Hemingway once said that the only way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them. True, if a little nerve-wracking. If Papa is to believed, he knew something about finding a new favorite wine — namely by trying a new wine. That can be expensive, which I also find nerve-wracking.
Fortunately, Memphis abounds with wine tastings, and after a week of being snowed in, the charming Mrs. M suggested the Dixon Gallery and Garden's quarterly Wine Down — Cheese edition. "Well, A, it's wine and cheese," she said sensibly, wiping the cabin fever from her brow. And with an A like that, you don't really need a B.
There are other wine tastings across the city that occur on a regular basis if you can't stand beautiful art and lovely surroundings. No matter where you go, the controlled tasting is really the best way to learn about wine and — more importantly — what wines you like. There is really only so much learning on-trend buzzwords from wine snobs and making yourself omnipresent at happy hour will teach you.
A Catered Affair handled the food, and Buster's Liquors & Wine supplied five Chilean wines, most from the 120 Reserva Especial line by the Santa Rita winery. Since Chilean wineries first pushed their way into the American market in the late 1980s, they have tended to fall in and out of fashion without much fanfare — not unlike my Wallabees. The upshot here is that the prices on Chilean wines have never really shot to the moon despite routinely turning out a solid product. The wines we tasted last weekend all had a very reasonable price point — around $10. Remember, that there is no trial without error, so while you may not like everything you try, you aren't going to run afoul of actual plonk.
The Cabernet Sauvignon was a big fruity number with spice and chocolate that was paired with a variety of aged and smoked goudas supplied by Murray's Cheese. This alone was proof positive that there really is something preternatural about the pairing of wine and cheese.
A little fruitier and not as big, was the 120 Pinot Noir — earthier than a typical Pinot, it had a hint of vanilla to keep it interesting. It was paired with a mushroom quesadilla with Monterey jack. While they went to together nicely, the fellow from Buster's casually mentioned that it paired well with Dr. Pepper. A little unorthodox, but it's always nice to know you've got options.
As for the whites, there was a lovely Sauvignon Blanc that was fresh and grassy. Sipping a glass while picking at some feta and olives, it was hard to not start pining for warmer weather to get here (something I'm certainly going to regret before next fall). Since I'm not a fan, I casually ignored the Chardonnay, but the tasting notes looked delightful and Wine Enthusiast magazine rated it a Best Value.
The tasting was a great way to sample and learn a little something without getting into an entire bottle or trying to take on a whole country or varietal at once, which is heroic, sure, but likely to end in drunken frustration. It's best to take a smallish herd of friends so there are people around who refuse to take you seriously. You just might stumble on your new favorite go-to and get a little insight into your palate in the process. Which is really the point.
Or you might learn something ridiculous. The featured Santa Rita 120 Reserva Especial was launched in 1982 to commemorate the 120 years since the winery's founding — in 1880. Hmmm. And for good measure, the 50th anniversary commemoration was bottled in 2014. The math doesn't work at all; I've double checked it. The bottom line is that the folks at Santa Rita down in Chile's Central Valley know how to make some solid wines, but bookkeeping like that might explain the great pricing.