Varietal, the spice of life

Many thanks to the podcasters and bloggers attending the most recent New York Geek Dinner for a delightful evening.

I didn’t get to stay as long as I would have liked, but I did enjoy helping get things off to a congenial start, helping Dave pour the Stormhoek. And not only the justifiably famous Sauvignon Blanc, but also the oh-so-tasty Shiraz. I might be mistaken, but I believe it was the first time out in public for the Stormhoek Shiraz here in the States. After a couple minutes in the glass the wine was showing admirably.

Taste-wise, a good South African Shiraz is halfway between the varietal’s two best-known styles and regions. It’s got the ripe fruit and black pepper of the better Aussies, and the smoky, plummy, bacon-fatty goodness from the Northern Rhone (where the grape’s called Syrah). Of course, you generally pay a pretty penny for wine from the Barossa Valley, Hermitage, or Cote-Rotie. In Stormhoek you’ll find a true expression of what happens to the grape when it’s grown in South Africa. And I’m confident you’re going to love it for its taste, and for its price.

How To Drink On The Cheap

I went to a Katrina charity tasting the other night hosted by two of my favorite neighborhood establishments- a local wine shop and a lovely restaurant. It was a great night, with good folks, good wines, good food, and a good cause, and I happily ponied up the dosh to be a part of it. And at the end of the night, it was a bargain for what we had- I got a to taste a great variety of wines, most of which would have been priced more per bottle in a restaurant than what I paid for the whole night.

But there are bargains, and then there’s free. It’s pretty common to see free tastings at wine shops around here. Many shops advertise these on their web sites, offer to add you to their email lists, or have a schedule printed up by the counter. The best of these types of tastings give you a chance to put things into some sort of context- comparing wines from a specific region, wines that are made from the same varietal, or various wines from the same producer.

In addition to store tastings, there are wine dinners, special events open to the public, and “to the trade” events. Sites like can help immensely. They’ve got RSS feeds for dozens of different cities. Stick whatever’s closest in your aggregator.

Often, the dinners and special events are pricey. But sometimes they’re worth the indulgence, and often they’re a bargain of sorts- often for just a bit more what you’d pay for a nice meal and a nice bottle you’ll get to try a larger variety.

But the “to the trade” events can be killer. Hundreds of wines, and generally free. Got a blog? Head to your local print shop and make some business cards. Voila, you’re trade. Start crashing those portfolio tastings, and learn to spit!


Wine Tasting Haiku’s:

Notes on tasting are
Rarely so entertaining;
A toast to you, Lane.

I don’t drink enough.

It’s an odd sort of a statement, but it’s a good lead-in for bringing up tonight’s topic.

I’m a wine geek. And I’m hoping to work within the industry. As such, some of my drinking these days falls into the “critical” variety. In my last post, I showed you a passel of sites that can help build your academic knowledge of wine- through them you can become acquainted with regions, varietals, wine making styles, etc. But there’s no substitute for experiencing wine directly with your own senses. Hence, my seemingly lush proclamation above. Sometimes, I’ll even spit, though I’m sure my writing becomes more entertaining when I don’t…

There’s plenty of places online where you can get a walk-through of how to critically evaluate wine. And if you’re interested in a beginner’s reference book to have and to hold, I’ll recommend Andrea Immer’s Great Wine Made Simple, the second edition of which is coming out in a couple weeks. Her classification system makes a lot of sense to me as a foundation to build on- she focuses on a handful of common and popular varietals, expands to geography and winemaking styles, and throughout reinforces the academic knowledge with solid suggestions of exemplary wines to taste.

Stormhoek presents a great opportunity for the budding wine geek. Granted, for now, it’s something that might not be available in your neck of the woods. Nick and the rest of the team are working to bring it to the US, and if you’re in a spot to take advantage of Hugh’s giveaways, do so. This is a unique phenomenon. All too often, the only time you’ll get to compare your tasting experiences with another person is when you see a shelf-talker (the little piece of paper in the store with a quote) from some famous golden palate. Stormhoek’s different. I’m not aware of any other particular wine that has had so many different people talking about their experience publicly.

Wine is a great excuse to slow down. Most folks drink wine with a meal, with friends and family, in social settings, etc. So next time you raise a glass, why not seek to put a little more knowledge around what’s inside?

Tom Wark

One of the wine bloggers that deserves his own special mention is Tom Wark, and his Fermentations site. Happy Anniversary, Tom.

meet the intern…


Hiya. I’m Seth, your friendly Stormhoek intern. Nice to meet you. I’ve been put in charge of finding links. Off we go.

Lots of the so-called “oenobloggers” are of the tasting note variety- these can be a fun way to learn the lingo of the swirl, sniff, sip, and spit crowd. A fun way to play along at home is Wine Blogging Wednesdays, stared by Lenn Thompson at his Long Island focused wine site Various weekly hosts choose a theme, and everybody writes up their impressions and shares them. They’ve done everything from Sicilian Reds to Drink From Your Most Local Winery. It’s been growing week by week. Hmm, they’ve never done a WBW where everybody’s drinkin’ the same wine. Since most of these folks are Statesside, perhaps something to keep in mind for when Stormhoek’s ready to do its American promotion?

Recently, Food & Wine did Seven Best Wine Blogs feature, and their recs were pretty good. I especially like Joe Dressner’s, though it’d be nice if he set up an RSS feed. I met Joe last Spring at the Polaner tasting, and he’s a trip. Joe brings in a bunch of high quality, small production European wines. If you see his company’s name on the back of the bottle, you can be assured that the wine inside’s going to have something to say.

Another standout mentioned in Food & Wine is Alder’s a dedicated blogger with a nice balance of tasting notes (the guy drinks lots of grape), comments on the wine world, and original content.

Though his blog ain’t a blog, Jamie Goode’s The Wine Anorak is a great resource. It’s got a ton of quality free content. Before I laid down the dosh for some Serious Wine Books, I used his site for digging a little deeper into regions, the industry, and particular wines. It’s a great timesuck while you’re wasting time at the office.

I used to browse Wine Spectator’s site before they they made you pay for everything. Haven’t they read that other Seth’s latest thoughts? There’s going to be plenty of us geeks who go to buy the mag if we get turned on about wine through browsing the reference portion of their site. I’ll begrudgingly admit they might have a vested business interest in not giving away all the latest and greatest news and reviews online that they put into the monthly mag. But reference-level stuff only serves to make a more informed reader. Hard to have a smarter conversation if you’ve constantly got your hand in the other guy’s pocket.

Anyway, if you’re looking for more advice, and you want to put your money down, you can also check out Jancis Robinson’s site. She’s got some free stuff, but the different shading of the icon between her free stuff and pay stuff is nearly indistinguishable for a colorblind guy like me. Frustrating, so I don’t spend a whole lot of time surfing her site.

The most powerful man in the biz is critic Robert Parker. He’s got another pay-for-content site, but allows Mark Squires to run a discussion board off of it, which is free after registration. You’ll find a lively debate in the forums- certainly not all members are in lockstep with the so-called Emperor of Wine.

Finally, someone who gets the whole smarter conversation idea is Sergio Esposito at the Italian Wine Merchants. IWM is a high-end shop in NYC that focuses on a highly-edited selection of Italy’s best producers. Their site is a bit tough to navigate, but they tell a helluva story on nearly each of the wines they carry. They’re an inspiration.

Thanks for reading. Talk to you soon.



Stormhoek Activity