Getting to know great wine involves two things: 1) a systematic approach, and 2) a great wine. Many wine connoisseurs offer tips for systematically approaching wine, but none have made so much sense to me as Karen MacNeil, in The Wine Bible. MacNeil outlines five categories by which every wine should be assessed, in hopes that they will get you thinking differently.
Explaining each approach here, however, would be tedious. Let it suffice that they include varietal, integration, expressiveness, complexity, and connectedness. In short:
1)varietal means that a wine should exhibit the qualities of the grape used to make it (a Merlot should not taste good to a person who hates Merlot because it tastes like Cab Franc)
2)integration means that the winemaker balanced all of the wine's characteristics
3) expressiveness, which is the most elusive of the terms in my opinion, means that the wine is in focus, or has a personality
4)complexity can be defined by a ten-year-old Bordeaux
5)connectedness means that the wine tastes authentic to its region and growing year, viz. an Alsatian Riesling can and should taste like no other Riesling from any other location; it should taste like Alsace, France.
Over the next few weeks I'm going to put these ideas to task, beginning with David Bruce's 2005 Petite Sirah. This wine is glorious. After decanting it and allowing it to breathe for half an hour, the wine hits the palate in at least four different stages, the first being a light sweetness of blueberry or prune. An immolation of raspberry then hits upon swallowing the wine, which is then quickly followed by a widening out of spice, and a settling in of soft ink. I'm serious, this wine settles in like a 40-year-old moving in with his mother.
David Bruce's winery is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the Central Coast AVA of California. Petite Sirah is difficult to grow because it requires a lot of sunlight over a long time to fully ripen, but winemaker Mitri Faravashi uses the regular sunlight found in the Paso Robles region and southern Monterey coast to make his Petite Sirah. I imagine the fog makes the grape struggle at times, and helps to create the complexity mentioned above.
As for tasting like the varietal, viz. Petite Sirah, I must say that this Petite Sirah tasted unlike any Petite Sirah I've had, but the main characteristics, a rich inkiness and a soft mouthfeel, were there. It was more silky than velvety, but it had the nice flavors of what my girlfriend calls "a big fat-tipped marker": the velvet of the tip, with a whole lotta ink.
I think that I could taste the connectedness, in that it tasted like a Californian Petite Sirah because the grapes had come to full maturation, producing a lot of fruit.
The wine was definitely integrated: each of the four stages I mentioned above glided into one another. MacNeil might say that the very recognition of separate stages argues against my point, but there were no rough edges.
The hardest of the five elements, expressiveness, was really the easiest to taste with this wine. The wine was full of character - it wasn't going to leave you alone. Each sip from beginning to end had clear flavors that never grew muddled, never dulled out.
To accompany the wine, we cooked a dish using squid-ink pasta. We made a sauce similar to an alfredo sauce, only with the addition of wine, sage, and bacon. The sauce made some interesting patterns while cooking, so I've included some pictures from the meal. If you're interested in learning the recipe or other ideas for cooking with squid-ink pasta, knowing more about David Bruce's Petite Sirah, or the approach outlined above, please comment or send an email. And don't forget to bookmark By The Tun, cause I'm about to bust out some serious wine!