube, you’ll make your own blend. A reference I was given as a starting point was 10 ml Zin, 5 ml Carignan and 5 ml Petite Sirah. That works out to 50% Zin, and 25% each of Carignan and Petite Sirah: below the required 75% of any grape required to be sold as a varietal. You can make several blends and taste each before arriving at your preferred red
blend. I increased and decreased
percentages several times along the experience before I settled in at 13 parts
Zin, 3 Carignan and 4 Petite Sirah. My
friend concocted even more potions before arriving at 3 ml of Zinfandel and 17
ml of Petite Sirah. She eliminated Carignan completely. We learned that she
liked a wine I would consider “flabby” due to its “lack” of acid. Hers could
legally be labeled Petite Sirah (and I have had several that I did enjoy). Mine
would not be labeled as a varietal, but simply a red blend consisting of 65%
Zinfandel, 15% Carignan and 20% Petite Sirah.
|Testing different blends before arriving|
at my preferred combination
Remembering the words of Pliny the Elder spoken more than 2000 years ago (“The best wine is that which taste good to thine own palate”), there is no wrong blend. And whether you are a novice or advanced wine consumer, Ravenswood’s “Blend Your Own” experience will give you a memory and an understanding of wine and your likes that you will long enjoy. To reinforce the experience, you’ll also leave with a corked and sealed 375ml bottle of your own blend. And on a separate level, the whole experience is just good fun.
|Your own bottle to|
The winery offers beautiful views and an opportunity to enjoy these views while tasting their acclaimed and awarded wines. Although famous for Zinfandel, Ravenswood also produces Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, a red blend and Chardonnay in addition to those already mentioned. Varietals are offered both as single vineyard and cuvees and along several price points. In fact, the winery’s first vintage of two single vineyard lots from 1976 were ranked #1 and #2 in 1979 at a San Francisco Tasting. That’s a good history and things have only gotten better.
I haven’t read Pilkington’s book, and can’t claim to even heard of him. But I agree with the sentiment of his quote that it’s better liking what you like than being told what to like. Ravenswood’s “Blend Your Own” experience gives you just that opportunity.
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18701 Gehricke Rd.
Sonoma, CA 95476
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