Second Class, Sunday, 10 am: This week, Joe begins class by talking about cellaring wine, pointing out that restaurants and retail wine shops must cellar it (and therefore learn how to take care of their expensive inventory) and that regular folks might want to for two reasons: some wines increase in value over time and some wines improve (develop flavor or their tannins soften) over time.

We talk about how most American wines are aged 20 minutes. In other words, Americans buy it with the intent of drinking it right away.

Storing wine over the fridge is the very worst place in the world. Temperatures fluctuate, there’s vibration and heat rises, so that’s bad news. I knew that one, just as I also knew that putting it in my laundry room, where it’s too light and gets a little too hot in the summer is no better. And I’ve done it, like an idiot. Joe says dark and cave-like is best, even under the bed!

Some wines require aging: think Barolos, top Bordeaux (like, 30-40 years) and Vintage Ports. Other wines simply benefit from aging: like Napa Valley CS or top white wines, which might age well for 10-20 years.

We talk about how the colors change (reds turn to brick/tawny, white to dark gold/amber), tannins soften and the wines acquire a bouquet.

Bouquet vs. aroma: Aromas are the smells associated with a young wine. They are almost always fruity. A Pinot Noir, for example, may smell like strawberries, while a Syrah may smell like plums. As wines age, the intensity of fruity smells declines and the wines pick up aromas not inherent in the grape. That’s when reds start smelling like leather, tobacco, coffee, dried fruit and licorice. And a white might go from smelling like fresh apple to baked apple, from vanilla to caramel, from creamy to something more akin to cheese. I like thinking about these things, and I’d love to smell and taste a young wine and a mature wine of the same grape back to back. Oh, guess that means I want to do a vertical tasting.

Back to cellaring . . . cellared wines need constant temperature (55 degrees) and high humidity (75%), the latter so that the cork won’t dry out.

After some new language development associated with cellaring (ullage, topping up, chai, vertical tasting, tired, carbonic maceration), we move into wine tasting (yay!).

First, Merlot. I know that Andrea Immer says that Merlots can never truly achieve greatness and I think the folks in Sideways said some downright nasty things about it too. I’m convinced, though, that some of this is just backlash against its incredible popularity.

We went through this with both Chardonnays and Cabs, I don’t know, like maybe 12 years ago. Remember when people would say “ABC,” meaning anything but Chardonnay or anything but Cab? I agree that it’s great for people to go out and try other things, but for Pete’s sake, why knock perfectly good wines because they’ve become popular?

I have a soft spot for Merlot namely because it’s the first red wine I ever took a shine to back in the early 80s. It seemed so much more approachable than Cabernet Sauvignon, so it was a starter red wine for me. Now I like lots of reds, but I could never say a mean thing about Merlot. It sort of got me here. But I digress.

Next, we talk about Cab Franc, which is often a blending grape. Get this: Cab Franc is Cab. Sauvignon’s Dad!! Cabernet Sauvignon appeared in Bordeaux in the late 1700s. It was a wild cross between Cab. Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Always, always wondered about the names. Very cool to have that question cleared up!

Cab Franc is the #3 blending wine, which begs the question: what are #1 and #2? Don’t recall learning yet. Wait. Is one of them Merlot? Crap. Gotta find this out before my test tomorrow.

Next, we sample and talk about Zinfandel, another popular and much maligned wine. In southern Italy, Zinfandel is called Primitivo. Hunh. I’ve had some good Primitivos and some not-so-good Primitivos in my day. If memory serves, they’re earthier than CA Zins, which doesn’t always ring my bell. But then, I’m learning how undeveloped my palate really is. I mean that in a good way. I’m open to learning.

Zinfandel is the grape grown in CA for raisins, which might explain why I like it. And get this: if you can sense different levels of ripeness in a wine, say, fresh fruit and cooked fruit, that’s a Zin indicator. Not that I can do that yet . . .

Later in the afternoon, we move on to Sparkling Wines and Fortified Wines, two categories I really, really like.

First, we do the language development thing (filtration, fining, spirit) before moving into sparkling wine production. There are four methods for making it, some laborious, some quick. The more laborious, the more expensive, naturally, and only Champagne (which is so named because it’s made in Champagne) can use the term “Methode Champenoise.” Sparkling wines made elsewhere usually say something like “Methode Traditionale.”

Of course, the tasting and analysis is the fun part. Joe explains that tiny bubbles typically indicated a good quality sparkling wine. We try a $6.49 Spanish Cava and a $30 Montaudon Champagne. Believe it or not, the Cava is good for the price. You could make a very nice Mimosa, Bellini, whatever with this.

After that, we sip a Moscato d’Asti which is light years from the Asti Spumanti of your youth. The nose is floral and absolutely gorgeous. I could dab it on my wrists. Yummy, yummy, and guess what? It’s terrific with wedding cake. I’m filing this information away, not that I imagine a marriage in my future, but my son is almost 21, so I might need to know this in 7 or 8 years.

Next, we try a sherry, which almost no one likes but Jason and me. I don’t love it, but I think I could if I had it with tapas. And get this: it smells a bit like toasted almonds and briny olives, two ingredients used constantly in Spanish cooking. Isn’t that fascinating?

Next, we do an LBV Port that smells like berries, cream, figs and Red Vines (trust me, I didn’t come up with that last one, but it’s true!). Nice. I love Ports with all my heart, but now I’ve found my new thing — Madeira. Oh. My. God. We try Blandy’s Malmsey and seriously, it’s just scrumptious. It smells like raisins, hazelnuts, malt, almonds and maple syrup. It tastes like chocolate, almonds, hazelnuts, brown sugar and butterscotch. What’s not to love? This one, for me, is perfect.

Class ended at about 4:20, and once again, the day just flew. I know I have miles to go before I’m really good at this, but I sure am having a good time along the way.

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