As noted in my recent update post, the wine challenge has continued, though I haven’t always had time to type everything up for the blog. On top of that, life has thrown me several curve balls that I needed to prioritize over writing last week. Unfortunate, but that is, as they say, how the cookie crumbles.
But fear not! This past weekend, I began making a full-scale effort to get back into my schedule with a three-post series.
However, before diving into the deep end, I wanted to offer my sincere gratitude to two people who have offered ongoing support to Seeking Continual Flavor in multiple ways.
First is Doug, a coworker and a friend who both enjoys reading and giving me constructive feedback on my food experiments by trying them first-hand when I have extra. Always appreciated, good sir!
Next is Marsha, a devoted supporter from the beginning who especially loves my wine posts. Because of your curiosity and desire to learn, I had you in mind when choosing the wines for this series, so enjoy, Marsha! 😁
“Ways to Make Your Local Wine Merchant Smile”
Wine is a vast topic. Some spend their lives learning about it, and yet scarcely scratch the surface. This vast cache of knowledge has grown in part from a history of viticulture and vinification dating back millenia. I often find myself falling down rabbit holes whenever researching wine, because there’s just so much to absorb, as well as a synergistic interconnection between topics. In fact, wine posts remain the hardest for me to write, since I have to keep a stern focus on the salient points instead of trundling off to draw on the walls of another idea or concept.
Sometimes, though, my segués are purposeful. That was one example.
All that to say that no vendor or clerk expects you to know “all the things” when it comes to wine, though it’s always nice when someone comes in with a few tidbits of knowledge in their back pocket. Being honest about where you stand with wine can go a long way as opposed to knowledge, however, as well as keeping an open mind to suggestions you might not have initially considered.
Overall, having a clear idea of goals for your visit can go a long way in ensuring a smooth transaction and a more enjoyable wine choice. Keep these tips close whenever making a purchase.
(1) Familiarize yourself with the shop’s setup.
As apex predators, humans don’t typically remember to look upwards. Hence, we miss relevant signage above our heads or at eye level. When entering a new wine shop (or even going to a different area of a store to which you already offer patronage), look around at the organization of relevant sections.
Chances are, many of your questions may be answered with a simple assessing glance of your surroundings. Once you’re oriented, you can better navigate.
While this seems basic and arbitrary, you’d be surprised how many skip the oh-so-essential first step. Further, taking a moment to peruse available sections might lead to fascinating discoveries you might not otherwise have noticed. That’s how I first discovered Greek wines!
(2) Arrive prepared with basic information such as wine style and price point, as best you can offer the person assisting you.
The more specificity you give, the easier it will be for them to find a wine that fits your needs.
If you don’t want to pay more than $15 or even $50 per bottle, be very clear on that. Wine can be $8 or $800, and sellers need a number to work within so they don’t show you anything that’s a waste of your time.
- What works: “Hi there, I’m looking for a California Cabernet Sauvignon in the $10-$15 range.”
- Somewhat okay: “Hi, I need a good red wine under $20. What do you have available?”
- Not so much: “I need a red wine, mid-range price.”
Statements such as “mid-range” or “a lower price” or “a nice bottle” are largely subjective, and while the individual assisting you could make a snap judgement and pick something they like, it may not be the right choice for you.
Need something that goes with a steak and potatoes dinner? Let them know.
Sensitive to high tannins? That’s pretty important to mention.
Of course, you might not know what you want because, in some instances, you want to try something new. If that’s the case, share examples of wines you’ve liked (and haven’t). Even better show them pictures on your phone of some favorites.
Perhaps you’ll be inspired to expand your palate even further as a result of the new recommendation, and you’ll also know exactly which associate to ask for during your next visit to the shop.
(3) If you’re buying for someone else, such as a gift or contribution to a dinner party, do some research.
Ease the selection process with these ideas:
- For dinner parties, figure out what the host will serve, even if only the main dish. If you have no clue whatsoever, go for bubbles.
- If your host likes a particular wine style or region, mention this.
- Even better than the previous point, have a photo or two of bottles the host or gift recipient has liked in the past. This does require a bit of pre-planning on your part, but you can also enlist help from other friends or family members to figure out their favorites. Even if the shop doesn’t have the exact one(s), they can approximate from there.
You can find tips for documenting wines in this post.
Cut down on confusion and frustration for all involved parties by following the above steps, and a happier customer you’ll be. The wonderful salespeople assisting you want to make sure you not only leave satisfied with your purchase, but also that you will return another day.
Wine Challenge, Week 16: South African Chenin Blanc
Chenin blanc has a long history, specifically in the Loire region of France: the bunches ripen rather unevenly, which often forces producers to make several passes through the vines at harvest time for consistency in quality. Some use this to their advantage by making drastically different styles of wine with the same grape!
Similar to Riesling, Chenin can be harvested early on during a season for a crisper wine (think green apples and passion fruit), or allowed to hang out much longer for a greater concentration of sugars. The latter at times results in what we refer to as a “late harvest” wine, better for dessert than dinner.
Chenin can also fall victim to “noble rot,” or botrytis cinerea, which leads to the creation of gorgeous dessert wines. Remember how I mentioned rabbit holes? I’ll send you down this one in a future post, I promise.
But the greatest fun of all happens when, in the Vouvray sub-region of the Loire, they turn beautiful bunches of Chenin Blanc into zesty, tongue-tickling sparklers that end up half the price of most entry-level Champagne wines.
Tonight’s wine actually hails from South Africa as opposed to France, where Chenin ranks among their top grapes alongside Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, Wine Folly notes that South Africa grows the most Chenin Blanc worldwide.
Longridge Chenin Blanc, 2018
Region: Stellenbosch, Western Cape
Grape: Chenin Blanc
The wine is a clear, medium lemon.
The aromas are clean, fruity and cool, with medium-plus intensity aromas of lemon juice, yellow apple, melon, vanilla, bread dough, and wet stones. This is a complex wine showing evidence of oak maturation and time on its lees.
The palate closely follows the complex nose, with medium intensity flavors of all of the above listed; bread dough notes are more pronounced, and cedar is new here.
Completely dry, the Longridge has high acid, high alcohol, medium-plus body and a medium finish length.
With a great balance of elements but a shorter-than-expected finish, combined with a complexity of mostly secondary aromas/flavors at medium intensities, this wine rates at a solid “very good” quality.
Due to its high acid, freshness of fruit notes and the time spent in oak, you could feasibly age this wine for 3-5 years, but you can still drink it now.
Though it’s perhaps a smidge early yet to talk about family get-togethers during the holiday season, it’s always a great idea to buy your wine before the crowds snap up the best stuff. Longridge’s Chenin Blanc can comfortably pair with the mishmash of dishes often set out with Thanskgiving and Christmas, including turkey and heartier fish. It also snuggles up nicely to an array of veggies and cheeses, but maybe avoid chili heat with this one because of the oak flavors (as they don’t often play well).
And that wraps up Part One! Look for Part Two tomorrow.
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