SLO Education

Elizabeh White From SLO Country

The more I learn about wine, the less I know.

Structure.
Terroir.
Chewy.
Smoky.
Leather.
Mid-palate.
Malolactic fermentation.
Cult wine.
Food pairing.

Since my self-imposed wino education began three or four years ago in San Luis Obispo County, I feel as if I’ve immersed myself in a new world…and a new language. I carry on with my new-fangled wino terminology that continues to challenge me, forcing me to make use of handy vino books and magazines that sit quietly on my coffee table; and my resolve to stake my claim as a SLO County wine expert continues with no end in sight.

After three or four years of wine immersion in SLO County—even after dozens of winery visits, countless tastings of local varietals, booking wineries into celebrity events for an international film festival, and loads of self-wino education, I am smart enough to realize that I still don’t know a hell of a lot. But maybe that’s okay. After all, isn’t edification a part of life, each sip a stepping stone?

Perhaps I take a step forward with every taste, as I bask in the fruits of the local terroir and continue to find local vines that speak to me. My palate morphs; I find new favorites; I experiment; and I go with my wino instincts. Recently I hosted a small dinner party and frazzled a bit about finding the perfect wines to pair with a lovely appetizer course of sliced baguette that begged to be smothered in assorted cheeses (cow, sheep, and goat), tart olives, fresh farmer’s market veggies, and a zingy citrus dip loaded with fresh garlic and rich olive oil. For the main course: Drunk Chicken (smothered in an intense molé sauce brewed with rich Mexican beer). What SLO County wines could measure up to this miscellany of flavors?

I went with my instincts and headed south to find suitable wines. My first stop led me to Claiborne and Churchill Vintners in the cooler climate of the Edna Valley region (where the more delicate and cooler climate grape varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir thrive). In the slightly heated summer weather, my mind and palate beckoned a cool sipping wine—I took home a bottle of 2009 “Cuvée Elizabeth” Dry Rosé. I then headed even further south to Pismo Beach, and hit up the popular new wine bar, Tastes of the Valleys, that offers myriad choices. After a tasting flight, I allowed my palate’s intuition to lead, and took off with a bottle of Cass Winery’s 2009 Roussanne (produced in San Luis Obispo’s North County).

Both the Rosé and the Roussane were well-received with the starter course, and the Roussanne morphed well into dinner. Its clean, fresh essence didn’t interfere with the rich chicken dish, leaving our palates bright. I suppose I could have relied on one of my wine books for resolved wine-pairing advice, but I’m glad that after three or four years of amateur self-imposed wino education, I know enough to experiment and go with my instincts.

I will go forward, continuing my vino-schooling—bringing my guests and readers everything I know about wine—which isn’t much. But perhaps the less I know is better. Maybe less is more. After all, too much instruction can take away from the fun, the instinctual part of you that knows. I hope you go forward in your own wine education with a bit of instruction…a lot of experimentation…and a tremendous amount of impulse.

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