Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wine pairings at Pourtal with SwirlSmellSlurp

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I'm feeling lucky these days - in general, I mean - but I was particularly lucky last Tuesday night, when I spent the evening at Pourtal, a lovely wine bar in downtown Santa Monica, for an evening of wine and food pairings.

I'd been to Pourtal once before for an after-work drink with a colleague, and while there I experienced one of those bizarre social media moments. I'd tweeted a few days earlier about how I was looking forward to going, and Stephen Abronson, Pourtal's owner, had seen it. So after I'd been there maybe half an hour, he walked up and casually said, "Are you Erika?" I'd forgotten about the tweet, of course, so first I was confused as to how he knew my name. Then I was impressed that he'd not only seen the tweet but remembered a week later who had sent it. He'd also done some homework to find out who this tweeter coming to his place might be, because he referenced something I'd tweeted about even before I tweeted about coming to Pourtal.

Anyway, Stephen and I got to talking, and either because I'm a food blogger, or because I'm so charming, or because I tweeted about Pourtal, he invited me to be his guest for the next installment of their Wine Salon Series, where on the last Tuesday of each month they serve three wines and three artfully paired snacks, all around a theme of the night ($20 per person). I know next to nothing about wine, so, with Stephen's permission, I asked my new Twitter friends @SwirlSmellSlurp to join me. They're a lovely couple in Silver Lake who write this hilarious he-said-she-said wine blog called, as you might have guessed, Swirl Smell Slurp. Bringing them was a good call: Not only are they fun and great company, but they helped me understand what I was tasting.

She and he blog as one at SwirlSmellSlurp

[Let me say this: If you're interested in a much more detailed description of the wines we drank, you should read SwirlSmell Slurp's account of the night. What follows are definitely the comments of a wine novice.]

The theme of the night was "Zinology," with wines from Croatia, Italy and California, all made from the grape we know as Zinfandel (Plavac Mali in Croatian, Primitivo in Italian). Helena Centerwall, a local wine educator, came around to each table to talk about the wines they were serving.

The Swirl Smell  Slurp experts have a method when they taste wines together. They write down the facts from the bottle, note the color, smell for a while, then taste and savor. They wait a minute to see how long the taste lingers in their mouths, then taste again. And all this they do in silence, so each can form his or her own opinion without undue influence from the other.

I'm not much into wine details, so I'm going to give you the big picture (again, for details, visit Swirl Smell Slurp). We tasted the Croatian wine first, a Dingac Vinarija Peljesac (Plavac Mali, 2007), which was paired with an aged goat cheese from Cypress Grove. It was light and relatively simple; I liked the way it went with the cheese.


Next was the Italian wine, a Vigneti Reale "Rudia" Primitivo (2006, Puglia) - a little heavier and more complex - served with homemade spanikopita, very buttery and cheesy. Helena noted that spinach is notoriously hard to pair with wine, but because it had been baked in the phyllo crust and surrounded by so much dairy, all its rough edges had melted away.


Last was the Mountain View Vintners "Clockspring" Zinfandel (2006), from Amador County in northern California. Helena described the area as an up-and-coming wine region between Sacramento and the Nevada border. It was paired with a little pork belly sandwich, tender and a little sweet from days of marinade. The wine could have used a stronger finish and left me a little cold - but then again, what do I know? I liked the label, anyway.

The biggest treat of the night was when Helena went back to get these little vials filled with pure aromas. She handed us four numbered vials and asked us to guess what we smelled in each. In the first round, SSS went three for four; I identified correctly vanilla and licorice but missed violet and black pepper. Helena went back for four more vials, and this time we were all stumped (by grapefruit, strawberry, butter, and peach). The difference between the two groups? The first were aromas we'd just experienced in the wines we tasted; the second group, random and unrelated. Apparently our noses have memory and can be quite gullible.


So here's what I learned that evening:
  • I do not have a very good sense of smell. I am not, as Helena called it, a "Super Smeller." 
  • The SSS couple met years ago through their personal blogs, commenting on each other's commentary. They are embarrassed to tell that story, but I don't know why, because I think it's adorable.
  • SSS She used to be in the wine business. SSS He used to be a professional skateboarder, but you'd never guess it, because he dresses like an architect (which, as it happens, he is).
  • After smelling something for about 15 seconds, your nose gets overwhelmed and goes blank.
  • SSS She currently lives in a house that measures about 100 square feet. Yes, 100. She says it's all kitchen. Where does she keep her clothes? In the kitchen. Apparently the house has other redeeming qualities, including a Viking stove.
  • If I tried to write a blog with my husband, we'd be writing a blog called "This Is Why We're Divorced." 

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