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March 27, 2011

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Getting acquainted with wine personalities

WINES, like people, have distinct personalities. Therefore, just like people, to truly know wines is to understand their personalities.

The first step is to choose a certain style or personality of wine that you like, then dedicate yourself to it.

You will discover that while the wines may share similar personalities, no two wines are exactly the same. Your ability to sense their commonalities while also distinguish their differences will be a significant step in building your knowledge and appreciation of wine.

Learning to distinguish subtleties between similar wines hones your wine skills while building an intimacy with a style of wine you favor.

Focusing your studies and tastings on a specific style of wine also protects you from getting utterly dumbfounded by the cornucopia of wines now available in Shanghai.

When we taste wines with the objective of learning, we often do side-by-side tastings of a certain style of wine. Here are two side-by-side tastings of two wines of comparable style, cost and quality that will be fun and educational.

Chile vs Spain, with a German variety

Gewurztraminer is a word few non-German speakers can pronounce properly, but a grape that makes wines definitely worth a try. The name is German but the grape dates back to the early Middle Ages in Italy's Tyrolean Alps near the village of Termeno in Alto Adige.

To better understand the lively and zesty character of this variety I suggest tasting two wines, one from Spain, the Torres Vina Esmeralda, 2009, and the other from Chile, the Miguel Torres Santa Digna Gewurztraminer, 2009. What makes this tasting especially fun is that both wines are made by the same producer on different continents.

Both wines exhibit obvious citrus and floral aromas and flavors yet they have their own distinct characters. The Old World wine has a level of elegance while the Chilean wine offers typically New World exuberance. When tasted together they offer a fascinating insight to this often overlooked variety. These two wines also go beautifully with Chinese cuisine, especially spicy dishes such as spicy Sichuan chicken.

The gentle and aromatic nature of these wines make them quite suitable for female drinkers. So next time you want to buy a bottle of perfume for yourself or your girlfriend, remember that for the same price you can get two bottles of Gewurztraminer that also offer an abundance of fragrance and lots more fun.

First-class Sangiovese

Readers are probably aware I'm a huge fan of Sangiovese wines. Their unique personality and affinity with many Chinese dishes make them an excellent focal point for aspiring wine connoisseurs in Shanghai.

The most traditional expression of Sangiovese is probably Chianti Classico wines made of grapes from a premium zone in the heart of Tuscany. By law all Chianti wines must be at least 70 percent Sangiovese. To understand the different levels of Chianti wines, let's use an aviation industry analogy. Basic Chianti can be considered economy class, Chianti Classico business class and Chianti Classico Riserva first class.

Let's travel first class!

Two of the most important names in Tuscany are Ruffino and Ricasoli, while Castello di Querceto is an excellent smaller, family-owned winery.

When you taste the Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale ORO DOCG, 2005, and Barone Ricasoli, Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico DOCG, 2005, you'll notice that both these superior wines offer an abundance of elegant cherry and dark fruit flavors and well-integrated, soft tannins. The finish of both wines is long and complex.

Another fun way to build your understanding of Chianti wines and their various quality levels is to taste all three levels, from Chianti to Chianti Classico to Chianti Classico Riserva. Pick one producer and always start with their most simple wine, the basic Chianti and end with the most complex wine, the Chianti Classico Riserva. Instead of learning to discriminate the styles of similar wines made by different producers, you will taste the different levels of quality.


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