FIELD NOTES - Vol. 3. - Open Mind, Happy Palate
Tuesday, 4:30 in the afternoon. Full Sommelier staff has arrived for the night and the anticipation of a busy dinner service is palpable. It has been a long day of inventory for half of the wine staff, counting endless bottles, racing to be complete with the task before the evening hour when the only thing that matters is running to the cellar for bottles, opening, serving, and entertaining those dining . The day would be seamless if not interrupted by one guest. One guest having lunch and requesting a specific bottle, requesting a sommelier, requesting their wine to be decanted. This guest interrupting the well-choreographed dance of inventory and demanding attention. Demanding attention to have a bottle presented, decanted, and tasted. A bottle of White Zinfandel.
Stunned by the request but holding steadfast to the responsibility of the sommelier, one member of the team leaves the cellar, completes the task, and then returns to the mundane routine of inventory. The conversation is quickly dominated over the next few hours by the ridiculous homage paid to such an elementary wine. Value driven, sweet, cold, and simple. Why a sommelier, why decanted, why all the pomp and circumstance? Giggles, snide comments and then a thought… WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME WE HONESTLY TASTED WHITE ZINFANDEL? The chat continues and neither highbrow sommelier can say with any certainty that they have an opinion routed in experience about the value of White Zinfandel. The plot is conjured, they will gather the entire sommelier staff upon arrival and taste the White Zinfandel without prejudice, judging on merit, or what little merit it surely has to offer.
Finally, the time arrives. All of the women are on premise and the full wine team assembles in
their tiny nook of a tasting space. The bartender brings over a fresh bottle of White Zinfandel and swiftly pours a sample for each sommelier. The women examine the wine, smell it, and then taste. Silence falls over the group. The quiet hangs for a moment as the group locks eyes, then some glance down, tasting again, but returning to a locked stare. Stunned but compelled to speak the truth, “it has acid” says one, “it has structure” says another, “it has a beginning, a middle and an end” …. “it is a well-made wine…”. Once more a deafening hush falls over the foursome. This simple pink wine that seemingly defined an uneducated palate without knowing the drinker put the snootiest of sommeliers on their heels. With an honest look at this wine it had all the requirements to make it valuable. It had acid, structure, and body. Was it simple? Yes! Was it well made? Yes! Was it a good wine? Yes!
For one sommelier this was a defining moment: understanding that what is in the glass should be judged on merit and not by preconceived notion. Is every wine the wine for everyone? No. But a hard look at every wine is warranted, even wines of simplicity and extreme value. Just because a wine is not pricey or famous or may be rather uncomplicated, for that matter, does not mean that it does not deserve a bin number on a wine list, to stand on the shelf of a wine shop or to be placed on the dinner table of a family. Understating the wine in front of you and the wine that compliments the buyer is invaluable. Realize that presenting “value” wines has merit and does not warrant an apology. Wines that have all the components of a complete experience should be celebrated regardless of price or stigma. Know your portfolio. Trust your gut. Share the White Zinfandels of the world. Examine them with honesty and present them with joy. Keep your wine mind open and enjoy the day inventory is interrupted by such a simple friend.
Beringer White Zinfandel
Visually vibrant, this rose-colored wine has endured the test of time and for good reason. Promising of cool fruity notes, it delivers with raspberry and apricot with just a hint of fresh graham cracker. Balanced with acid and a mild amount of structure ir is perfect for the middle of August sitting on the beach, around the pool or even the opener to a BBQ gathering. Value friendly and well known, it is simple in nature but proud of what it has to offer. This wine is often the first most try when venturing into the world of wine. It will surely be an asset in creating wine drinkers for decades to come.
J Lohr Bay Mist Riesling
Petrol? Yes! Stone fruit? Yes! White flowers? Yes! All the components that make up Riesling are here in this wine from Monterey, California. Known as the universal wine pairing wine, Riesling has the acid and oily texture to pair with any food and this girl has come to play. With just a hint of residual sugar, a smile will be the first reaction of any drinker. Pleasing to both those who like later harvest Rieslings or those that are bone dry, she plays in the sandbox with everyone and will certainly be a pleasure to all. Cooking companion, pool buddy or Olympic watching friend, Riesling has stood the test of time and this producer has honored its history.