Happy New Year!! Long time no speak!
2011 was a monumental, life-changing year for me. On New Year’s Day, 366 days ago, my wife and I welcomed our first child, our son Felix, into the world, and the entire rest of the year was charted almost exclusively based on his development. It was fitting to start a blank-slate new calendar year with a way of life and set of priorities that was previously totally foreign to us; turning the page on 2010 quite literally ushered in a whole new era for my family. Felix celebrated his first birthday yesterday surrounded by family and friends, and watching him climb the stairs by himself and tell me “up!” when he was tired of sitting on the floor truly brought into focus just how much change a year can bring. Last year was one of the most challenging years of my life, but I look back on it now and would immediately do it again if it meant I could have the little guy currently sleeping upstairs.
Much less momentous but still of import to me, 2011 marked the beginning of this online experiment that has blossomed into Pop & Pour. I was hesitant to start a wine blog due to my other infant-related time commitments, my lack of formal expertise in wine, and the number of other high-quality sites out there on the same topic, but at the same time it felt like an avenue that would let me follow my passion, advance my own knowledge and hopefully bring some people along for the ride. Since my first PnP post in March, I have taken two levels of the WSET wine & spirits course (passing one, still nervously awaiting results on the second), met dozens if not hundreds of incredible like-minded wine folk both online and in person, and started to become an active, present taster with every wine that I try; investing the time and energy in focusing on each bottle’s unique flavours and characteristics has only made me that much more head over heels for wine, but that’s what I wanted for this blog when I started it. It was initially meant to help me document my own travels through the world of wine, and while its focus has expanded somewhat since then, it is still an intensely personal creation for me, which is something that I hope comes across in my writings.
Now that 2012 has hit, Felix is 1, and Pop & Pour has cleared 15,000 site hits in its 9+ months of existence, I have been thinking about what I can do to be better at, and get more out of, the wine drinking experience. I have had enough wine to have a strong sense of what I like (coughGermanRieslingcough) and what I don’t (please stop calling me, Pinot Grigio), but I have recently found myself gravitating to old favourites a bit too much without having truly covered everything the wine world has to offer. I’m reading a book right now called “Secrets of the Sommeliers” by Rajat Parr (wine director for the Michael Mina Restaurant Group based out of San Francisco and sommelier at RN74) and Jordan MacKay, and one of the many things it covers is how to become a better wine taster. Its advice is twofold: (1) if you want to know how various grapes taste (and how they SHOULD taste), start with the classic wine regions of the world before branching out to the newer regions that build on that traditional foundation; and (2) if you want to get good at recognizing wines from a specific region or sub-region, find a specific bottle that for you exemplifies the best-known characteristics of that area, anchor it in your mind, and then compare other wines that you try against that benchmark. After a few years drinking wine and two formal wine education classes, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve tried wines from all of the major classic wine regions in the world, but I have never taken the time or spent the effort really focusing on any of them for any period of time. And now that I know what I like, it’s so easy to keep going back to the well of the regions with which I’m already familiar instead of working towards building a proper foundation for my palate by getting more in tune with the heartlands of wine production. Well, no more, at least not for awhile. In 2012, I’m going to focus my time and energy and wine budget in a different direction.
As my official wine resolution for 2012, I’m heading back to basics: I’m going to try to focus on deepening my understanding and my tasting familiarity with the classic wine regions, one region at a time. Instead of casting my purchasing net wide and buying randomly, I’m going to pick a region and almost exclusively buy wines from that region for a few months before moving to another one. That doesn’t mean that every review you read on PnP during that time period will be of wines of my current area of choice (I still have a cellar to get through, after all), but many of them will be, so things will be slightly more focused around here.
The traditional region that I’ve decided to start with is Burgundy. Why? Well, mainly because I suck at it. I have around 105 bottles of wine in my fridges downstairs right now; before today, only 2 of them came from Burgundy, which is the ancestral home of two of the Earth’s most important grapes (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). I have made a habit of avoiding buying any Burgundy partly because it can be an expensive pursuit and partly because of the region’s (possibly overblown) reputation of being fickle and arbitrary when it comes to producing quality wine (which is probably largely an extension of Pinot Noir’s identical reputation of capriciousness). I also know enough about Burgundy to know what I don’t know: I know that there are hundreds of individually-segregated vineyards that have all been given centuries-old quality designations, most of which have multiple (from 2 to 80+) owners, many of whom do not even make wine themselves, and I know that vineyard rating and bottle price are not necessarily guarantees of quality, but there are so many different sub-zones and bizarre Napoleonic land-holdings and subtle soil and weather differences within this relatively small region that I have a hard time knowing what to buy or where to turn to understand Burgundy better. This, and my general ambivalence towards Pinot Noir, has stopped me from doing my proper Burgundy tasting homework…until now. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, so I figure the only way to learn how to taste Burgundy is one bottle at a time. For the next few months, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. I’ll be asking for help and guidance along the way, though, so consider this a general plea for wisdom: if you have come across a wine that screams “Burgundy” (or Gevrey-Chambertin, or Meursault, or Beaune, or any other well-known sub-region) to you, and it doesn’t cost $300 (or $10,000), and I might be able to get it in Calgary, please fire me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave me a comment at the bottom of this post and let me know. Without question, the best thing for me about this blog has been the opportunity to interact with so many knowledgeable and passionate wine folk worldwide, and having some good people to turn to when faced with a challenge like this makes everything seem a little less daunting.
Shortly after I had decided on this course of action for 2012, we had a couple of great friends over for dinner on New Year’s Eve. They showed up at our door…bearing a bottle of 2009 Alex Gambal Bourgogne Rouge. Sometimes you struggle with whether a decision is the right one, and other times the universe hits you over the head with it.
There you have it: that’s my wine resolution for the New Year. What’s yours? All the best in 2012!