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How To Be A Better Wine Buyer

My friend Terrye Schaetzel knows how to throw a great party. So when she generously invited CPR and I to join friends in a wine-tasting for her new wine learning and curation experience, Veranda & Vine, we knew a delicious day was in store. What we didn’t know was that a single afternoon primer could leave us more educated wine drinkers and better wine buyers. Ready to learn un peu Français avec moi? Allons-y, to the Chardonnay soiree:

We kicked off the afternoon with a flute of Lefèvre Rémondet Crémant De Bourgogne (Burgundy, France), an effervescent Chardonnay, because a bottle of sparkling wine is how to wordlessly let people know it’s time to party. Très Chic, Non? Bright and light, it paired up perfectly with the raspberries and cheeses Terrye suggested.

Over bubbles we reviewed note cards for more wines we’d experience, complete with a map of the prominent regions of France from where our vintages hailed, as well as handy sections to jot our own tasting thoughts.

Round One: Sparkling wine, everyone wins!

Then Terrye guided us through two more Chardonnay wines with recommended food pairings, reviving an old wine rivalry between République Française and U-S-of-A along the way: William Fevre Champ Royaux Chablis (Burgundy, France) versus Summers Stuhlmuller Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay (Alexander Valley, California).

As we talked through the notes we found in each glass (which ranged from ripe peach to mineralic pear to rich, buttery oak), Terrye explained the differences between the old and new world wines she’d selected: Old world vintners typically emphasize aroma, while new world vintners emphasize robust taste.

And as we moved from the old world to the new world whites, it started to click for me. The new world wine was less dry and more fruit forward, filling up the palate with ripe hints of peach and melon. Old world varietals were quieter on the tongue and held a stronger “bouquet” on the nose.

Before learning this I’d never considered myself a fan of Chardonnay, because I’d only had popular new world varietals that were heavy on that fruit, butter, and oak. I found a new affection in the more delicate and subtle tendencies of old world Chardonnay — especially in the crisp aromas that reminded me of the Granny Smith apple slices that fueled my childhood romps. Funny how scent ties so strongly to memory, isn’t it?

Round Two: Old world Chard punches new world Chard (and me) heavy in the nose (it was awesome): France 1, US 0.

Next up was one of our favorites, Pinot Noir. As with the whites, Terrye selected old and new world bottles to sample, France versus the West Coast. Sips included Domaine Bart Marsannay Les Grandes Vignes (Cote de Nuits, France), Domaine Arnoux Pére et Fils Savigny-lès-Beaune Pimentiers (Burgundy, France), Banshee Rickshaw Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, California), and Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon).

With each glass of Pinot, Terrye walked us through the different European appellation conventions of vineyard, village, and region. She explained that single vineyard wines are labor intensive to produce because there is a lot of extra care taken in creating the best quality grape, and then isolating these grapes from others in the production process. These vineyards are typically highly desirable pieces of land, and their grapes reveal the very specific characteristics of that land and its climate. They do vary in flavor from year to year, as weather is unpredictable — thus single vineyard wines are more rare and typically more expensive.

In that same vein (vine?), you can expect blends from several vineyards to cost less than a single-vineyard bottle of similar vintage and varietal. Blends may include the words “village” or “region” on the label, while a single vineyard wine will usually include the name of the vineyard outright.

Round Three: A close match between the little vineyards that could and the villages it takes to raise a blend. In a heated sixth (seventh?) glass overtime the Bourgeoisie prevails with the Willamette Valley taking the cake. Final score is a decided tie: France 1, US 1.

At the end of the tasting Terrye revealed how much the day’s selections varied in price. Bottles ranged from a solid Thursday night in to anniversary night out. We guessed these ranges after sampling everything — and there were some definite surprises. Yes, there is great wine to be found at Trader Joe’s (a store which I am obsessed with almost as much as lots of good wines).

A final great tip I took away: How to be mindful of your wine selection depending on the occasion. The crisp Chardonnays and light Pinots Terrye picked were wonderfully refreshing for an afternoon get together on a warm spring day. And of course, now I know that sparkling wine is how to let guests know that you are ready to party down.

Thank you to Terrye for her great tips on spotting hidden gems in the wine aisle. Find her handy tips and wine recs to help you host and guide your own wine tastings right here. Bon Appétit, friends.