(Third in a 3 part series)
Most people realize that I am asking them what their favorite alcoholic beverage is. Only once someone gave me a true answer. He said their oldest scotch! The reason I ask is that the question tells me what flavors you like in your alcohol. When people come in and they say they like a good scotch or whiskey; I go and pull out the El Anejo. I tell them not to think of this as a wine or as a scotch, but to use both thinking caps when they try the wine. 99% of the time the client loves this wine because it shares a little bit of the peat flavors and the smokiness. Yet it still has some dry fruitiness from a wine. When people tell me they like beer, I ask them which beer they have in mind. People who love sour beers love wines like the Peterson Barbera, where there is a lot of fruit and acid, but no sweetness in the wine. Stout lovers like the big bold and slightly earthy wines. People who love Bud and Coors and Natural Ice…. I refer them to questions one and two.
Out of all three questions this is the hardest one for me to explain. I have had a lot of experience tasting different types of alcohol and tasting many different flavors; but a lot of how I find the best wine is just making little connections. I watch your face, listen to what you say to the rest of the group, see how much is left in your glass, what you are nibbling on when you are drinking the wine, and how people are looking at other people tasting. The most important thing is to be able to make that mental connection between flavors and what your own palette remembers about them. I have the opportunity to test out my theories on many people every day. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. But the most important thing when it comes to tasting wines is to open up your mind to whatever memories their taste and smell bring to you and be able to connect them to other memories.
(Second in a 3 part series)
(First in a 3 part series)
I have often been asked how I have such an amazing palate and how I can find a customers perfect wine after asking just a few questions. I am completely self-taught and honestly I have no idea. I do know if was brought up trying every food at least once. “You never know until you try” was one of my moms’ favorite sayings around the dinner table. My parents at the time my parents were hippies living on a goat farm with a house garden to feed a family of seven. Well they had that and Costco. As I grew up giving everything a try became a point of pride. I would sample any dish or any food at least once. I would come across an “exotic” dish on a menu and already know what it was by reading my moms’ cookbooks or having her make it first. With a large family we didn’t eat out much, so when I watched my mom cook, I saw how she cooked. When it was too salty she did this, when a flavor was strong she used this herb or that herb and so on.
To me a lot of what wine tasting is having an idea about how something tastes and being able to say, “Hey X reminds me of Y” harking back to my palate memory. But it did take me a long time to get good at this. What I did to get here is that wherever I went I tried wine. I would talk to people about it. Ask them what they tasted or what they thought. Interestingly enough about the first year here at Locals was all an amazing amount of memorization about what went with what in said order. I never really felt confident with my own ideas until I came up with my three questions. It helped me figure out how to help people help themselves on how they taste wine. The questions came from my background in food flavors, cultural anthropology, and watching way too much food network.
Question 1: Where are you from?
Well right off the bat the three question idea is a fib. This question actually has three parts: Where were you born and raised? Do you like spicy foods? And do you have any dietary restrictions? People love to talk, and usually will give you a geographic history of their lives which is helpful. Also asking if they grew up in a rural or urban environment helps define what their might like palette some more. Urban palettes usually have a more culturally diverse palette because of the cosmopolitan food options available. Most people from large cities will have access to different food flavors and will be able to differentiate between more eclectic food flavors more easily. Think about trying to explain to a farmer how the flavors in a Thai peanut sauce work on their own as well as with the flavors of Thai Cuisine. This is not an easy task. Where people were born and how their parents fed them does affect what flavors they like and what they do not like.
Similarly, if you really like spicy food this effects what flavors are pleasing to the palate. To me there are two main types of heat. The type of heat that hits the back of your throat and goes up into your sinuses, clearing out any congestion one might have had; one that makes your eyes water. Typically this is a characteristic heat found in central and South American foods. If someone doesn’t like spicy foods they will be less likely to like wines with high tannins unless they sample the wine with meat to cut the feeling at the end. Smoother wines with a little acid seem to be preferable. Also people who don’t like spicy foods tend to go for the fruit forward wines, but that depends on their geographical location. If people like spicy foods I will recommend certain wines that have some good herbal spice flavors and wines that compliment spicy food like for example a blend like the Peterson Vignobles. Even though this is not a sweet wine, the combination is of some acid on the back of palate and the tannins strips your tongue of the spicy oils found in South East Asian cooking. But one word of caution….this wine does not work as well at getting the Jalapeno type of oil off of your palate however.
To be continued…..
Bill Arbios happened upon his career in winemaking while pursuing his childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian at the University of California, Davis. He took a summer job at a veterinarian’s office where he soon realized that being a veterinarian was more emotionally challenging than he had expected and he risked caring for a backyard full of unwanted dogs and cats.
While surveying the University catalog, Bill noticed a class called “Introduction to American Wine.” Knowing that Davis is one of the best enology schools in the world, he thought that he might as well learn something about wine while trying to figure out what he really wanted to do. Soon after Bill began studying the subject, he fell in love with winemaking; he was thrilled that winemaking encompassed chemistry, biology, physics and bacteriology as well as art and creativity.
Bill graduated from Davis in 1973 with degrees in Fermentation Sciences and Bacteriology and immediately embarked on his career in the wine industry. Prior to launching his own label in 1993 with the creation of Arbios Cellars, Bill held winemaking and consulting positions for a myriad of well-known wineries in California’s Napa Valley, Sonoma County and Central Coast regions. His earliest experience in winemaking was in 1973 through 1976 at Chateau Souverain, where he was mentored by the dynamic Chateau Souverain owner Lee Stewart.
In addition to his winemaking and vineyard management skills, Bill has had extensive experience designing wineries from the ground up. Specifically, he designed and supervised the construction of Fieldstone Winery in the 1970s, and was an integral part of the winery design and development of the William Wheeler Winery and Lyeth in 1980.
In 1981 Bill joined Sonoma County’s Lyeth winery, first as winemaker and production manager and then in 1988 as winemaker and vice president. While at Lyeth, Bill pioneered Bordeaux-style blended wines in Sonoma County, which eventually set the standards for all subsequent “Meritage” wines in the North Coast wine regions.
In 1992 Bill was appointed winemaker for Napa’s Jarvis Vineyards, where he aided in the design and implementation of a state-of-the-art underground winery. Following Jarvis, Bill spent two years as winemaker for Chateau DeBaun in Santa Rosa, where he was responsible for winemaking, quality control and data tracking for custom winemaking for clients such as Robert Mondavi, Delicato and Sebastiani.
Although Bill enjoyed his successful career making wine for many prominent wineries, he occasionally felt restricted by the bottom line to which large wineries must adhere. In addition, this self-described “vagabond vintner,” was starting to yearn for roots. With the creation of Arbios Cellars in 1993, his dream of expressing his artistry through wine and creating something lasting for himself and his family was realized.
After nearly four decades of artful and innovative winemaking, Bill has achieved minor cult status and has earned the respect of his peers for his winemaking skills and vineyard savvy. He currently resides in Healdsburg in Sonoma County with his wife, Susan and his three sons. When Bill is not making wine, he enjoys scuba diving, cooking, music and gardening. He also has his pilot’s license and loves to fly.
When pouring the dessert wines here in Locals I get a few common questions about what makes a port. For example the Eric Ross Old Vine Zinfandel Port- why is it red? Why can Eric Ross call it a port? What is the difference between a port and a late harvest?
First off, the difference between a port (also referred to as a fortified wine) and a late harvest is the inclusion of a hard alcohol to “fortify” the wine. This is part of the reason ports can last weeks, not days in an opened bottle. Both have very high sugar contents, and are very sweet in nature. Like Pendleton’s late harvest Petite Sirah, in order to achieve the fuller flavor and to cut down on the sweetness to make a “unsweet dessert wine” Mike Pendleton used a strong yeast to lower the sugar content from the late harvest Durif. Make no mistake, both a port and a late harvest needs yeast, though not always the same strain in order to become a dessert wine.
Then there is the difference between ruby and tawny ports. A Ruby port is a young port that was bottle aged, and usually uses a high proof fortifying agent. They are usually under 10 years old. The tawny ports get their name from their color. More of a ruddy brown, these ports are aged in barrels for decades, absorbing the color from the oak barrels used to preserve it. In Portugal the tawny port is sometimes given as a christening gift. In 20 years once the child has matured, they can drink this port that is as old as they are!
This made me wonder. If you fortify the port before fermentation, what happens when you fortify after the yeast has done its job turning juice into wine? Stay tuned for the next blog port about the evil twin of port: Sherry!
Locals Tasting Room
Some days ago we experienced a couple of snow days in the plains states. Schools, government and business closed as a blizzard settled into my small town. As a teacher, snow days are something very special. One whole day without plans. They aren’t like other days off, full of errands and activities. A snow day is free.
Snow day food is different, too; perhaps a day of snacking, or a slow, Sunday style meal, prepared on a Thursday. This snow day included a hearty beef stew. I had about six pounds of trimmed rump roast, carrots, onion, garlic, tomatoes (fire roasted, sun dried and paste), and button mushrooms. I also found a few springs of fresh thyme and a jar of crushed hot paprika chilies. There was also red wine.
It has been a busy few weeks and my recent wine club box sat unopened next to the wine rack. I hauled it to the living room and sat on the floor exploring each bottle. It was like the adult version of lining up Hot Wheel cars or Barbie dolls. I settled on the Peterson Il Granaio and what a great choice it was. The richness of the stew complemented the sweetness of the wine in a way that lifted both the beef and the cherry flavors. The heat from those preserved chilies lifted the wine for an amazing compliment. My only regret is that I used a cup of the wine in the preparation of the stew and that was two less glasses to drink. I’m going to drink this wine a lot in the future; particularly with a hearty dish that finishes with a kick.
I wanted to let Locals fans get to know the origins of some of our winemakers. This will be a sporadic series based off of availability of the winemakers.
What was your first experience with wine? I was in my 20’s. Mostly drinking white wine, red wine gave me a headache. I drank mostly chardonnay. Then I started drinking some of the smaller winery wines, noticed I didn’t have the same problem with them as I did with the mass produced wines. They had the lower sulfates.
How did you get into the wine industry? Back in 1994 I moved up here to Sonoma County and met David Coffaro. He had just won a gold medal for his zinfandel. It was unlike anything I have ever tasted before! Dave found out me and my wife were in the catering business and had us cater a small dinner for them. Dave invited the Peston family among others from all throughout Dry Creek. I saw them sitting around a table drinking wine and talking and thought I want that. I want to be over there drinking and talking about wine every day. Also the passion of David Coffaro, it is infectious. His passion for wine and movies and music. He would invite me over to his house for dinner once a week. He would open 10 bottles of wine with dinner then take me out to taste barrel samples.
How did you start making your wine? I had the opportunity in 2004 to make wine at Dave Coffaro’s facility- a Bernier zin field blend, and the 2004 cuvee in honor of my daughter Leslie. For the cuvee Dave let me go to any barrel and make a blend. The first cuvee had Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Carignone, and Touriga Nacional. There were 100 cases of cuvee and 50 of the zinfandel. I started entering them in competitions and I won silver from the Chronicle for both. At that time Dave started to let me do some custom crush at his facility.
How did you go from making wine to selling wine? One year, back in 2004 I realized I made too much wine to drink myself. I looked at the different licenses and decided to get a winery license over a distributor license. Then in 2005 I planted my estate vineyard right next to highway 128 on the hillside.
Anything else you would like to mention? Well I have won 50 awards out of 54 for my wines. I am a nice guy, fun to talk to. Also you make great bacon toffee for your late harvest! Ha ha ha. You’re right.
Locals Tasting Room
When the new Praxis Gewurztraminer came into the room I was amazed by the bottle shape and the dark color of the glass bottle. I had seen this shape before in the Peterson Bradford Mountain Rose, but that was a clear bottle not a dark olive color. I asked Bill Arbios “Why is the bottle so dark?” He told me that Gewurztraminers were known for coming in the darker bottles. I knew from personal knowledge that other alcohol like beer is put into the darker glass to help bounce off the ultra violet rays. But do ultra violet rays affect wine?
Wines that are exposed to natural light can be affected. It is a condition called lightstruck. This means the wine has either a “wet cardboard” or “wet wool” smell and taste. Red wines normally are not as affected by ultra violet light because the phenols in the wines protect it from turning. The wines most affected are white wines or sparkling wines. This is why most sparkling wines are in green or olive glass colored bottles. Most of the time the average consumer does not have to worry about wines becoming lightstruck; just be aware of this issue if any of your white or sparkling bottles are being exposed to direct sunlight.
Locals Tasting Room
Brettanomyces also known as “brett” is yeast that can infect wine or beer. It is found in many French wines but is hard to find around the California wineland. As most of your readers know I have a fondness for the flavor. It reminds me of growing up on a goat farm in Sonoma County and all the fun adventures I went on as a child. When I try to describe the flavor to our members I feel like I can not do a great job explaining my love for this unique flavor and smell. As time went on I found that were one grew up makes a large difference on how they taste and what qualities they would find in wine.
For example, on the Peterson 2009 Zero Manipulation people who grew up in an urban environment tended to find a horse smell to the wine. Suburbanites found manure and bandaid. Rural people smelled a barn or a barnyard. Whether they enjoyed the smell was up to the customer.
Professors at UC Davis traditionally describe brettanomyces as the “spoilage organism” and think of it as a flaw in the wine. But recently researchers at UC Davis did a study and found that of 83 strains of brettanomyces, 17 — more than 20% — were regarded as giving more positive impact than negative. Head researcher Lucy Joseph found that none of the positive judgments were universal. “What you are smelling is not what the person next to you is smelling.” Joseph said. “Everything you perceive is based on your genetic makeup and your background.”
Locals Tasting Room