Wine: Magic, Mystery & Accessibility -Spring 2015
If you are looking to enjoy a nice glass of wine on a soft, spring evening, take a stroll along Broad Street and duck down a few steps into Meursault.
by: Caroline Stanton
photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger
Dupree graciously opened Meursault for us one icy winter afternoon, to sit down and share his thoughts on both the enjoyment of wine and how to create your own wine-tasting.
This May the 19th annual Nantucket Wine Festival will set up camp for five days on the island. Hundreds will gather under tent canopies and sit down at elegant tables to taste fine wines from around the world.
“What is truly spectacular is that, on such a tiny island, you’ve got all these amazing wine producers and domaines from around the world,” said Dupree, who will be part of this year’s festival as well.
But if you do not have the time or money to take part in the festivities, all the hoopla around wine can seem a bit out of reach. Dupree begs to differ. He has found a certain kind of magic in wine that he believes everyone should experience, and he is here to break down some of the perceived psychological barriers and make it more accessible.
All you need are some wine glasses, a few bottles of vino, and a group of friends who are up for the adventure. With some insight from a wine connoisseur, the magic of wine is within your grasp.
A wine-tasting is a lot easier to set up than you might think. Although there are no major strictures to a wine-tasting, there are a few basics to keep in mind: Start with a theme, take notes, and make sure you use clean, standard wine glasses.
Although Dupree has no qualms about simply uncorking a few bottles of wine to enjoy with friends, he has found that a successful tasting starts with a preconceived theme. It can be academic, with well-chosen wines where the intention is to become more acquainted with a few specific grape varietals, to a tasting where guests share and discuss their favorite wines.
“There are many ways to approach a wine-tasting. It’s not just one size fits all,” Dupree said.
Regardless of how you decide to set up your winetasting, Dupree cautions against taking the event too seriously. It’s important not to lose sight of wine’s inherent purpose.
“You can only be so cerebral about wine, because, at the end of the day, it’s about pleasure,” Dupree said.
One of Dupree’s favorite types of wine-tastings is the blind tasting.
“It really represents being true to what your palate is and what you like. I love the experience of having the complete novice and the person who’s studied wine forever having a chance to taste wines side by side with no pressure,” he said.
Every year Dupree takes part in a blind champagnetasting with friends. Guests are asked to bring a bottle of champagne from any price range they please. They then spend the evening tasting and rating different glasses, completely unaware of the price or the producer. By the end of the night, a winner is chosen and the bottles are unveiled.
If you are looking to build your wine knowledge, start with what Dupree calls the “classic, archetypal examples:” Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Grenache, Syrah, Mouvèdres, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. This assemblage of wines should create a useful structure for your tasting.
“This is a good way to start to ground yourself in the fundamentals so that you can approach a genre of wine and start to know a little bit about the ABCs of it. That way you can have markers to sway yourself to this style or that style, and be able to express yourself a little more clearly and have a few more talking points on what you enjoy in wine,” Dupree said.
Accompanying your wine with some sustenance will add some gusto to your tasting. Food can vary from a sumptuous meal to a few olives, slices of baguette and a nice wedge of cheese. Dupree is partial to cheese pairings.
“I love the range that you can get in something so simple as juice and curd and whey, and how these things come together to produce a symphony,” he said.
For Dupree, finding a good pairing is a matter of striking a balance between the cheese and wine.
“You want to find the point where there’s equal pressure, equal force, and that one isn’t louder or singing over the other, but the two together are creating a sort of pas de deux,” he said.
Dupree suggests having cheese from three animals – cow, sheep and goat – plus a bleu cheese.
Some of the traditional cheese and wine pairings
that Dupree recommends are a triple crème cheese (such as a brie) with a Blanc de Blanc Champagne, a goat’s milk cheese with a Sauvignon Blanc, a washedrind cheese (such as an époisse) with a Burgundy Pinot Noir from Côte de Nuit, and a bleu cheese with a dessert wine such as a port or a Coteaux du Layon.
While there are no absolutes about pairings, Dupree said that it is crucial to treat your cheese well. Make sure the cheese is at room temperature and has been allowed to breathe. This means taking the cheese out of the refrigerator an hour and a half before the tasting, and removing all the packaging.
When it comes to the technique of tasting, Dupree encourages people to keep a sense of humor, and embrace their own styles.
“Part of the fun in a wine-tasting is watching everyone’s faces,” he said.
Tasting is a process. Over half of taste is experienced in the nose, which explains the deep inhale that is so characteristic of the wine connoisseur. When the wine is poured, take note of the weight and color. The weight of the wine is best understood in its comparison to different grades of milk – whole, skim or heavy cream. A weightier wine will leave thicker streaks on the glass. A thicker streak correlates to a higher alcohol content, and thus, more sugar.
Once you have sipped the wine, take a moment to reflect upon how that wine feels within your mouth. Dupree suggests posing a few questions to yourself about the flavor: Is it sweet, sour, acidic, bitter or tannic?
“Where is the wine being pronounced the most? What’s singing the most? Or, do all the components sing together in harmony?” Dupree asked.
His major piece of advice is to withhold judgment until the second taste.
“I always take the first taste and then let it hang out a little bit. When I really want to assess it, I come back to it, and that’s when you can really start to talk about it.”
A critical aspect of the wine-tasting for Dupree is the communal assessment.
“The conversation part at a tasting is very important. I want to know what you thought about it, and tell you what I thought about it,” he said.
What really rounds out a wine-tasting is the company with whom you share the experience. The magic of wine does not rest within the confines of a single glass or bottle, Dupree said. It is the human element that makes the entire process worthwhile. ///
Caroline Stanton is a freelance writer living in California. She has spent time in Beaune and the vineyards of Burgundy.