Training Wheel Wines

A section for those relatively new to wine, 'geeks in training', and for common wine topics
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Mike Sale
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#1 Post by Mike Sale » September 5th, 2016, 11:57 am

I'm "returning" to wine-sanity after a number of years and am looking to retrain my tasting abilities. I know what I currently like, but I'd like to branch out and explore things outside of my tasting experience.

One of the things I'm finding is difficulty identifying region & varietal/blend "representative" wines at a training wheel price range (e.g. $18-$25 or less?). The Sommselect 6 blind tasting subscription seems like a great way to go, but I'd like to accomplish the same for less then $33/bottle until I've spent a bit more time exploring and becoming a bit more a capable taster.

Can anyone suggest a better way to find representative wines (many of which I will likely not prefer) at a training price range rather then looking for the "best" wine or even the best QPR, etc...?

p.s. if I'm dreaming (on the average) then if you have any advice as to what I should expect and best way to accomplish my goal: your commentary is greatly appreciated.

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#2 Post by nealc » September 5th, 2016, 10:03 pm

id suggest going to a well stocked wine shop that has knowledgeable staff and tell them what you're looking for. they are there to help you make the selections.
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Mike Sale
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#3 Post by Mike Sale » September 7th, 2016, 5:03 pm

Ideally, yes, that would work, but not sure my local shop can accommodate. Anyone have a place they would recommend similarly either online, or in the Denver area?

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#4 Post by Michael Martin » September 7th, 2016, 6:08 pm

Mike Sale wrote:Ideally, yes, that would work, but not sure my local shop can accommodate. Anyone have a place they would recommend similarly either online, or in the Denver area?
Others may disagree, but I find Denver wine shops pedestrian at best. Try using online retailers that post good notes and have a big selection like K&L Wines.

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#5 Post by JeromeHan » September 8th, 2016, 6:29 pm

You may want to try e-mail the good people at Wine Library in New Jersey. They are, IMHO, very knowledgeable and can help you create a good lineup and ship out a few bottles to you.

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#6 Post by nealc » September 9th, 2016, 10:09 pm

I've never been here but this Denver store looks like it has a fair amount of selection atleast, and a decent web interface.

http://goo.gl/jdBEOA

I actually have found many good boutique wine stores with knowledgable staff in cities that are much smaller than Denver - there would likely be several good ones there.
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#7 Post by PeterJ » September 16th, 2016, 9:52 am

Here in SoCal there are a slew of wine shops that do regular, if not daily, wine tastings. Is that not a more cost effective way to experience new things than buying whole bottles? Of course what these shops might be tasting may not directly or completely align with your exact ideas on what you'd like to taste, but it's a way to start..... no?
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Mike Sale
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#8 Post by Mike Sale » September 17th, 2016, 5:57 am

There's absolutely nothing wrong with these tastings and I've attended a few, but they tend to be first and foremost, a way to promote a particular distributor's marketing push, a specific producer, etc.. This is a great way to discover if you enjoy the offering and help you decide to buy. It is not unlike food samples offered at Costco, a nice way to help you decide, but not discover or learn.

I'm not at a loss to (just) find delicious wines, I'm at a loss trying to find a decent service that is directed at actually developing a sense of what the distinctive characteristics of the wines for a particular region and its representative varietals.

For example, what about a set of Oregon Pinots that really embody the unique characteristics of the region? How about Uco Valley Malbec? Napa Cabs? Australian Shiraz, Alsatian Riesling, Austrian Zwigelt? What are some ambassador wines that represent the region (or even the AVA/AOC/DOC/etc.)? I'm also interested in contrasting wines across regions: Pinots from Willamette vs Santa Barbara looking for cranberry vs raspberry difference as an example. Or what about a few Friulanos that really represent well what make up the foundation of what makes it unique and clearly distinguished from, for example, a Sauvignon Blanc from Friuli? Or how about a South African Sauvignon Blanc vs a Friuli Sauvignon Blanc?

At the end of the day, I run into the following issue: the bigger shops (like nealc points out, Applejack is another in Denver) have a ton of selection but not a lot of clarity... too homogenized. The smaller shops are at the mercy of what they can get at a decent price to compete and more focused on selling that effectively. What I'm looking for are, ironically, wines that are *not* different, unique or standout in some sense, but instead the standard bearers for a wine in a region.

FYI: I *have* tried asking for this in a few different smaller wine shops -- same question for 3 different shops, but the wines were so utterly fundamentally different from one another that I had no idea who I can trust! (Rioja Tempranillo was the attempt). This leads me to believe that they are trying to sell what they have that comes closest to what I've asked for (no one sent me away empty handed). I *do not* blame them! Retail is a painfully difficult business and they need to make their way. I'm sure no one tried to deceive me, but this appears to be an abnormal request difficult to fulfill at this level.

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#9 Post by PeterJ » September 17th, 2016, 6:39 pm

Mike Sale wrote:There's absolutely nothing wrong with these tastings and I've attended a few, but they tend to be first and foremost, a way to promote a particular distributor's marketing push, a specific producer, etc.. This is a great way to discover if you enjoy the offering and help you decide to buy. It is not unlike food samples offered at Costco, a nice way to help you decide, but not discover or.
I guess the shops where you are must be different. Here, while there ARE tasting 'events' featuring specific wineries or distributors/brokers, more often the shop does a themed or eclectic flight or flights. Some also have Enomatic or WineEmotion units that feature additional choices. It may not be tailored to your specific needs but it does exposure you to a wide variety of wines, especially if the shops are good at what they do.

I'm only pushing it as a less costly alternative to full bottle prices. In Las Vegas, the M Hotel has a 'Cellar' room with (last time I was there) over 200 wines in those machines to taste.
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#10 Post by Michael Martin » September 17th, 2016, 8:07 pm

Completely subjective task with no "real" right answer. One wine does not define a region.

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Mike Sale
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#11 Post by Mike Sale » September 18th, 2016, 2:07 pm

Michael Martin wrote:Completely subjective task with no "real" right answer. One wine does not define a region.
Agree on a certain level, but for another, I completely disagree: if a blind taster with vast experience and training can ID a wine's region 70% of the time for well known regions across multiple producers of the same blend/variety, there are absolutely definitive elements to wines for a region. On the other hand, completely agree where there is not a well established AVA/AOC/DOC for a particular varietal, it is beyond subjective and more into magic/BS. Not being an MS, I'm guessing it is more a spectrum then a hard edged line. Some area easier then others.

Is my logic flawed?
Last edited by Mike Sale on September 18th, 2016, 2:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#12 Post by Mike Sale » September 18th, 2016, 2:21 pm

PeterJ wrote: Some also have Enomatic or WineEmotion units that feature additional choices. It may not be tailored to your specific needs but it does exposure you to a wide variety of wines, especially if the shops are good at what they do.
Local shops' tastings thus far are all distributor or producer driven (I have one suggestion for a nearby shop, but more for selection instead of tastings). Not one I've seen with a wine preservation system as of yet. Shucks, even I have a Coravin! I think I just need to find a better shop in south denver metro area (I have one suggestion for a nearby shop, but more for selection instead of tastings).
PeterJ wrote: I'm only pushing it as a less costly alternative to full bottle prices. In Las Vegas, the M Hotel has a 'Cellar' room with (last time I was there) over 200 wines in those machines to taste.
Great idea, I have some loyalty built up with the M as well. I just do not prefer the Vegas-Hotel overwhelming tobacco scents, and the horrid chemical coverups that try to cover the smell with an even worse smells of god-knows-what... what may make me a decent taster also makes me a picky guest! Still, definitely worth the suggestion to try it out next time I'm in town!

FYI: I greatly appreciate the engagement and ideas despite what may seem as my pessimism!

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#13 Post by Mike Sale » September 18th, 2016, 2:22 pm

JeromeHan wrote:You may want to try e-mail the good people at Wine Library in New Jersey. They are, IMHO, very knowledgeable and can help you create a good lineup and ship out a few bottles to you.
Thank you for the hint and specifics in PM: I think this is a decent route to attempt for a few months and see how that goes!

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#14 Post by JeromeHan » September 18th, 2016, 3:00 pm

Mike Sale wrote:
JeromeHan wrote:You may want to try e-mail the good people at Wine Library in New Jersey. They are, IMHO, very knowledgeable and can help you create a good lineup and ship out a few bottles to you.
Thank you for the hint and specifics in PM: I think this is a decent route to attempt for a few months and see how that goes!
Hope it goes well for you! [cheers.gif]

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#15 Post by Mike Sale » September 18th, 2016, 5:19 pm

JeromeHan wrote: Hope it goes well for you! [cheers.gif]
Already pointed to a salesperson there by your contact! Thanks for the hints.

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#16 Post by Sanjay Shampur » September 19th, 2016, 4:27 pm

Mike Sale wrote:
Michael Martin wrote:Completely subjective task with no "real" right answer. One wine does not define a region.
Agree on a certain level, but for another, I completely disagree: if a blind taster with vast experience and training can ID a wine's region 70% of the time for well known regions across multiple producers of the same blend/variety, there are absolutely definitive elements to wines for a region. On the other hand, completely agree where there is not a well established AVA/AOC/DOC for a particular varietal, it is beyond subjective and more into magic/BS. Not being an MS, I'm guessing it is more a spectrum then a hard edged line. Some area easier then others.

Is my logic flawed?
Last year I took a Certified Sommelier course with our local MS - Bruce Wallner. One of things that he mentioned is that every region has wines that are typical to a certain extent: i.e.: 90% of wines from Chablis have a distinct mineral driven qualities that are specific to that region. Each grape/region have a certain taste profile that covers majority of the wines made in that region. For the Blind tasting portion of the Somm exam, they only pour wines that are "Typical" of the wine made in that region. No pouring of Nicolas Joly wines as a test for Chenin, or Gravner wine for Ribolla Gialla [wow.gif]

So, I guess my point is that in most well defined AOC/DOC/DOCG/AVA, there are "typical" wines and then there are the "off the beaten path" wines.

Also, I think taking a Somm course from Court Of Master Sommeliers is a good introduction to major regions and their wines. That's what I did, and it was a blast.

As always, YMMV

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#17 Post by Mike Sale » September 19th, 2016, 10:15 pm

Sanjay Shampur wrote: Last year I took a Certified Sommelier course with our local MS

Also, I think taking a Somm course from Court Of Master Sommeliers is a good introduction to major regions and their wines. That's what I did, and it was a blast.
I'm curious: did you take the course as someone who works in a position where this would make sense (i.e. front of the house staff, somm, etc.) or just as a lover of wine? I've looked into a few of these and they seem *very* pointedly directed to service or industry. Can you just "sign up" and take the course with no position ITB one way or the other?

Do you have a specific course you'd recommend from the MS Guild or WSET that you tried?

p.s. in college many years ago, I worked as a waiter, bartender, and eventually restaurant manager as well as nightclub manager (yeah, I was on the many-year plan @college... just too much fun and too many... distractions). I've been trained in wine service, been to many industrial tastings, etc., but this was more then 20 years ago... when certifications didn't really exist in the way they do today and your experience tasting, serving, etc. was more relevant then anything... short of it, I'm not very interested in learning wine service, but would love to learn more about regions in the context of tasting.

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#18 Post by Sanjay Shampur » September 20th, 2016, 1:29 pm

Mike Sale wrote:
Sanjay Shampur wrote: Last year I took a Certified Sommelier course with our local MS

Also, I think taking a Somm course from Court Of Master Sommeliers is a good introduction to major regions and their wines. That's what I did, and it was a blast.
I'm curious: did you take the course as someone who works in a position where this would make sense (i.e. front of the house staff, somm, etc.) or just as a lover of wine? I've looked into a few of these and they seem *very* pointedly directed to service or industry. Can you just "sign up" and take the course with no position ITB one way or the other?

Do you have a specific course you'd recommend from the MS Guild or WSET that you tried?

p.s. in college many years ago, I worked as a waiter, bartender, and eventually restaurant manager as well as nightclub manager (yeah, I was on the many-year plan @college... just too much fun and too many... distractions). I've been trained in wine service, been to many industrial tastings, etc., but this was more then 20 years ago... when certifications didn't really exist in the way they do today and your experience tasting, serving, etc. was more relevant then anything... short of it, I'm not very interested in learning wine service, but would love to learn more about regions in the context of tasting.
I've taken WSET Levels 1 and 2 which are aimed at general public and wine enthusiasts - since you are on this board, I think you're well past Level 2. However, WSET Level 3 and onwards is geared towards serious industry professionals, and a passing grade in Level 2 is a pre-requisite.

The Certified Sommelier course I took is aimed at working Sommeliers, but I took it out of general interest. It was a great learning experience - Jancis Robinson's Encyclopedia of Wine is the reference we used. Each week, we explored one or two regions and tasted "typical" wines of that region. In each class, we tasted anywhere from 24 to 40 different wines - and these were quality wines. The class was capped at 10 people. I believe the this was over 14 weeks at one day each week. Each class was scheduled to last three hours but occasionally went 4.5 to 5 hours - fun, but exhausting.

As for wine service, we devoted maybe 5 minutes to Sparkling Wine Service. Here in Toronto, Bruce Wallner MS, offers various courses - take a look at http://www.sommfactory.com. The certification exams are administered by Court Of Master Sommeliers, so are well recognized.

Cheers.

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#19 Post by Andrew Steffensmeier » September 22nd, 2016, 7:58 pm

I had a lot of luck at Mondo Vino in Denver. Great selection and range of prices. Salespeople seemed very good as well.

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#20 Post by Mike Sale » October 2nd, 2016, 12:22 pm

After a few attempts with retail, local and online, I'm going to try the Sommselect 6 blind and see how it goes. Will keep this thread up to date try to build out a good list from this exercise.

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#21 Post by Joe B » October 2nd, 2016, 12:33 pm

Michael Martin wrote:Completely subjective task with no "real" right answer. One wine does not define a region.
well, unless its Michigan.
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#22 Post by Mike Sale » October 27th, 2016, 2:19 pm

I've just received my first SommSelect "Blind Six" shipment to see how well it will play out as a teaching and guidance tool.

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#23 Post by JeromeHan » October 27th, 2016, 3:13 pm

Mike Sale wrote:I've just received my first SommSelect "Blind Six" shipment to see how well it will play out as a teaching and guidance tool.
Please let me know how it goes. I've ordered a few wines from them, and have been eyes the blind 6. Seems like it could be fun.

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#24 Post by Bryan Carr » December 30th, 2016, 11:57 am

Any updates on the Blind 6 or your experience with Wine Library? I feel like with wine regions I have sampled widely and understand I have a pretty decent handle on what typicity means but in expanding my horizons into new regions it always takes some calibration and every time I have a wine from a new region or grape I am left with the question as to whether I have tasted something which displays typicity or something that is off in its own world. Not super helpful.
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#25 Post by Mike Sale » December 31st, 2016, 2:19 pm

The Blind 6 are sitting in my cellar. Work has been all-consuming lately. I did try to work with Wine Library, but that ended poorly; they threw a list of a few wines that were on their list with high scores or "good deals" and I countered with what I was looking for more specifically what I was *not* looking for and they literally *never* replied.

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#26 Post by JeromeHan » December 31st, 2016, 5:42 pm

Mike Sale wrote:The Blind 6 are sitting in my cellar. Work has been all-consuming lately. I did try to work with Wine Library, but that ended poorly; they threw a list of a few wines that were on their list with high scores or "good deals" and I countered with what I was looking for more specifically what I was *not* looking for and they literally *never* replied.
That's really disappointing. It does seem like Wine library has been losing their edge and turning more and more mainstream.

I still look forward to hearing how your blind 6 goes after work calm down a bit.

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#27 Post by Barry Paul Price » February 14th, 2017, 10:57 pm

Hi Mike! Great thread. How has it gone with the blind 6?
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