One of my first ‘ah ha’ wine experiences occurred 40 years ago in France’s Loire Valley. I was escorting a group of my Branford Connecticut High School students on a study trip.

By Michael Venezia // Photography by Kathryn Ingall

We stopped for lunch one afternoon and enjoyed a local white wine called Vouvray, produced from Chenin Blanc grapes close to the historic city of Tours.

Perhaps it was the beauty of the region in spring, or the wide-eyed students who were enjoying their very first French wine drinking experience; the imprint of the refreshing, crisp, white wine which at the time seemed to be the only proper beverage to enjoy with our fine herbs omelets. The complexity of the cheese, mushroom and herb egg dish and the subtle elegance of the Vouvray made for a perfect food and wine duet. The silence was deafening.

Although I have enjoyed Vouvray many times since then, it made a serious impression on Aug. 13 at 101 Steak in Vinings. After meeting two of my mates, Norvin Hagan and Cleve Wilcoxon at the bar, I noticed that they feature a Vouvray in their by the glass list.

Succumbing to the temptation, a bottle of Clos Du Gaimont was ordered and the anticipation of renewing an acquaintance with an early wine love was exciting. The pale straw-colored wine was brilliant in the glass and the aromas revealed characteristics that rekindled that first Vouvray kiss of 40 years past.

It was as if a beam of light escaped from the glass and illuminated a path in my memory of that long ago spring day in 1976. The aromas carried me back to the bistro where our waiter tried to chat us up in English while my students practiced their high school French.

I now realize that it was the wine that was doing the talking and that its voice is eternal, the proverbial message in a bottle.

The month of September marks our wedding anniversary, and Patti and I enjoyed a delicious Sunday brunch on the patio at Canoe. To mark the occasion we sipped on a bottle of Champagne Charles Heidsieck Reserve Rose. Rich and full bodied with great complexity, the wines small bubbles were a perfect complement to the minerality of the oysters. The salty brine washed the bivalves easily across the palate and the cleansing characteristics of the champagne was memorable.

Domaine Roux, Chassagne Montrachet was served with a poached free range egg, green asparagus and Hollandaise sauce at the Atlanta’s Best Cellars Dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead. This Chardonnay produced in the heart of Burgundy’s white wine producing area known as the Cotes de Beaune, is a textbook example of elegance and restraint: Bright 14K gold color, exotic aromas of ripe white tree fruits, subtle vanillas from conservative oak ageing with an extremely long and persistent finish. As the host of the Coca-Cola Company table, I was thrilled that the guests enjoyed my wine selection.

A wedding celebration was held on Tybee Island for a former neighbor, Allison O’Shea, of the Wheeler High School Class of 2006. She and her husband Karl Schmidt created the ultimate casual wedding with guests gathering barefoot between the dunes and the surf. It was most appropriate that the wine served at the reception was Barefoot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This California wine is a very popular commodity blend and was the perfect wine to serve on their special day.

I traveled to Portland and enjoyed time with my college buddy Bill Tierney exploring the vibrant food and beverage scene which exalts this Pacific Northwest city as a force of modern American culinary culture. Three exceptional dinners were enjoyed, but the experience at Ataula, a Catalonian restaurant, was a food and beverage masterpiece.

Tapas offerings were enjoyed based on our server’s recommendations. A flash fried potato dumpling called Neustras Bravas, a thinly sliced Spanish octopus carpaccio with olive, pistachio, sun-dried tomatoes pimenton and parmesan as well as Croquetas, salt cod fritters served with a smoked piquille alioli. Small production dry white wines by a Portland importing company highlighted this unique evening.

A wine called Pardevalles Blanco, a rare Albarin from the Tierra de Leon region of Spain was rich and complex without the oak veneer. We also enjoyed a glass of Rioja Rose from a producer named Ostatu. This rare, dry rose made from the Tempranillo grape was deeply colored and full flavored. A true rose for red wine lovers.

On a day tasting trip to the Willamette Valley, a world-class Pinot Noir growing region, we enjoyed observing the harvest and a sunny morning on the crush pad at Penner Ash Wine Cellars. Observing Lynn Penner Ash orchestrate the delivery of the newly harvested Pinot Noir clusters brought to mind the words “I got a crust on you, because you’re mine.”

Two members of the wine cellar staff, Melissa Alden and Johnathan Peachy, guided us through a tasting of several wines produced from the 2014 vintage. Specializing in vineyard designated Pinot Noir, my favorite of the flight was from the Zena Crown Vineyard in the Eola-Amity AVA.

Exhibiting flavors of sun ripened cherries, violets, black currant and a seamless French oak veneer, the wine offered an exceptional example of a youthful wine from an exceptional vintage. Often described as elegant and earthy, this wine successfully interprets the characteristics of its vineyard home.

Christie Schertzer is the general manager of the tasting room at Panther Creek Cellars and we ended our day tasting through their 2014 vintage Pinots. We commenced with a taste of Pinot Gris, a lighter skinned cousin of Pinot Noir, vinified white and dry.

Medium and complex in aromatics, it is the result of a stainless steel fermentation accenting the fruit flavors of this Alsacian styled wine. Two wines from Pinot Noir made impressions and the Carter Vineyard Selection, as well as the Schindler Vineyard wine expressed their individual uniqueness.

Wines are like people. They reflect their nature through the regions of their birth, helped by the efforts of those dedicated men and women who nurture them through their birth and adolescence while preparing them to go into the world sharing their sensory impressions. 


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