Tuesday, July 29th, 2008
Kalifornia is King in the domestic wine world. This is a simple fact. Not to take away from the great wines of Oregon. Or Washington. Or the emerging areas to the East, all of which I love and enjoy. But California leads the race in every relevant metric:
- California is home to more wineries than all other states combined.
- Our state has a per-capita consumption rate that rivals those of Europe.
- Producers and retailers operate under the most liberal set of alcoholic beverage laws in any of the 50 states.
These are good metrics for measuring the strength of a state's wine business. If you're an economist.
But if you're a wine fan trying to pursue your own enophilic amore, a more meaningful measure is the strength of your wine community. Which is good news since you can create your own. How does one measure the strength of a wine community? These seem reasonable to me (and I welcome your input via the comment box):
- Wine Merchants - A critical mass of good, knowledgeable wine merchants is key. Note - if you have been sentenced to life in the hinterlands, the internet is a Godsend for overcoming a dearth of good merchants, unless your state has deemed shipping wine from California to be a felony, in which case you really must move.
- Tasting groups - Tasting groups are easy to organize and fun to maintain. Just be sure each member agrees to the structure of the process (relaxed vs. formal tasting procedures). I've learned this the hard way, watching a group disintegrate into two factions. It works best to send invitations that clearly describe the process the group uses at each meeting, so everyone who decides to join buys in to the process.
- BYOB Wine Dinners - Without question, this is my favorite way to get exposure to new wines. Considering each wine over the course of a long evening as it is paired with food is the best way to become intimately familiear with new wines. Just be sure to let everyone know the menu (including sauces, seasonings and preparation methods) so they know what wine to bring. All wines are intended to be opened that night and shared.
Such wine dinners occur several times a month at Peter Kuperman's apartment in San Francisco. Peter is a born connector - someone who loves putting people together. Last week he assembled a small throng (16!) of the Bay Area's wine world for a most enjoyable evening of food, wine and conversation. Despite my lingering cold/cough and much-compromised nasal passages, I was able to enjoy a wide variety of new wines. Peter's guests seemed eager to tap their cellars to share with others who appreciated the sacrifice. I would hesitate to estimate the average bottle cost at the table that night, but am sure it would stretch my own considerable wine budget.
The event was coordinated by event planner Erin Reese (far right in photo at left), who helps Peter with his regular events. Our meal began with prosciutto-wrapped melon (on table in photo, above) - perfect with rich, floral white wines such as those deliciously contributed by Emily Weissman and Stephan Schindler of Winemonger - emerging importers of Austrian and Italian wines (photo at right). I was fortunate enough to finagle a seat next to this delightful couple, and learned quite a bit about their wines and their business. Recent transplants from L.A., the Bay Area is now fortunate to include them in their census.
Peter's main course provided a salmon in a citrus-tarragon cream sauce accompanied by encrusted rounds of goat cheese (baked just until soft) that topped a mix of field greens with a vinaigrette dressing. I'm sad to say neither of the wines I contributed (Breggo Cellars and San Simeon pinot noirs) complimented the meal particularly well - I hadn't known about the sauce, its soft citrus and floral characteristics needed a spicy-floral white wine to really show well. Fortunately, some of the other guests picked up the slack, and there was no shortage of great wines.
Dinner was followed by a simple cheese tray Erin had arranged. The winning combination here was the bleu cheese with an incredibly rich TBA wine from Winemonger and the Sauternes provided by Simon Littler of Global Wines.
The guest of honor was Michael Stajer (left), CEO of the Wine Commune - a visionary, wine-based technology company. Michael uses the internet and telephone so effectively, and moves so much wine, that this humble merchant was in awe of his significant achievements in such a short peiod of time.
Planning Your Own Wine Dinner
Even if you live in Kalamazoo or simply don't hang around Sommeliers, Wine Merchants, Winemakers and Wine Buyers, it's fairly easy to create your own wine community. You may want to follow Peter's model, starting at a somewhat less ambitious level (dinner for 16 after work on a Tuesday might make even Martha Stewart take pause!) Just invite one or two good, gregarious friends plus two or three of your local wine merchants, sommeliers or wine buyer for the best store or restaurant in town. Have everyone bring a bottle of wine (and make it clear it is to be consumed that night) and be sure to tell them what you'll be serving and how it's to be prepared.
Not up for planning a meal? Here's another idea - instead of inviting your group to your home, invite them to a cook-out where you provide a plethora of side dishes and a large grill or three. Instruct each guest to provide one bottle of wine per adult and food for you to grill (have plenty of sauces and toppings ready as well). Any outdoor facility (that allows wine!) will do. A back yard is a great start, though a public park is generally more scenic and provides room for other amenities (a band, kids games, adult games, etc.) depending on how expensive you can afford to get. For a nice twist, hire (or partner with) a local chef to tend the grill - your guests will enjoy seeing what a professional can do with their food contribution!
Have you recently enjoyed a great wine dinner? Share your ideas and experiences with the rest of us by entering a comment in the space below.
“Good wine ruins the purse. Bad wine ruins the stomach.” ~Old Spanish Saying
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