SOMM: Into the Rabbit Hole, er, Bottle

Jason Wise’s new cinematic exploration SOMM: Into the Bottle invites viewers down the proverbial rabbit hole for a behind the scenes look at one of the world’s most enigmatic products: wine. But does it need to be so darn complicated? Grape geneticist and former professor of Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis, Carole Meredith, brilliantly sets the tone for the documentary by asking, “Can there be any other business where there’s so much bullshit?”

Somm_into the bottle

SOMM: Into the Bottle is technically a sequel to Wise’s 2012 Somm which introduced viewers to “the hardest test you’ve never heard of” which is, of course, the Master Sommelier exam. While Somm focused on four Master Sommelier contenders as they relentlessly prepped, tasted, swirled and spit leading up to the anxiety-inducing exam, Into the Bottle focuses on the wider world of wine and takes viewers on a relaxing exploration of how it has been shaped by human history, wars, point scores, and of course, sommeliers.

Unlike most sequels, which seem to grasp at the fraying threads of the original plot, Into the Bottle unpacks elements of wine in ten chapters laced with humor and star-studded storylines (think Aubert De Villaine, the legend behind some of the world’s most expensive bottles from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti). Want to know what Leon Panetta drank out of a CIA shot glass to celebrate the death of Bin Laden? Watch this movie.

It might be the last chapter that resonates most, though. The chapter, The Memory, delves into the reason that wine has been such a prominent constant throughout human civilization. It’s the powerful associations, experiences, and celebrations we have with wine. The merriment, the interactions, the conversations that happen around the bottle. Master Sommelier Brian McClintic confirms, “there is no better wine than the one you had at the Domaine.” It’s the story inside the bottle that helps forge our own. So, go ahead: get Into the Bottle.

5 Wine Taboos You Should Break

For a true product of passion, meant to lubricate social situations, open conversational doors, and generally help people enjoy themselves, wine sure seems to come with a lot of rules. When did everything become so complicated, with this and that becoming “taboo”? Let’s all let our inner-rebel run, shall we? Here are five wine “taboos” you should break, starting this weekend:

  1. Screwcaps

The screwcap vs cork debate among wine drinkers is perhaps one of the most contentious of our time. I won’t deny that popping a cork has a certain je nais se quoi; a celebratory element that can’t be replicated with a screwcap. But if you’re harboring sentiments that quality wine doesn’t come with a screwcap, allow me to broaden your horizons! Screw caps have been used to seal wine for more than fifty years, and are the preferred closure of many quality wine producers who don’t want to contend with the extra cost, risk of cork taint, or variable quality of natural cork. In fact, the great majority of bottles out of Australia are sealed by screwcap. Don’t turn your nose up at these, mistaking them for lower-quality wines; you’d be missing out!

Here are three recommendations to get you started:

  • Meiomi Pinot Noir: $20.00, A beautiful Pinot Noir from the creator and winemaker behind Belle Glos.
  • Ballast Stone Shiraz: $20.00, A powerful Australian Shiraz, showcasing the best of this varietal’s deep, sultry flavors.
  • Tarara Winery 2012 Chardonnay: $25.00, Winemaker Jordan Harris is a big fan of screwcaps, and makes a number of stellar wines using them (that regularly sell out of stock).


2. Red Wine with Meat, White Wine with Fish

This old adage has a prominent place in the world of food and wine pairing. Don’t get me wrong, this guideline serves a purpose: an iodine-rich fish like Salmon paired with a tannic red wine will give you metal mouth faster than a trip to the orthodontist, but paired with a lighter red like Pinot Noir, Salmon and red wine can be magic (don’t take my word for it, try this Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon and Grenache pairing by Wine Enthusiast).

Similarly, beef dishes aren’t necessarily a match made in heaven for red wine.  Consider your favorite beef dishes from Thai, Indian, Chinese or Japanese cuisines, for example. For these full-flavor, often spicy dishes, you need a wine that will stand up and not be washed out. Racy, lively wines like Gewürztraminer or Sauvignon Blanc are your huckleberry here.

That’s because when it comes to creating food and wine pairings that sing, the most important considerations are weight, acidity, and flavor profile. Weight refers to the overall body of the dish – is it light and bright, or swimming in a rich, decadent sauce? You’ll want a wine that mirrors that same body. When it comes to acidity, you may think you need to counteract the acidity in food with a rounder, more viscous wine. Acidic foods, however, marry well with acidic wines. A good rule of thumb here it to match acids with acids, and remember your palate. If it’s blown out by an acidic food, a flabby wine will fall by the taste bud wayside.

Finally, consider the flavor profile of the food or wine you’re trying to pair, and remember that they both tend to play well with the pairings they grew up with. The heavy tomato element in Tuscan cooking, for example, makes these dishes a natural pairing for the acidic Chianti’s and Super Tuscans from the same region.

  1. Good wine can’t come from a box

Stick with me here, because I know some of you may think I have lost my corks on this one. There are actually some delicious wines packaged in non-bottle containers, and let’s face it: there are many times when a 750 mL bottle isn’t convenient, or just isn’t enough!

Michael Shaps’ Mon Bidon. Photo courtesy of Watermark Design.

I dare you to surrender any container cattiness you may be experiencing, and open your mind to some very exciting wines available in a non-traditional format. Virginia’s very own Michael Shaps is spearheading the effort to thing beyond the bottle, and is offering his wines in both boxes and soon, GROWLERS! He calls the wine growler a Mon Bidon, and it will be the perfect pairing for a picnic, weekend ski retreat, or anytime you could use more wine over a relatively short period of time.  Michael’s Wineworks label also sells three wines by the box: a white blend, a red blend, and a Viognier. Each box retails for $40 and contains 4 bottles of wine. Stop associating larger containers with “bulk wine.” Think Magnum, without the heavy glass component!

    4. Wine has to be fancy

 Many types of art are misunderstood, and wine is no exception. Sometimes compared to poetry in a bottle, wine is definitely an artistic expression of a winemaker’s vision. But it’s this nuanced nature and perceived complexity that sometimes gives wine an undeserved air of haughtiness or snobbery. The fact is, you should drink what you like, where you like, when you like. While I’m not giving you permission to drink your way through your 10 am meeting with the boss, wine does NOT need to be reserved for fancy dinners, special occasions, and rich folks.

 Millennials are breaking this taboo left and right, taking wine with them on the go, gravitating towards labels with funky graphics rather than vineyards and rolling hills, and favoring wines with a story rather than a big name. Take a page out of their rule-breaking book.

  1. Good wine has to be expensive.

We’ve all heard about wine auctions where bottles sell for more than most of us make in a year, but you don’t have to break the bank to indulge in a great bottle of wine. In fact, the Millennial rule-breaking crowd mentioned above has zeroed in on a price point of $10-12 for the great majority of their wine purchases, and there are plenty of budget-friendly bottles in that range. Here are some of my favorite bottles under $20:Bitch Grenache


So go ahead, rebel against these tired wine “taboos” and drink that wine with the screwcap or from the Mon Bidon during the big game this weekend! Cheers!