For the sixth year in a row, I did a wine tasting fundraiser event for the local high school fencing program, perenially the tops or at least one of the tops in the state. Being involved for many years in youth sports and activities, I know the purpose of these events is not just to raise funds, but to raise awareness. There are many activities and involvements vying for kids’ time, so sustaining interest is as important as sustaining funding. The event is largely social with little speechifying, besides me talking about wine, and a group approaching 100 in number. Its a mostly stand around, light fare, light conversation evening, so with all that in mind, here is how I choose the wines.
My list of requirements for choosing wines for last night’s event:
1. Have enough wine. A three hour event, I allotted 3/4 of a bottle per person. With an estimate of 90-100, I had 75 bottles of wine, knowing also for a group such as this, not everyone would approach their personal 3/4 of a bottle. If its a school night, I may tick that average down…if its a Saturday night, I might tick that average up. Know your guest list. Also with last night’s event, as we have done in the past, unopened wines were sold to those in attendance at around cost. Not one bottle remained, and if there had been more, they would have been purchased too.
2. Have good value, well priced wine. Its a fundraiser, so I take into account what any organization is charging, what they hope to make, what their other expenses are for the evening, as well as what their other means of raising money are. Last night, there was a raffle as well as a private label wine sale I arranged for them that probably raised close to $1000 alone.
3. Have different wine. It is a social event ultimately. And its a chance for people to try different things without making some major personal or financial commitment. It is also an opportunity to go beyond the name brand, mass produced wines in the chosen pricepoint of wines. So on the list last night were a Cava, a Picpoul, a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, among others. For a large group, there will be a range as well in people’s tastes, so by spreading out the styles means you will please more people. Keeping the wines along the same taste profile will mean you lose some people, and ultimately, it gets boring for most everyone.
4. Have interesting wine. I tell wine stories. You can’t tell many interesting stories about mass produced wines with marsupials on the label. Wine is connective…good stories help strengthen the connections.
5. Have lighter wine. I believe I have said already, more than once, its a social event. It is a stand around event. Light fare, light conversation, so you want to keep people light on their feet. I like to continue the theme of keeping it light by lightening up on the wines. Its not the type of event for people to mentally grapple with the wine as if they were reading Pynchon. I chose wines that werent specifically lower in alcohol (some were), but were not heavy in oak or malolactic fermentation or overly ripe or deeply nuanced. I chose wines that people could get a great sense of taste almost immediately, yet wines that had a good length of a finish so that the tasting experience didnt totally dissipate. In my definition of lighter wine is also fun wine. Fun to drink, fun to consider.
So last night’s wines…
Dibon, Cava Brut Reserva, Penedes, Spain, NV. I love sparkling wine. I love sparkling wine to start an event. It stimulates the appetite and it stimulates conversation. I wanted something with more body than the typical Prosecco, so I chose this Cava, sparkling wine from Spain made in the Champagne method but with native grapes. 100% organic, it was a really good starter, not too yeasty, but with some classic green apple and nice vivacity. Very good with the finger foods provided to start.
Chateau Maris, Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc-Rousillon, France, 2013. One of the oldest grapes grown in this region, the Occitan translation of the name is “lip stinger” which gives you an indication of the bright acidity. On one of the coldest nights of the year, I served a great seafood and summer wine that is referred to at times as the “Muscadet of the Languedoc”. It does grow in sight of the ocean and I think its fair to think of this wine as a good midpoint between Muscadet and Albarino from Spain. A refreshing wine for refreshing attitudes. Chateau Maris is an organic and biodynamic winery that is actually carbon negative in its wine making process. Their hemp brick winery house is just one part of their commitment to sustainability. Their website says this wine is to “drink by pool, with or without a swimsuit.” I do hope those fellow members of the town pool choose the former option, not the latter.
Terre Gaie, Stema Pinot Noir, Veneto, Italy, 2012. This was my surprise wine of the night. I am forever in search of a pinot noir under $20 that has true varietal characteristics. To find one under $15 is even more rare, and this is one of those rarities. It was an interesting wine too, more Burgundian/cooler climate, which is my personal preference, but it was both very much a pinot noir yet also very noticeably an Italian wine too. And for the price point, it had a very nice length finish. This is a springtime red for me.
Rosso dei Politici, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy, 2012. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is the grape, not to be confused with the town Montepulciano in the heart of Tuscany. This wine came in the one liter fun size (as opposed to the standard 750 ml or 3/4 of a liter bottle). I was a bit on the fence at first about including it, but when I saw it was brought in by an importer with a very nice portfolio, I went for it. It was the most rustic and earthy wine of the night, a wine you would have with your Friday night pizza or a big bowl of macaroni doused with a ladle full from a pot of gravy sitting on the stove. Yes, I said macaroni and not pasta, gravy and not tomato sauce…I am going old school on you to match the wine.
Domaine Gayda, Flying Solo Rouge, Languedoc-Rousillon, France, 2013. Domaine Gayda, is not just a winery, but it was set up by its owners to replicate South African wine estates which also house other operations like a first class restaurant and wine school. The Languedoc is the largest wine region in France, by size and production and where most of the table wine is produced. Because of is size and diversity, it is a great area for producing fine values. Flying Rouge is 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah. I really liked it! A fresh take on a Cotes du Rhone blend, with nice firm tannins too to hold up to good bistro fare. A really good blend that still allowed for characteristics of both grapes to show through on the palate.
Hacienda Lopez De Haro, Crianza, Rioja, Spain, 2008. Straddling the Old World and New World style of Rioja, this is a great value for both the quality and aging. Very well rated, this almost all tempranillo (with a splash of garnacha) is oak aged at the upper limit of the Crianza designation (12-18 months). A gorgeous traditional label to ponder as you enjoy a mouth filling and mouth pleasing wine, this is a very versatile food wine. To get as well made a wine with seven years of age to it for this price (hovering around $12 retail) is a real find, yet not impossible to find either. This is wine I have bought and replenished a few times now for home consumption.
I book-ended the tasting with wines from Spain because it is Spain where modern fencing was developed. It was the Italian school where it was then focused around the time of the Renaissance and the French school that improved on it. My wine choices were in a way a nod to that. What mattered most, the wines were really good, the setting was great, the people in attendance had a good time, and the fencing program had its most successful fundraiser.