If you have an interest in wine and asked yourself “What do the main grape types taste like?” I have a recommendation for you. Slip down to The Capital Grille in Dallas, Fort Worth or Plano and take part in The Generous Pour. It is essentially a matching flight of wines to go with the food you choose from the menu. However, it is cleverly chosen to be both informative and unpretentious to newcomers to wine. There are seven wines in total, divided into a flight of three whites and one of four reds. You start with the whites. Your waiter or waitress gives you a good-sized taste of each wine. If you want more of one that you especially like they are easygoing about that.
The clever thing from the standpoint of wine beginners is how the wines are chosen. Compare the full names here with the my short names for them:
Wine 1: 2012 La Crema Pinot Gris, Monterey, California.
Wine 2: 2011 Martanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, California.
Wine 3: 2011 Freemark Abbey Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California
Wine 1: California Pinot Gris
Wine 2: California Sauvignon Blanc
Wine 3: California Chardonnay, Napa Valley
In other words, want to know how a California Sauvignon Blanc tastes? Memorize the taste of wine 2 (91/100 points by Tasting Panel). Want to know what a California Chardonnay tastes like? Memorize the taste of wine 3 (90/100 points in Wine Enthusiast). Sip one, then the other, to register the difference between the two. These wines (and the reds, as we shall see) have been chosen as examples of California grape varieties as they are typically vinified.
Can’t place the components in the nose of wine 1, ask the sommelier. At the Dallas location, sommelier Nathan Crumpton has loads of experience and he loves helping customers with wine. He has been with Capital Grille for two years and spent ten years before that at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. He also takes care of the wines on his list. All the glasses that we tried were served at exactly the right temperature and showed no signs of having been open too long.
We moved on to the reds and found that the same hymn sheet applied.
Wine 1: 2011 Hartford Court Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, California
Wine 2: 2007 Arrowood Syrah, Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, California
Wine 3: 2009 Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
Wine 4: 2006 Kendall jackson Highland Estate Merlot, Taylor Peak, Bennett Valley, Sonoma County, California
Wine 1: Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
Wine 2: California Syrah
Wine 3: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine 4: The most intriguing wine of the night. This is, in no sense, a Sideways Merlot
Memorize the flavor footprint of wine 1. Russian River Pinot Noir is becoming a reference type for the grape. I have tasted a lot of them and keep coming away impressed. With wine 2 (92/100 points, Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate), notice the smell of bacon in the nose. It is common with California Syrah. Memorize it from this one. Wine 3 (90/100 points, Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate) is the most typical of its type and a bottled lesson in how to recognize Napa Cabernet. Interesting, since it is only “Vinted and Bottled” by Atalon (meaning Atalon did not “Produce and Bottle” it). Their broken web site doesn’t reveal the answer. Judged solely on its merits, it is a solid Napa Cabernet so remember its flavor profile and expect to find that profile in most Napa Cabernets. Wine four is a case Capital Grille national wine director George Miliotes having fun. This is a prodigious Merlot, slipped into a lineup of aspirationals after getting a Lance Armstrong style blood transfusion (90 points, Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate).
How do you taste these? I recommend choosing a fish or seafood course off the Capital Grille menu for the first flight. We had the daily special lobster bisque (superb) and the fried calamari. Try each one with the food and choose a combination where 1+1=3, so to speak. Which combination works best is largely a matter of your own taste.
For the reds there are lots of strong meat choices. Try the lamb chops with the Syrah. The filet or Delmonico steaks with the Cabernet or Merlot. The Pinot Noir can go with the lamb or some of the fish dishes (sea bass for example). I had it with lobster thermidor, but this classic was a daily special.
The Generous Pour runs through September first and costs a very reasonable $25 with dinner. So, you get a great meal and a fun wine class all wrapped into one. I just wish all colleges were like this.