Monday, June 23, 2008

Long in the tooth

Being born with a small physical frame has its advantages and its disadvantages.

As a youth, the advantages of my small frame produced a decent track runner and base stealer, not to mention an ability to squirm through small spaces like side windows to perpetrate my share of adolescent indiscretions.

Some of the disadvantages of my small skeletal frame include a put down at a party for being too short for a great looking Air Force nurse, a small bladder that has caused me to rack up many miles over my life on my small feet as I made my way—frequently—to restrooms across the world, and a mouth of gums that are too small to house all my teeth, making flossing a challenge as the string continually gets caught and snaps between the tight spacing.

Speaking of gums, the phrase “long in the tooth” refers to a particular condition of aging, when gums begin to recede. In some cases, the recession can expose nerves located where the teeth’s roots begin under the gums. A person long in the tooth, as I am, sometimes knows exactly why wine is considered an acidic medium.

Last weekend I was a judge at the New York State Fair Wine Competition. The State Fair competition draws more Finger Lakes wineries than wineries from the other New York appellations. The common thread among Finger Lakes wine is acidity. A guy who is long in the tooth has to be careful.

The judging was broken into panels of four judges each. After each wine flight, each panel of judges compared scores then decided whether or not to award medals by forming a consensus.

Only a few times did the judges on my panel have to discuss to make a case to gain consensus. The majority of times we had to do nothing more than to compile our aggregate and form an average to arrive at a consensus that fit the wine.

In a field of more than 100 wines that day, our panel awarded only one Gold Medal, a few Silvers, mostly Bronzes, and a number of no medals at all.

With so few outstanding wines having reached our panel, I began to wonder whether or not wineries have the ability to determine the quality of the wines they submit for evaluation. Or maybe they have little regard for the abilities of the evaluators. Or maybe, since winning medals is one way to promote and sell wine, they just send in their wines and hope for the best.

This is volunteer work. Judges are paid only for expenses incurred, like travel to the site and overnight hotel and dinner. It would be nice to know that wineries try to send us their best. In my case, I don’t even mind suffering a little pain afterwards for the good of great wine, and by the end of this all-day judging I was rewarded with short bursts of pain every time I drank or ate something cold, hot, sweet, or salty. The acid worked on my gums.

Yet, considering the results of the judging, I have to wonder whether I should try to suffer a little less in my waning years. Maybe I need to lobby the organizers of the wine competition so that I wind up on the panel with the most Gold Medal entries instead of the least!

I probably should retire from wine judging, but I won’t.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
June 2008. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I'm baacck!

In early spring, I read somewhere that this summer was scheduled to be hot and dry in the Finger Lakes, thanks to El Nina. Well, it ain’t summer yet, and it surely is hot and dry.

My land is cracked the way it usually gets in late August. Right now, I have eggplant, okra, and Israeli melon plants far ahead of their usual slow start in this region. For the first time since I can remember, in June I have bell peppers and tomatoes already fully flowered and maturing!

All this is to say that if it keeps up, this could be a truly anomalous vintage year in the Finger Lakes, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. We like our crisp, acidic wines here—we don’t want no stinkin’ California style vintage…

Speaking of the Finger Lakes, two weeks ago I hosted two separate groups of six people here at Keuka Lake. The first group comprised old friends who have been here before but never for an extended stay and never for the red carpet treatment that my wife and I gave them. It was a glorious Memorial Four-Day weekend, topped off by a fabulous dinner at the Pleasant Valley Inn, outside of Hammondsport.

I’ve known the owner of the Inn since he took it over in 1991. He knew it would impress my friends, so he brought out an old wine list from 1993 on which he had listed my Gewurztraminer, which he loved and used to sell at the restaurant when my winery was in business.
Looking at restaurant wine prices of 17 years ago surely induced nostalgia!
Tom, that’s the owner’s name, never charges exorbitant prices for the wines he serves. He told me a long time ago that his aim is to offer great food with decent wines at prices that bring people back, not push them away.

My old friends are not wine geeks. They simply enjoy wine with food. When we dine out together, they usually allow me the privilege of selecting the wine, and they rarely, if ever, complain either about my choices or about the prices. This held true at the Pleasant Valley Inn.

On the heels of the first group to visit, the second group comprised new friends, all of whom are more wine centric than my old friends, one of whom seems to go over the edge every so often with geekism.

My friend claims he does not care for wine geeks with inflated egos. He knows they are concerned more with themselves than with the wine. I generally agree. But wine geeks do other things that drive me crazy, and my friend did it at the Pleasant Valley Inn.

First, he mentioned that he would like to bring wine to the restaurant. I did not like the idea. Reasoning that the only wines my friend had with him were the local Finger Lakes wines that he picked up at some of the wineries, I told him the restaurant would have Finger Lakes wines, too. Fine. He brought no wines with him.

At the restaurant, however, my friend grew interested in a 1982 Lynch Bages on the list that he said was reasonably priced (I did not look at the price. I felt if he was buying the wine, I should be gracious and not try to determine what he is paying for it.)

My friend wanted to be sure that the wine had been stored properly so he asked the waiter to find out the temperature of wine storage at the restaurant. This is where I became nervous.

I reasoned that I know Tom, and if he were to sell a wine that the customer thought was spoiled he would easily take it back. I figured if the price was good, it was worth the risk. Quite frankly, I was trying to head off my embarrassment in front of both Tom and my visitors, because either way, this was a no-win situation for me.

My friend was not having any of my ideas and so I went to Tom and asked him myself about the temperature of his wine storage.

Tom told me that he keeps wine in his cellar over winter (about 58 degrees F) and when he opens the restaurant between May and November, he brings the wine upstairs and stores it in a room with cement floors and no windows that remains between 65 and 68 degrees F. Then Tom said, “Tell your friend not to buy the wine. I don’t need the aggravation of having to stand their discussing the intricate details of a few temperature degree shift.”

It was obvious that Tom was annoyed and that embarrassed me.
After having worked in the wine distribution trade, and after having sold wine to restaurants, I don’t often trust restaurants about wine storage either. But I handle the matter in a different way. I simply don’t order certain wines in restaurants—I opt for the ready to drink crowd.

If I find myself in serious doubt about a restaurant, even with the ready to drink crowd of wines, I simply eat elsewhere. I certainly don’t care to grill the restaurant owner about his wine storage practices while my dining partners look on.

To me, there’s a distinction between dining out with friends and evaluating wine with geeks. If pressed, I’d always prefer the former to the latter, and that guides my attitude at a restaurant.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia, June 2008

All rights reserved.