Normally, when wine education manager Carla Santos holds a session for Wine Story Academy, it’s held at one of the store branches, surrounded by wine enthusiasts and racks of fine vintages. But a few Sundays ago, Wine Story Academy went online for a Zoom session co-sponsored by Ayala Land Premier and Tordesillas — and homeschooling never tasted so delicious.
The “Introduction to French Wines” dove deep into two bottles — a 2016 Famille Hugel Gewurtztraminer and a sublime 2012 Chateau Lanessan Haut-Medoc. Both hit close to 90 points on the Robert Parker rating scale.
Santos, who’s helped pioneer the Wine Story branches as an approved program provider of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in the UK, guided Zoom guests through the terroir of each wine’s region, as well as some inspired pairing possibilities with her able co-host Miguel Imperial from Ayala Land Premier.
As Wine Story likes to remind us, each wine tells a story, and “if you can’t share the bottle, share the story.” I had no problem uncorking and sharing the Gewurztraminer — which hails from the mountainous Alsace region of northeastern France, in a vineyard that’s been in the Hugel family since 1639 — with my wife Therese. We discovered this French white’s tropical lychee notes, its underlying spices and fragrant, floral finish.
On our third (or fourth) sips, we paired it with cheese, allowing the Gewurz’s sweetness and honey notes to coat our palates. This also brought out the French wine’s off-dry character, and a slight not unpleasant chalkiness.
While I tend to think of Gewurztraminer and Rieslings as German grapes, Santos clarified that those grapes actually originated in Italy.
However, as with most things regarding wine, there’s more to the story: you can trace the grape to Southern Tyrol, a German-speaking province of northern Italy. There, the ancient green-skinned Traminer grape (name taken from a local village) developed into something akin to a mutation of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal as it spread across the Alpine regions. Hence its German-sounding name, Gewürztraminer, which literally means "Spice Traminer." When cultivated in the cool, dry and sunny Alsace mountain region, the Gewurtztraminer produces whites of such purity, they require very little oak aging.
In any case, the Hugel white is a refreshing, livening burst when paired with something salty (crackers, salmon), something sweet (tried it with chocolate), and the lychee notes are said to pair well with Asian foods, offsetting the spiciness.
For Santos, food pairing is not just “white wine with fish and reds with meats” anymore. To dive deeper, Santos asks us to consider how the wine brings out flavor contrasts. The Gewurz is an off-dry, and its acidity (meaning its “mouth-watering effect”) highlights the flavors of contrasting foods. “If you match the level of acidity in your food and in your wine, you’ll find the acidity sort of distracts you; it brings out more of the other flavors that you don't usually get.” On the other hand, when eating something sweet, be sure the wine is sweeter than the food, otherwise “it’s going to strip the wine of its ripeness and sweetness and it will taste so much worse.”
A few more helpful pro tips to demystify wine:
• Whether you choose corked or capped really depends on how much aging you want for the wine. Cork allows more oxygen transfer over time, letting a wine “evolve” its characteristics over the years; caps less so, making them ideal for drinking now, rather than storing long-term.
• There’s a benefit to letting your glass breathe a bit before sipping.
Generally, bringing your wine closer to room temperature and allowing a little more oxygen in allows more expression of the wine. The more “chilled” the wine, generally, the more it tends to hide its true characteristics (good or bad).
• In general, white wines are more versatile for pairing with cheese, but be as adventurous as you like: go with herbaceous goat cheeses, or exotic bleus, hard cheeses, even sheep cheeses.
• Between wines, stick with unflavored bread or crackers to cleanse the palate.
Moving on to the Lanessan, Santos explained how balancing the strong tannins of this red (51 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 percent Merlot, nine percent Petit Verdot) with something salty is a perfect match.
She also recommended more “complex” meats than simple steak — lamb, game, or fowl — as a good pairing choice, and adding mint jelly “for herbaceousness.” The 2012 Lanessan was a delicious, complex red that got a slightly lower Robert Parker rating than the Gewurz (an RP86, but still), yet it’s a wine that cries out to be paired with food. But not something so bold that it distracts from the hearty, full-bodied tannins and smooth finish. On first sniff, there are black cherry notes fluttering into your (unmasked) nostrils; followed by pepper and spice, and some cedar and tobacco. On first sip, you know immediately that there will be more sips to follow. And with the Lanessan, guided by Wine Story Academy and Santos, our Sunday just got a little more heavenly.
(Wine Story and Planet Grapes carry and deliver these and other fine wines. Visit https://winestory.com.ph/ and Wine Story Academy at www.facebook.com/WineStoryAcademy/. Also follow @WineStoryPh, and Tordesillas @alptrodesillas on Instagram.)