I’m not sure when it happened, but wine tastings have devolved into a contact sport. There’s the impenetrable wall of backs at the tasting table through which you must snake. Then there’s the guy who won’t take a breath as he delivers a monologue about his latest trip to Napa; the person pouring the wine trying to smile and nod while surreptitiously reaching over to pour you an ounce of wine. Then there’s the person behind you who thinks it’s a wine “drinking” who’s tasted everything five times and stumbles into your shoulder, nudging your aloft glass just enough to put your wrist in the stream of Cabernet. Apologies spill from everyone’s mouth and you assure them that it’s quite alright. No really, it’s fine.
These kinds of wine tastings remind me of the mosh pits of my college days, only more polite with better drinks.
Thank goodness the independent wine shops in Naples are raising the bar. Many are now offering better, more educational, interactive wine tastings by people like Tara O’Leary, a Champagne specialist for Moet Hennessy USA. She recently led a guided tasting of her portfolio’s Champagne at Bleu Provence.
“Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house commercially producing sparkling wines; since 1729,” she tells about thirty wine lovers who have before them a sampling of Ruinart blanc de blanc and brut rosé. Pictures of vineyards, cellars, and maps of Champagne, France fade in and out on the screen behind her.
This is the first in a series of guided wine tastings planed by Jacques Cariot, owner of Bleu Provence.
“I want to offer something more, because everyone’s been to the tastings and they get so crowded it is hard to enjoy or learn anything,” says Cariot. “This kind of tasting lets us examine a kind of wine, with food pairings, with video and better presentations everybody can hear.”
When season rolls around here in Naples and wine tastings become as crowded as U.S. 41, a guided tasting like this will be worth the additional cost if you’re trying to really learn something about wine. Here’s what I learned:
To properly taste Champagne, you are supposed to take a sip and then push it with your tongue towards the roof of your mouth. This way you feel all the tiny bubbles and your tongue really accesses all the flavors in the wine.
Champagne houses make still wine from pinot noir, chardonnay, meunier, and a few other grapes (only those allowed by law) then they blend the still wine together, bottle it, and allow the second fermentation which brings the bubbles.
Dom Perignon never uses meunier grapes- always chardonnay and pinot noir. Conversely, Krug is famous for using this dark varietal liberally.
Cariot says he plans to host a series of educational, guided wine tastings. The next one is not planned yet, but the best way to remain informed is to sign up for their e-newsletter at bleuprovence.com, or call 239-261-8239.