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  • MIKE MCNELIS, WINE EDUCATOR

FIELD NOTES - Vol. 5. - The Journey Is the Destination

“So, what’s your favorite wine?” If you’re in the wine business you know that 9 times out of 10, this is the question asked after you tell someone what you do for a living. If you’ve been in the game for a while and have experienced wines from around the globe, you also know this question gets harder and harder to answer every day… and that is a beautiful thing. This is a testament to the diversity of flavors available in the world of wine, and the epiphanies waiting to be had by those courageous enough to pop corks of bottles with unfamiliar labels. If you were to ask me the above question 10 years ago, I would have blurted out “Napa Cabernet” before the word “favorite” even left your mouth. What’s not to love? Bold, concentrated, blackberry and black cherry fruit that tastes like it has been dusted with a touch of vanilla bean and baking spices.Ripe, persistent, fine-grained tannins to chew on as your mouth waters from the grape’s juicy acidity. Then the best part: this myriad of flavors that continue to evolve on your palate for over a minute after you’ve sipped the wine.Back then, this was the only thing I wanted to drink.


Was I convinced that no other wine could offer such an amazing drinking experience? Was I intimidated by the foreign labels in the other sections of the store? Or was I just lacking the wine vocabulary to explain what aspects about Cabernet I liked, so that I could be pointed in the direction of a new grape or region that would bring me the same amount of joy as my delicious Napa Valley go-to bottle? All were true. Luckily, much like Cabernet Sauvignon’s tannins, my friends at the local wine shop were persistent.


They were persistent in assuring me there were endless bottles they could put in my hands that have all the stuff I love about Cabernet, but with a twist. All I needed was the courage to take them up on their suggestion and pop the cork on a wine that was out of my comfort zone. That wine would propel me on my journey of vinous exploration.


Enter Amarone della Valpolicella. This was love at first sight. I saw an opaque, deep ruby colored wine that would cling to the sides of the glass with the gentlest swirl. I didn’t have to go searching for the aromas, because they were jumping out of the glass and finding my nose from a foot away. And most of what I smelled was familiar. There were intensely ripe and bold dark berry fruits, and the wine had a streak of vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg running through it thanks to ageing in new oak barrels…just like my favorite Napa Cabernets. One sip of this Italian specialty was all it took. I liked that it reminded me of my favorite wine with the layered, dense fruit and the firm, mouth-coating, grippy tannins. But I LOVED the flavors I had never experienced before: the dried herbs, fennel, mushroom, and cured meat character that complimented the fruit and oak in such a complex way.


The next wine on my journey branching out from Cabernet Sauvignon would take me to the southern hemisphere in the Barossa Valley of Australia to try their specialty, Shiraz.The Shiraz, also known as Syrah in other parts of the world, grown in this warm climate once again gives a bold, powerful dark fruit character that will commonly be complimented by new oak flavors. The main difference you’ll find is textural in nature. Compared to Cabernet, Shiraz shows more luscious, silky, and velvety character.Barossa Shiraz also showcases a massive burst of fresh violets, cracked black pepper and dusty red earth, just like the soil the vines grow in. Every sip was spectacular, I was left with one thought: “what wine am I going to try next?”


If there is anything wine drinkers need more of, it is the courage to explore. If you know what style you like, you can happily explore the world one glass at a time. If you have the courage to branch out, you might look back one day and realize that in the pursuit to find your favorite wine, it was the journey that you loved most. These days when I’m asked what my favorite wine is, my only response is “I haven’t found it yet.”



START YOUR JOURNEY WITH:


Masi Costasera Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico DOCG

Made from a blend of the indigenous Veronese varietals Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, this wine is the product of the Ancient Roman winemaking method called Appassimento, which requires drying grapes for 3-4 months before pressing. It is matured for 28-30 months in a combination of stainless steel tanks and Slavonian oak barrels. The wine has intense aromas of cherry, fig and plum jam with hints of cinnamon and cloves. Firm structure, but soft on the palate. More red fruit driven than a Napa cabernet with a hint of the classic Italian gamey, cured meat character.


AND THEN TRY:


Penfolds RWT Bin 798 Barossa Valley Shiraz

Ripe black fruit vibrancy for days, complimented by pepper crusted dry aged beef, fresh violets, green olive and a dusty red earth tannin structure. Fifteen months inFrench oak brings out a crème brulé and cardamom character. Intensity and structure to match a cabernet sauvignon but more luscious and spicier.


FieldNotes - Vol. 5
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