Wines duke it out at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse Bottle Wars

Flemings  Bottle WarsEvery Friday in September Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Austin and San Antonio is hosting comparative wine tasting sessions called “Bottle Wars” as part of their “Month of Discovery.” Every September, Flemings revises its wine list of 100 wines by the glass and this is a fun way of introducing some of the new choices.
Beautiful wife and I attended the “Pinot Smackdown” on September 7th and had a lot of fun comparing eight wines. Here is my score sheet:

My overall favorite was the Cambria from the Central Coast. I’d buy that again. I enjoyed the format, but whined to myself that I would prefer more Oregon Pinot and some Burgudy from France, but that’s because I’m a snot. The event was attended by wine aficionados and new comers alike. If you are just getting started in wine tasting, this is a fun, no-pressure way to do it.

Bottle Wars are held 5:30- 7:00 pm each Friday this month. Flemings serves light hors d’oeuvres and pairs eight to ten wines in each competition for $25 per person. Here is the schedule for the month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: Beautiful Wife and I were provided complimentary tickets to this event.

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Wine Tasting is for Snobs

The whole concept of a wine tasting sounds forced and stuffy. When you hear the term, don’t ya just picture a bunch of pretentious snots trying to out-do each other with pompous descriptions like, “I detect herbaceous notes,” and “the musky, mushroom mid-palette speaks to the terroir,” and other such nonsense?  

 Why does it have to be so complicated? Why can’t we just enjoy drinking the wine? Of course I’m going to taste it when I drink it. Do I have to call it a tasting?

 OK, so I don’t wear an ascot, but I do like a wine tasting. Surprise. A genuine wine tasting is a great way to find new wines, explore the true characteristics of a wine in a semi-structured way, have fun with friends and. . . it doesn’t have to be affected. I actually go through the whole tasting process in my head when I’m trying a new wine at home, so why not do it with a bunch of fun people?

So I did. I led a wine tasting for a group of friends to share experiences of three Italian wines. We took a casual approach to our tasting and figured picking wines from one country is enough without needing to get extremely specific the varietal. This was our Nordstrom Rack tasting – you know, same great label at a discount price. I selected wines from producers that make prestigious wines and also affordable, anytime drinkin wines. We had a 2006 Masi Campofiorin, a 2008 Rosso Di Montalcino and a 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo.

We used tasting sheets to guide our assessment of each wine on the basics: look, smell and taste. We checked out the color and clarity. We swirled and sniffed to describe the nose, complexity and intensity of the aroma. And finally we drank them making sure to trill and chew the wines to get the full flavor. We rated their complexity, texture and weight, balance and the duration of the finish. Here is a summary of our tasting.

Masi Campofiorin

This is our budget Amarone. It’s a really interesting Valpolicella wine from the in the Veneto region in Northern Italy. It’s made through a cool process of introducing a second fermentation by pouring the over dried Amarone grape skins. This gives it more heft and a bigger aroma.

Look Warm and lush, deep red like a bruise on Sophia Loren’s thigh.
Smell Black cherries drying on a rustic wood bench.
Taste The swagger of Sylvester Stallone in Rocky I with bold cherry and a hint of tobacco. The affable beginning gave way to moody tawny port with a mid-length spicy finish.
Price $13.75

 Rosso di Montalcino

This Tuscan made with Sangiovese grapes is a running mate of the prestigious Brunello di Montalcino. It’s from the same vineyards and same Denominazione di Origine Controllata designation. The difference is that it is turned out of the house at a younger age, while the Brunello lays around on the couch eating mom and dad’s food for a few more years. Less aging means its less set in its ways and costs less for us to buy.

Look As brick red as that brick house we all know and love.  
Smell Violets and spice spiked with a friendly wink of alcohol.
Taste Vivacious, medium curvy build yet tight enough to remind you of your youth. This one hands over a blackberry to be bitten off vine and lets the flavor linger for a long time.
Price $22.50

Langhe Nebbiolo  

I previously reviewed this wine and you can read about it here.

The favorite of the night? The Rosso di Montalcino. The consensus was that it was a more complex and enjoyable wine than the other two. The runner up with a nod to the great price was the Masi Campofiorin. I’ll buy all three of them again.

What about you? Are you turned off by a wine tasting? Or do you want to try it and you’re not quite sure how to go about it. Give me a shout, I’m happy to come over and guide you through it with a group of friends. 

The wines we tasted were purchased at Austin Wine Merchant.

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Discover the Right Bottle at Austin Wine Merchant

Trying to select a bottle of wine to accompany dinner can be daunting for even experienced wine drinkers. Walk into the wine section of an average grocery store and you’re confronted with hundreds of labels from producers all over the world. Now walk into a wine shop and the selection explodes. It’s impossible to know all of the producers you like even within one region. Can you imagine if you had to have that kind of comprehensive knowledge for a test in school. No way. How can an average mortal be expected to find the right bottle for dinner? Let’s not even talk about finding the right wine for a special occasion dinner with someone you are trying to impress.

Here’s an idea – go to a wine shop with incredibly knowledgeable, unpretentious and attentive staff who are eager to match your preferences with a great bottle of wine. There are shops like this in every town. In Austin, one that you can count on for fantastic advice is the Austin Wine Merchant. This shop on W. 6th street has been demystifying wine buying for schleps like me since 1991.

This isn’t a wine mega-store, but they have a fantastic selection. Co-owner, John Roenigk, and his staff choose wines with an eye for what customers will enjoy at prices that make sense. How do they know what customers want? They keep track. You can let the Austin Wine Merchant keep your purchases in a database. The next time you visit, they can make recommendations based on what you like the last time. It takes the guessing out of it.

I overheard John counseling one customer, “Do you really want to buy a $15 Burgundy? I’ll tell ya, the best $15 Burgundy is a Côtes du Rhône.” That’s the kind of help that makes the difference between having some wine and having wine you like.

I talked to a couple of customers in the store about what they like about the shop. They drive out of their way because they learn something new about wine every time they visit. They like the large selection of small producers and old world wines that are priced competitively. They admitted that they were initially intimidated by the higher-end appearance and assumed it must be an expensive shop full of trophy and first growth wines for oenephiles. They were pleased to see that despite a serious approach to wine and some higher-end selections, this is a store that caters to casual and expert wine drinkers alike. Oh, and they love the wine tastings held every Saturday from noon to 3:00 p.m.
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What do I mean by “serious about wine”? The first thing is that keep the entire shop chilled to 65 degrees F and at a constant humidity. Take a coat if you plan to shop for a long time. This is one big wine cellar. They also arrange wines geographically by appellation within regions. That might not be unique, but it sure is helpful.

After watching John dish out advice to several customers. It was my turn to let him find a nice bottle for me. I bought two right away. I intended to review those wines, but, uh, Beautiful Wife and I liked them so much we drank them in one sitting with a fantastic dinner. I didn’t take the time to write a single note. I guess I’ll have to go back and buy more.
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