Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Twitter Tastings, Multitasking, and Bordeaux

As a teenager, I was the Space-Age Whiz Kid. No video game could stand in my way. Me against the machine. Sparks flew from my fingers. Always played it clean. We’re talking the good old school stuff – Pac-Man, Defender, Donkey Kong, Star Castle, Gorf, et-fricking-wonderful-cetera. Vintage Tempest machines still tremble at the sound of my initials.

Then along came Street Fighter, NBA Jam (the original boomshakalaka), Contra and others – where learning the game and good reflexes weren’t enough. A player had to learn cheat codes, combos to unlock special powers, and so on. The playing field was no longer level. Just being quick and crafty wasn’t enough I lost interest quickly. (This disinterest also roughly coincided with getting my driver’s license and discovering how utterly awesome girls were, but that’s another story…)

There’s a time I realize something may have passed me by.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Mike Wangbickler of Balzac Communications offered me the opportunity to participate in the “Twitter Taste Live” event to commemorate the launching of the new Planet Bordeaux website. Planet Bordeaux, as I wrote about last fall, is the attempt to demythologize the wines of the Bordeaux region, which are intimidating to everyday wine drinkers. Their labels are usually a salad of chateaux, communes, and the occasional picture of a castle or farmhouse.

The Planet Bordeaux website ( provides information about most non-classified growth Bordeaux producers who export to the U.S., information about the wines, and such. I was sent five red “Bordeaux Superieur” bottles to try, all of which retail in the U.S. in the $14-20 range:

  • Chateau La Gatte La Butte 2006
  • Chateau de Lugagnac 2008
  • Chateau de Terrefort-Quancard 2008
  • Chateau de Parenchere Cuvee Raphael 2007
  • Chateau Penin Tradition 2009

So, what’s a Twitter Tasting? Well, if you can imagine a bunch of wine geeks sitting in front of computers, tasting wine and sending out their thoughts in 140 character bursts, you’ve got yourself a pretty good idea. I’d done one other Twitter tasting before, but it was a fairly small affair. This was a much bigger deal, encompassing wine writers & bloggers from across the country along with the winemakers in Bordeaux (who must have been awfully sleepy – this started at 1am their time…)

Once “social media” made its way onto the Internets, I initially kept up pretty well. I had a MySpace page (maybe I still do…I haven’t looked at it in ages). I was a relatively early adopter on Facebook and was luckily able to avoid the allure of Farmville. Facebook largely replaced email for me for awhile. And, of course, there was my blog – which all of you obviously know about. But I didn’t get Twitter. Seriously – who’s going to put in the time and effort to catalog everything they’re seeing and doing…constantly? I have a Twitter feed (@thenakedvine, if you’re interested), but I don’t tweet often. I never got the urge to speak hashtag and I’ve never made anything a “trending topic.”

This apparently puts me in the distinct minority of the online wine writing community.

As the time of the tasting neared, the Sweet Partner in Crime opened the bottles and laid them out. I was looking forward to this. The sheer amount of information about Bordeaux and the ever-changing qualities of those wines confounded me. I was never able to get a basic flavor profile. I mean, I have a pretty good idea of what pinot noir from Burgundy tastes like compared to Oregon or Carneros, but Bordeaux was more challenging. Wines from a half mile apart taste radically different. The opportunity to do a side-by-side-by-side-by-side-by-side, I thought, would clear a lot of things up.

At the appointed hour, I logged into “Taste Live!” – the most popular hosting site for these events. I immediately felt like I’d stumbled into an old AOL chatroom. Comments were flying fast and furious from people snapping micro-reviews back and forth.

When I taste a wine for the column or just out and about, I like to be a little more methodical. I like to sit and contemplate for a bit if I’m really trying to get something from the wine. So, amidst the noise, I put forth what I thought was a pretty pithy comment…only to watch it quickly get shoved out of sight down the page.

I made a comment about one of the wines being overly smoky and was lambasted by a couple of people, one of which said I had a “n00b palate.” Comments like “You’re never a serious evaluator unless you spit” were common. Several of these folks clearly knew each other, so inside jokes flew like dandelion fluff (which was used by one person as a descriptor, along with “diced green pepper stems”). One person was likening wines to obscure songs. Perhaps a mid-level Bordeaux is just like Tool’s “Intension,” but I don’t get it. (What wine goes with “Friday,” since we’re on the subject?)

I was also trying to have a conversation with the SPinC, write down my thoughts on the wines, and watch a little March Madness at the same time. After a few minutes of this, I had a really hard time keeping up. I decided, eventually, just to do my best with occasional snippets from my tasting notes. Rapid-fire and swirling just don’t work as well for me. Even my ADHD has its limits, I discovered.

That’s not to say that I didn’t pick up quite a bit. These wines were all distinctly different. The Chateau La Gatte was chalky and tart, almost like a Chianti. It was hugely acidic, full of mineral, and tasted of “dirt-covered cherries” (which is not a negative in this household.) The Chateau de Lugagnac had a bigger nose and a heavier fruit flavor. The finish on this wine was very smoky (see my reference above), which wiped out the fruit. The Chateau de Terrefort-Quancard was my favorite overall. It was very approachable, nicely balanced, and easy to drink. There was plenty of fruit, earth, and smoke, all wrapped together in a lighter package. The Chateau de Parenchere Cuvee Raphael was #2 on my rankings. Again, well-balanced but big flavors of coffee, earth, and blackberry. It was also as good with chocolate as any Bordeaux. The Chateau Penin was our least favorite. It was too much of everything – too much alcohol, too much tar and smoke flavor, and an herbal (green pepper stems!) flavor that I didn’t find pleasant. Given it was a 2009, revisiting this in a year might not be a bad idea.

All in all, what did I learn?

  1. Bordeaux is still confounding. If you’re going to experiment with Bordeaux, get to know the French wine expert at your wine store and ask a bunch of questions.
  2. People who can taste wine and tweet at the same time impress me.
  3. I officially now feel six seconds from “Get off my lawn!”
  4. Frustrating as it was, I’d probably try this again – although I’d probably cheat a bit and taste the wines ahead of time. Maybe that’s the cheat I need to keep up with the kids…

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