Thursday, November 10, 2011

Learning is Fun: The Wine Century Club

Now that school is back in session, the days are shorter and we are always looking for things to do when we cannot get outdoors. It’s time to work on your vocabulary. Learning new words can be fun like: Centesimino, Plavac Mali and Touriga Nacional.

Whether you are a wine newbie or a wine geek, learning about different grape varieties is not only stimulating, but tasty, too! There is more to tasting new varieties of wine grapes than just repeating the traditional ABC’s — “Anything But Cabernet or Chardonnay.”

Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch and Picpoul.

You don’t have to be a wine lover to enjoy the task. Gaining knowledge about grapes from various regions around the world, many with histories and stories dating back centuries, can be enjoyed if you are solely into history, botany or gardening. So, how do you organize such a task? Will there be homework?

There is going to be a lot of homework — probably the best homework you will ever have.

Glera, Monastrell, and Pedro Ximénez.

The Wine Century Club was formed in New York City in 2005. If you have tasted at least 100 different grape varieties, you are qualified to become a member. Members come from all areas of the wine community and include wine educators, wine writers and even just lovers of the grape. They are all “grape nuts,” if you will. Many members are from the United States, but many hail from all over the globe.

Bonarda, Kerner, and Madeleine Angevine.

It is important to understand that members of the Wine Century Club are not wine snobs. They are not advocates for single-varietal wines, nor do they favor single-varietals over blended wines. They are also not anti-chardonnay or anti-merlot. They are people who enjoy wine and are excited about tasting and learning about uncommon wine-grape varieties.

Assyrtiko, Tannat and Schioppettino.

So, how do you start? First of all you check out the Wine Century Club website and download the list of grapes. It sounds easy, but it’s very challenging in a fun way. Look at it like collecting scout merit badges. Every time you taste a wine produced with a new and different grape, you check it off on your list, adding any wine notes you may want for your own information, such as vintage, winery, country of origin, history and tasting notes. And while you are in search of the exotic, don’t forget to add the more everyday varieties — merlot, cabernet sauvignon and, of course, chardonnay – to your list.

Negroamaro, Xarello, and Tinto Cão.

Don’t be thinking that you are going to cinch this up in a day or two by walking into your local supermarket and grabbing all of these wines. It ain’t going to happen. It can take time, some research, opportunities and shopping to find many of these exotic wines. I will say that I found the first 50 fairly easily, and, after that, it became a slower process. The good news is that you can count each grape that is used in blended wines. You are also welcome to use the obscure grapes that one might find in fortified wines such as sherries, ports and cognacs. Even the Concord grapes in your jelly count.

Godello, Saperavi, and Rkatsiteli.

Once you have finally completed tasting your 100 grapes, you are ready to send a copy of your completed homework to the Wine Century Club (don’t forget to save a copy for future reference). You are even welcome to go over the count of 100 grapes, but don’t expect to be the teacher’s pet and get any extra credit. However, you can “roll those grapes over” and use them for the next level, if you dare. In addition to regular membership, the Wine Century Club also recognizes serious oenophiles who have tried at least 200 (Doppel), 300 (Treble) or 400 (Quattro) varieties. After your first 100 grapes are submitted, you will receive a certificate, suitable for framing and bragging about, along with privileges to attend various Wine Century Club functions and even local charter functions around the United States.

But beware! Be very afraid! Though application into the Wine Century Club works on the honor system, the fine print notes: “Should you lie, may the wrath of Bacchus curse your palate.”

(Note: It took me over two years to leisurely drink her way through 125 different grapes and obtain membership in the Wine Century Club.)

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