Saturday, December 7, 2013
Wine tasting at Vignola Cinque Terre (All photos by Ted Axelrod/Axelrod Photography)
About 25 eager wine enthusiasts turned out on Sunday evening for the launch of American Sommelier Maine at Vignola Cinque Terre in Portland. The "Introductory Seminar on Viticulture, Vinification and Tasting" was the first of seven, two-hour education and tasting sessions scheduled for this fall. Chris Peterman, who is wine director/sommelier for chef Chris Gould's upcoming Portland restaurant, Central Provisions, is heading up the Maine chapter.
Andrew Bell (left) founder of American Sommelier, with Chris Peterman, director of the Maine chapter
Smart without pretention, detail rich and serious, yet fun and engaging — the seminar stood out among other wine-education events I've attended. Andrew Bell, a restaurant-industry veteran who co-founded American Sommelier in New York City in 1998, led the session, which began with a detailed explanation of how the tongue experiences flavor and texture in wine. This was demonstrated via sips of lemon juice, sugar water, diluted vanilla extract and Earl Grey tea.
Bell holds the group's attention
To truly taste, Bell said, take a first sip as "mouthwash," a second sip as "primer" and you'll finally get the "real" flavor on the third sip. Try it, it works.
Bell demonstrates proper sniffing technique. Press Herald wine columnist Joe Appel is at right.
Bell regaled us with lots of information on vine propagation and grape harvesting methods (what could have been snooze-inducing, but wasn't, due to his lively delivery). He instructed us to "sniff like a dog," making a cross with our noses stuck deep into the glass.
John Myers, bartender at Portland's Eventide Oyster Co.
Then, finally, it was time to taste the actual wine.
The tasting line up
Our palates having been prepped, it was fascinating to compare the wines we tasted side-by-side: a citrusy Marlborough, New Zealand sauvignon blanc with a rich, caramel-toned California chardonnay (I much preferred the sauvignon blanc); a floral-dry reisling with a sweet, candy-apple gewurtztraminer. We got a brief lesson in sparkling wines — tasting the excellent, off-dry Gruet label from New Mexico — and finished up with the evening's only red, a darkly fruity, delicious lagrein from the Alto Adige region.
Those flavor descriptions are mine. Bell, Peterman and American Sommelier are all about education, but aren't about to tell anyone what they should taste in a wine or what they should like. Their goal is to heighten your personal experience, not make you a wine snob.
Here's the schedule for the remainder of the year — all seminars are on Sundays from 5 to 7 p.m. and are $60 each, with discounted rates if you sign up for more than one. Registration information is here.
Oct. 6 at Vignola Cinque Terre: "Industry Standard? French Wines and Regions
Oct. 20 at Earth at Hidden Pond, Kennebunkport: "It's Not Easy Being Green: Organic and Biodynamic Wines"
Oct. 27 at Caiola's Restaurant, Portland: "Unsung Heroes: The Diverse Wines of Spain"
Nov. 10 at Vignola Cinque Terre: "What Does That Label Say? Navigating Italian Wines"
Nov. 24 at Vignola Cinque Terre: "The New Frontier: Wines of the Southern Hemisphere"
Dec. 8 at Caiola's Restaurant: "Wine Revolution: USA Developing Wine Culture"
Meredith Goad has harvested oysters on the Chesapeake Bay, eaten reindeer in Finland and sipped hot chai in the Himalayas. She writes the weekly Soup to Nuts column and enjoys a good cocktail.
Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business before turning to journalism more than a decade ago. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs. A newcomer to Portland, she is an online content producer for the Press Herald.
Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod [at] pressherald.com.
On Twitter: @susansaxelrod