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Highlights from the San Diego International Among my many tasks and pleasures as Director of the San Diego International wine competition is the tasting aspect. In this competition, medals are awarded for excellence in three tiers: silver, gold and platinum. To earn a silver medal, a wine …Read more. A Bitter Pill for Bordeaux BORDEAUX, France — Making wine in Bordeaux has always been a dicey proposition. Situated close to the Atlantic coast in the southwest corner of France, Bordeaux is too cool in most years to fully ripen cabernet sauvignon, the dominant grape …Read more. A Tale of Two Houses REIMS, France — From a distance, Laurent-Perrier and Bruno Paillard, two prominent Champagne houses, would appear to have little in common but for the bubbles. Laurent-Perrier was founded more than 200 years ago and is steeped in tradition, a …Read more. When in Beaune BEAUNE, France — Inside the largely intact ramparts of this relatively sleepy village of 20,000, there are four restaurants with at least one Michelin star. Outside the city walls there are several more. The center of the village, around Place …Read more.
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The Tasting Experience

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If you've ever dined at a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant, you've no doubt experienced the pleasure of sipping wine from a jelly jar. It's not always about the wine. Sometimes, it's the experience — in this case, a rustic, old-world experience.

For sheer elegance, on the other hand, it's hard to beat sipping Champagne from a delicate crystal flute.

The experience can be everything when it comes to wine, elevating what's in the glass if the experience is positive, or destroying the wine if the experience strikes an off note.

Here are three simple things anyone can do to take the wine-tasting experience to another level:

One, "season" the wine glasses. I learned this trick on one of my early trips to Italy. Stemware, no matter how carefully stored, can pick up off-putting aromas from the kitchen or pantry. There is no way to detect these odd smells unless you poke your nose into each glass, which might annoy friends and family gathered around the dinner table.

To solve this problem without resorting to the time-consuming practice of polishing the crystal before the company arrives, simply pour a splash of wine into one glass and give it a vigorous swirl. Then carefully pour the splash of wine from the first glass into the second glass and repeat the drill. Then move on to the third glass, and the fourth, and so on, until you have rinsed each glass with the wine you intend to serve.

Not only is "seasoning" the glasses easy and effective, it will also add a dramatic flair to any dinner service that includes wine.

Two, when serving fine Champagne or above-average domestic sparkling wine, avoid using Champagne flutes, no matter how elegant you think they are. Better bubblies have subtle aromas and textures that are utterly lost when served in a flute-shaped glass.

The more common practice in the Champagne region today is to serve the better bubblies in a white wine glass, which allows for swirling, which will accentuate and bring up the flavors and aromas that would be missed in a traditional flute.

If you're not sure about this, try serving a good bottle of Champagne both ways. You might be surprised at how full and rich the bouquet is on a glass of Champagne that has been liberated from the straightjacket of the Champagne flute.

Three, take care to serve your wine at the proper temperature. White wines need not be ice cold, and red wines need not be "room temperature," particularly if the room happens to be 70 degrees or above.

White wines such as chardonnay or Rhone blends are more expressive when served cool rather than cold.

Red wines, too. Warm red wine can be flat, tannic, alcoholic, bitter or all of the above. A few minutes in an ice bucket will make a world of difference, particularly with lighter reds such as Beaujolais, Chianti or dolcetto.

Of course, if all you can muster from the pantry is a jelly jar and a bit of wine from a box, that's OK, too. It's just a different experience.

BEST VALUE

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

Tangent 2009 Pinot Gris, Paragon Vineyard, Edna Valley ($17) — Winemaker Christian Roguenant is a master with aromatic white wines, always preserving the freshness and minerality without sacrificing richness or fruit flavor. It is a delicate balancing act. The 2009 Tangent Pinot Gris is clean and crisp, yet unfolds on the palate with complex layers of tropical fruits, stone fruits and a persistent note of citrus. This wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and bottled without the influence of oak. Rating: 90.

TASTING NOTES

Lang & Reed 2009 Cabernet Franc "Two-Fourteen," Napa Valley ($40) — Forget whatever you thought you knew about cabernet franc. Yes, it is most often used as a blending grape throughout the new world, and it does sometimes exhibit notes of green, unripe fruit with rustic, perhaps even unpleasant, tannins. It doesn't have to be that way. Cab franc planted in the right spots can be every bit as rewarding as the more prominent Bordeaux grape varieties, cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Lang & Reed's "Two-Fourteen" Cab Franc, so called because that's the grape clone that was planted, is sourced from the cool southern end of the Napa Valley, where the fresh evening breezes help the cab franc retain acidity and its delicate red-fruit aromas. The tannins are firm but well integrated, providing textural contrast to the voluptuous layers of blueberry and blackberry flavors on the middle palate. Rating: 92.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Chardonnay, Cold Creek Vineyard, Columbia Valley ($26) — This winery has been on a quality roll over the past decade, and the evidence, as usual, is in the bottle. The Cold Creek Vineyard is located in a warm spot in Washington's Columbia Valley, meaning the chardonnay from this vineyard could easily trend toward ripeness and heft. That's not the style of chardonnay that I prefer, so I was pleasantly surprised to find Chateau Ste. Michelle managed to avoid the ripeness trap, crafting a beautifully balanced white wine that shows the richness and complexity of good chardonnay without overwhelming the senses. This vintage of Cold Heaven offers bright citrus and pear aromas, hints of spice and exquisite elegance balanced with richness. Rating: 90.

Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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