Speed Dating with Wine
April 22, 2011 by Doug Haugen
Judging for Sexy Syrah at Salty's on Alki
A few months ago, some buddies of mine sat in a bar and had a heyday trying to imagine me going through the rigors of speed dating. Knowing me well, they came up with example after example of dealbreakers that would have me circling my finger in the air in the universal gesture signifying, “it’s time to rotate.”
Me: Hey, how do you feel about Salinger?
Her: I don’t know, I think I may have read Catcher in the Rye when I was in high school.
Me: What do you do with your free time?
Her: Oh, when I’m not out with friends, I chill at home watching TV.
Me: So, do you like Tom Waits?
OK, so I’ve earned a reputation for being starkly opinionated, for sizing women up rather quickly, determining with a few pieces of information that she’s “not my type,” moving straight to summary judgment after opening statements and sentencing them to life in the Friend Zone. I’ve been called picky, unrealistic and worse. I’m not a hater; I just figure I’ll know it when I see it.
But, the same isn’t true with wine. I typically like to spend some quality time with a bottle. Get to know it. Ask it a lot of questions. Be a good listener.
“Where are you from?”
“What kind of food do you like?”
“What kind of relationship do you have with your parents?”
I like to spend intimate time alone with a wine, and also to introduce it to my friends–will they get along? I like to imagine what a wine will look like when it gets old–will it become dignified or haggard? I like to see if a wine is fun or serious, simple or complex, consistent or flighty. Does it have secrets, or go right to TMI? Is it practical or exotic? Will it still be beautiful in the morning? I like to really get to know a wine before passing judgment, because unless it’s just overtly offensive upon introduction, you never know, this could be “the one.”
Forty Washington wineries poured their Syrahs and their Syrah blends–on average, three wines each. Handed a glass, a clipboard, a pen and a list of all the wines with about two inches for note-taking on each of them, the judges were given three hours to taste all the wines and choose our top three Syrahs and top three blends. Doing the math, that’s over a taste a minute. It was just like speed dating, with wine.
And, there were so many sexy Syrahs. It was like speed dating at the Playboy Mansion, where all the bunnies were also Harvard graduates doing volunteer work for Greenpeace or Doctors Without Borders. I tried to be disciplined, I tried not to engage in lengthy conversations, I tried to be stern, I tried to pit the wines against each other to see who would win in a mud wrestling match or a political debate. But while one Syrah was more friendly, another was more cerebral. While one Syrah was exuberant, another was elegant. While one Syrah was a home-maker, another was a career-maker. While one Syrah was idealistic, another was compassionate. How do you rank them? At the end of the day, how do you decide which one you want to take home with you?
I imagine that speed dating is all about first impressions. In the same way, we all have a first impression when tasting wine. Without getting too heady, we decide that a wine is revolting, serviceable, interesting or spellbinding. Some wines are “pretty cool,” some wines get you interested in spending some more time together, and some have you dreaming of your honeymoon at first sip. Love at first sight.
I have to admit, I wasn’t disciplined enough to get through all the wines. At the end of the night, Melinda Wells was prompting me to turn in my ballot, and I managed to talk my way into two five-minute extensions, but it wasn’t enough. It’s possible that the wine-love of my life was left untasted. That being said, while all the contestants were gorgeous, here are a few of the wines that stood out from the crowd (in alphabetical order) and had me begging for more:
|Apex at Alter Ridge
NV Apex Sparkling Syrah
1997 Cuvée Orleans Syrah
2002 Cuvée Orleans Syrah
2007 Cuvée Orleans Syrah
|Bunnell Family Cellar
2007 Syrah (Boushey-McPherson/Yakima)
2007 Syrah (Clifton Hill/Wahluke Slope)
|Saint Laurent Estate Winery
2005 Reserve Syrah (Wahluke Slope)
2007 Syrah (Walla Walla)
2008 Windthrow Reserve Syrah Blend
2008 Block #3 Syrah (Columbia Valley)
2008 Syrah (Walla Walla)
2010 Syrah Rosé (Columbia Valley)
2008 Syrah (Walla Walla)
|Flying Trout Wines
2008 Cutthroat Blend (Horse Heaven Hills)
|Woodinville Wine Cellars
2006 Reserve Syrah (Columbia Valley)
|Jones of Washington
2010 Estate Rosé of Syrah
The room wasn’t only filled with judges, but also by scads of happy people who bought tickets to attend, and when they announced the winners, I couldn’t even hear the results over the buzz of the crowd. Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe there isn’t a perfect wine, or a clear winner–one (or three) wines that are obviously superior to all the others. Maybe wine is like dating: while you’re looking for Miss Right, you can have an awful lot of fun with all of the Miss Wrongs. My search will continue.