Today's post - Part 1: The Wine - is the first of two posts on my experience at a recent dinner and wine pairing event. Please come back tomorrow for Part 2: The Food!
By now you've probably all seen the "get out of your comfort zone" graphic that's been floating around the internet, yes? (If not, you can see an example here.) Two circles, one labeled "your comfort zone" and another that says, "where the magic happens." The two don't intersect, they don't even touch. Which is the point because as we all know, the magic happens when we step out of our comfort zone.
Feeling stuck in a rut lately, I have decided to make a concerted effort to get out of my comfort zone more. Past experience has shown that when I do, magic does indeed happen, although not always in a lightening-strikes-and-suddenly-changes-your-life kind of way. Maybe I haven't ventured quite far enough out of my CZ? But here's the thing: we don't always need life-changing magic. Most of the time, it's the every-day, little opportunities to step out of our comfort zone that lead to every-day, little bits of magic. And a little magic in your life, every day, is pretty cool.
Just such an opportunity presented itself recently when I attended a dinner and wine pairing hosted by Sonoma's The Wine Road at a wonderful local restaurant and wine bar, Enotria. Now I've been to wine pairing dinners before, and they usually keep to the same basic schedule: sit down to dinner with a crowd, listen as the winemaker stands up and shares a brief quip about the wines served with each course, enjoy some well-executed food, say thanks and goodbye. It's an enjoyable way to spend an evening, but often, not very personal.
This wine dinner was refreshingly different in two key respects. First, the guest list was comparatively small -- there were only about a dozen of us, plus the Wine Road and winery reps. And second, the dinner was preceded by a unique wine tasting. Three winemakers - Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Taft Street Winery, and Pedroncelli Winery - were there, representing the AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) of Northern Sonoma County. Each poured two wines during a unique "speed tasting." The guests paired up with one another, and spent 20 minutes or so at each winery's table, tasting the wine and learning about the winery, as well as the AVA it represents. It was fun and personal and interesting, and when the time came to move on from one table to the next, I was always surprised how quickly the preceding 20 minutes had passed.
You're probably wondering how, exactly, the speed tasting got me out of my comfort zone. Remember I said the guests paired up for the speed tasting? Well, I attended the event alone. Luckily, I did recognize one person when I arrived: Garrett from Vanilla Garlic. Garrett is a hometown treasure, in my humble opinion. He is intelligent, amusingly clever, and just snarky enough to make me laugh. Every time I'm around him I end up with a smile on my face. So when the speed tasting began, it would have been all too easy for me to sidle up to Garrett and casually lead him to a chair next to mine.
Instead, I stepped out of my comfort zone and sidled up to a guy named Al Hernandez, whom I had met for the first time only moments before. Okay, I really didn't "sidle." I'm not sure I even know how to do that. Any-who... Al, it turned out, is the editor of The Vine Times, and an expert on all things vinted. As we moved from table to table, I listened intently as he and the wine-makers waxed poetic about sur-lie and the merits of aging wine in stainless steel barrels versus oak. Being more of a food-centric girl, these details were, frankly, a bit over my head. But here's where the magic came in. Despite all his knowledge and technical wine jargon, Al was actually very down to earth. We chatted amicably with the winemakers about the "screw top or cork" debate, the importance of sustainability in the wine industry, and the role of Jolly Ranchers in wine taste profiles. No, really! Did you know that the fourth ingredient in Jolly Rancher candy is concentrated grape juice? True.
At one point during our conversation, I mentioned that I sometimes found it difficult to put into words what I was tasting, be it wine or food. Al responded that many people are particularly intimidated when it comes to describing the flavors of wine; we don't want to look foolish if we say the wrong thing. But what we don't realize is that if think we taste something, then we actually do... we are not wrong! We taste whatever it is that we taste. So if I think the (visually stunning, btw) Taft Street Rosé of Pinot Noir tastes of ripe raspberries and Jolly Rancher Watermelon candy, then it does. Al went on to say he believes taste is a language, one that we must practice every day in order to become fluent. "You have to be fearless!" he said. Good advice, don't you think? It was delightful to meet him, and I learned so much about wine as a result. Score one bit of magic for stepping out of my comfort zone!
It is entirely possible that a bit of wine helps enormously when attempting to get out of one's comfort zone. Here is a rundown of the wines we sampled during the speed-tasting, in the order we tasted them, along with my decidedly non-expert (but wholly enthusiastic) opinions about each.
1. Rosé of Pinot Noir (2012) - absolutely gorgeous color, just so pretty in the glass. Flavors of ripe strawberry, raspberry, and - wait for it - a little bit of Jolly Rancher Watermelon. Sounds weird, tastes wonderful. Perfect for a picnic on a warm summer day. I really enjoyed this wine, and listening to the other guest comments, it was clear that this wine was the favorite of many. Very reasonably priced at $18.
2. Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (2012) - my notes on this wine are a bit sparse (perhaps because my mind was still reeling from the wonderful Rosé and our Jolly Rancher conversation. I know, let it go.), but apparently I tasted soft fruit and mild oak. $25.
1. Chardonnay (2011) - Jordan only makes two wines, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and they do both very well. I usually don't like Chardonnay, finding it too over-the-top buttery and oakey. But this? This wine was one of my favorites of the night. Al described it as a "Burgundian beauty" due to its similarity to French-style Chardonnays, which are a bit lower in alcohol and higher in acid. I described it as "amazing, especially good with food, bright flavor, apple." Loved this one! $30.
2. Cabernet Sauvignon (2009) - this was a beautiful wine in the glass, with a deep ruby color. The winery rep, Lisa, told us it is a Bordeaux blend including 75% Cabernet grapes. My notes indicate that this wine was "elegant, wonderful with food," and that description matches my memory of the wine perfectly. Worth the splurge at $53 a bottle.
1. Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc (2012) - this wine was easy to drink and had a very nice mouth-feel, with tropical fruit flavors. I noted a mango taste and scent, which was lovely when paired with a bite of Crenshaw melon. A great summer wine. $14.
2. Zinfandel "Mother Clone" (2010) - Al described this as an "old-timer zin, aged beautifully, not over-extracted." For me, this wine was another "great with food" choice because it had lovely flavors but didn't hit me over the head like some other reds. And at just $16 a bottle, this wine won't hit your wallet too hard, either.
So there you have it. Please come back tomorrow for Part 2 - The Food!
Disclaimer: I attended the wine pairing and dinner free of charge, courtesy of an invitation from the kind folks at The Wine Road. My opinions are my own, always will be. Just keepin' it real.