My friend Chang Liow of Chinois Asian Bistro had me stand in for him at a recent wine tasting and luncheon. His restaurant Chinois is located in Windsor, and the food is wonderfully delicious. If you’re a wine person, along with being a foodie, you’ll marvel at his wine list. It’s one that gets stolen on occasion; because like a great wine, it’s the most perfectly balanced one I’ve ever seen. On the list (and in his wine cellar) his wine menu contains wines from all over the world. Chang is brilliant, I mean r-e-a-l-l-y brilliant. He’s a Master Sommelier, does some exporting to Shanghai, and yet doesn’t make anything special of it. But you’ll see this in his wine choices on that wine list. You’ll also hear it when he’s talking about wine. He knows his stuff… period.

For him to send me to sit in for him at a focused wine tasting (and get back to him) was a great honor. The tasting/luncheon was being held by Young’s Market at Mateo’s Cocina Latina in Healdsburg, and was very focused: Old World and/versus New World Wines. Each wine presented had an example from both European and New World producers, in order for each of us to be able to have “aha moments” (as Chang likes to call them), and I had plenty of them.

I arrived just a bit late (about five minutes); the holiday rush is a way of life in December, isn’t it? Tried as I did to not be late, I was the last to arrive. Being only six people at the table, three people from Young’s and places for three buyers – me being in one of those positions – had me be noticeably tardy. (Darn!)

All was settled in quickly, and off we went. I’m going to write about those wines, but first I have to talk about what I’ve learned regarding wholesalers and their thinking today about social media people. A lot has changed in the last five years. When bloggers came onto the scene, when the crack in the socialnomic window had a brief opening for wine bloggers to enter and set up their own established eschelon, no one knew what influence they would be having in the wine world. At first, they were summarily dismissed as inconsequential. Little by little, the influencers began to take their place upon the social media stage, and today – about seven years later – their buying pattern impact is being seen in Nielsen data, according to Geoff Labitzke, MW and Certified Wine Educator with Young’s.

When I was working with wholesalers, they only considered two sources in print media to have any influence: Robert Parker and Wine Spectator. Today, there are clearly three. Wine Enthusiast has taken its place on that center stage, and cannot be ignored as an influencer within the older crowd… my peers. It is now beginning to be recognized that social media – through wine blogs, social sites, and each other… my kids’ generation – are now also greatly impacted buying patterns. Sales for them can be as swift as someone saying the right thing at the right time, making wholesalers run out of that wine instantly, through on-line sales sites.

One cannot argue with sales numbers, and this is the most powerful and influential factor that wine bloggers are impacting sales. This was an “aha moment” that I didn’t see coming, but I greatly appreciated hearing it. We’re all seeing a new way of doing business, with some wholesalers now coming over to the social media side. In my thinking, it was only a matter of time, and I’m thrilled that it’s now being recognized.

Along with Geoff was Greg Schuessler, CSW, Young’s Market’s import specialist for The Estates Group; and Lee Quick, account manager for The Estates Group, as well.

We began our tasting with Bubbles. All of those comparatives and tasting note details will be in a blog tomorrow.

For today, a quick overview of this tasting: New World versus Old World, and what was learned in that tasting:

What was missing in New World as compared to the Old World wines, was the slight earthy notes that each Old World wine presented. With Old World wines having a damper growing season than most New World climates, terroir played a very powerful factor in the differentiating for me. The way I described it in my notes; New World wines are more singular in flavors, while Old World wines are more consistent due to terroir and restrictions placed by the government as to what can and cannot be grown in any given area. Those flavors presented themselves in an overpowering way, due to the focus of this astutely focused tasting. Also, this I learned from Geoff;  European wines block the flavors of malolactic fermentation, because of their higher acidity. (Malolactic fermentation is as easy as A +B = C: Acid (malic) + (a) Bacteria (addition) = Cream (lactic acid)

From sparkling wine, we shifted to Sauvignon Blanc: Pay attention to tomorrow’s line up, because if you are doing a similar tasting, this is the way you would want to present your wines. The reason being that you want to go from the lightest to the heaviest.

I’ll never forget the tasting I experienced where the organizers began with Sherry and then moved to Port. This was first thing in the morning, before we tasted the dry white wines, followed by the dry red ones. For me, it was clearly a mistake to start with wines that will coat a palate with all sorts of flavors, including residual sugar and fortification. It was a memorable moment that made it very difficult to move on with dry wines. I didn’t learn a thing, honestly, after the Sherry and Port tasting. My palate was shot.

The line-up tomorrow couldn’t have been better balanced, nor a more proficient line-up.

Mañana,  my friends.


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