Your Final Wine School Assignment

This column will be the last installment of Wine School.

I’m distressed to say that. I’ve learned so much in the 100 columns that have presented even more wines over the last eight and a half years. I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of it.

But the time feels right for graduation. We have covered most of the basic areas of wine, the classics and much of what seems new and exciting.

We could repeat the exercise with new vintages, or turn our attention to more advanced subjects, going ever more deeply. That would be great fun. But it might also prove frustrating, as many of those wines are in short supply, and many would cost more than most people want to spend.

While these columns will not continue, I hope many of you will carry on with the studies on your own, and that the most important messages of the Wine School curriculum will be of lasting value to you. If I could sum them up in a sentence, it would be this: Explore wine with curiosity, an eager heart and an open mind.

Wine has too much to offer to be reduced to an arid academic study. The best way to discover it is to drink widely, to be open to new discoveries and skeptical of conventional wisdom.

Most people who love and care about wine do so because they become emotionally invested in it, enough so that they want to understand it rationally and academically. That’s as it should be, but too often our American wine culture has presented it the other way around.

It insists on the importance of learning how to recognize and identify different wines blind, of memorizing the different rules of appellations, the permitted grapes, the composition of soils, the minutia of production methods and so on.

In the proper context, these are all important to know. But that should come later. Rather than learning how to identify wines blind, I believe it’s more important to learn how to identify what you like and why. That means, first, learning to feel at ease with wine, feeling comfortable buying and drinking it, free of the anxiety and intimidation that often accompanies the process.

With confidence comes the ability to form your own judgments, without being judgmental of others. Wine is always a give-and-take, internally as both the wine and your own attitudes change with time, and with others as you exchange opinions.

In Wine School, we recognized the academic challenge of wine, but we emphasized the emotional relationship. I considered learning to love wine more important than learning facts about it. Why? Because with study comes obligation but with love comes curiosity, and curiosity inspires the pursuit of knowledge without obligation.

We tried to accomplish this by learning about wine in the most natural of environments, with meals, friends and family rather than in a more clinical setting. Whether opening a deliciously thirst-quenching bottle or a contemplative treasure, wine, like a meal, is a social pleasure.

Not that dining alone or drinking a glass or two by yourself is wrong. They can both be delightful, especially together. But at its heart, the meal, with wine, is culturally bonding. It’s why we raise glasses at important occasions.

So, I’d like to take a moment to raise a glass to the most important element of the Wine School experience: the readers who made these eight-and-a-half years such a joy.

Some of you actively participated, adding your insights and observations month after month, enjoying discussions among yourselves. Others contributed occasionally, adding pungent accents to the conversation. Many of you took part quietly, contacting me directly so I knew you were there even if you did not want to be one of the louder voices.

I was thrilled to learn that many people around the country and elsewhere in the world used Wine School as an opportunity to gather monthly with friends for dinners. I’ve had the pleasure of joining a few of those meals. You’ve even conquered physical distance, holding Wine School dinners over Zoom.

To each of you, I want to say thank you for all your time and energy. Even without the monthly installments, I hope you will all stay in touch with me and with each other.

And I’d like to leave you with one last Wine School lesson. These last few weeks of summer are still hot, at least where I am, so I thought we’d examine one of my favorite summer categories, Alpine whites. These light, fresh wines are delightfully weightless and invigorating in the too-often oppressive heat.

The three wines I’ve selected come from different regions and are made with different grapes. What they have in common is that they are made from grapes grown at high altitude in the foothills of the Alps.

The three wines are:

Abbazia di Novacella Alto Adige Valle Isarco Kerner 2021, 13.5 percent (Abbazia di Novacella U.S.A., Sausalito, Calif.) $24

Ermes Pavese Vallée d’Aoste Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle 2020, 12 percent (Rosenthal Wine Merchant, New York) $30

Domaine des Ardoisières Vin des Allobroges Argile Blanc 2020, 11.5 percent (Martine’s Wines, Novato, Calif.) $35

These are small production wines, so they won’t be available everywhere. But plenty of other choices ought to be. The Abbazia di Novacella comes from Alto Adige in the foothills of the Dolomites, a section of the Alps in northeastern Italy. It is made from the kerner grape, a cross between schiava and riesling. The German name kerner is not surprising in this Tyrolean area abutting Austria, where German is spoken as commonly as Italian. You could look for other wines from Alto Adige.

The Ermes Pavese, made from the prié blanc grape in the communes of Morgex and La Salle, is from northwestern Italy near the borders with France and Switzerland, another multilingual area. On the label of the Pavese, the Italian region Valle d’Aosta is rendered in French, Vallée d’Aoste. It’s the smallest viticultural region in Italy tucked under Mont Blanc, the tallest Alpine peak. Look for other whites from the region, or maybe, if you can find one, try a Swiss white.

Finally, the Domaine des Ardoisières comes from steep, terraced vineyards also in the shadow of Mont Blanc, though from a different angle, in the Savoie region of France. It’s made from two local grapes, jacquère and mondeuse blanc, in combination with chardonnay. Look for other Savoie whites if you can’t find this one.

From this point on, you know what to do. Enjoy these wines, served cool, with a good meal, noting in passing what you like or maybe don’t like about them.

So long as you are curious, open and experimental, wine ought to prove endlessly fascinating. You won’t need me to remind you of that. I’m pretty sure most of you know that on your own.

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