Wine is meant to be enjoyed by all the senses. We’re given wine in a glass and taught to look at it to decide the color, smell to decide the top notes and first impression, taste and swish to determine thickness and balance, and taste again to confirm or deny our first conclusions. It’s a wonderful process that opens the mind. It becomes even better when you can pair a wine with the story of how it came to be, much like a songwriter telling the origin of the song.
Craig Collins, Master Sommelier and Italian Portfolio Sales Manager for VINTUS, was our guide for the VINTUS wine dinner, and he was able to tell us about the wines themselves, the makers, and the backstories of both to enrich our wine tasting experience.
Craig is truly a master of his trade. He admitted that wine has “traditionally been associated with snobbery” but he made the wines approachable for us novices while also speaking to those in the room with more knowledge. Through the wine, he took us on a journey through France, Italy, Argentina, and Portugal. Craig shared bits and pieces about each wine that helped us taste the story behind the wine.
We even had a couple fun members milestones to celebrate! Lou and Shanel Pontigo celebrated their 26th Wedding Anniversary! They are such a fun couple…we wish you many more years of wine dinners (and wine vacation!), lazy days on the beach, and family fun!
Deborah & David Heald are celebrating 40 years at Sawgrass! I did a little math…if they ate dinner at Sawgrass once per week for 40 years they have been members, that’s 2,080 dinners at Sawgrass!
Dinner and wine pairings
Ben Brett, Chef de Cuisine, led his team in creating a magnificent eating experience that paired beautifully with the wine. The image below shows the dinner and wine pairings for the evening.
All elements were present; crispy, creamy, rich, light, sweet, and salty…and the presentation was on point! I saw eyes wide and mouths gaping as we all enjoyed the courses. My personal favorite was the Seafood Paella. This was paired with an Italian wine, Sandrone, Barbara D’ Alba, Piemonte 2016.
Let me stop here for a bit and tell you the normal flow of things if you’ve never attended a wine dinner. The wine for the course is poured into your glass, Craig (or the featured speaker) speaks about the wine and what to look for, we taste the wine, and then the course is served. Once served, we enjoy the wine with the course.
When Craig spoke before the Italian wine, he asked us to taste it. Then he asked if it tasted aggressive or bitter. And a few said yes! I didn’t know where he was going with this until he said that Italian wine is meant to be more of a condiment for the food rather than the star of the show. In Italy, culture revolves around food, and the wine adds depth and flavor to the food. At the same time, the food is changing the wine as well making it smoother and more balanced. He said it this way, “specifically high tannin Italian wines need foods that are higher in fat, salt, and richness to neutralize the tannins.” The Italian wine was perfect for the bold, rich flavors of Paella!
With each wine we tried and course we consumed, we were captivated by Craig’s knowledge. The Argentinian wine was made from grapes that grew on a higher elevation therefore the wine was not as sweet. The Port wine was very sweet and was served with dessert. Craig said, “Make sure the wine is sweeter than the dessert” when choosing a port wine to serve with dessert.
Craig Collins, Master Sommelier
I had the pleasure of interviewing Craig before the wine dinner, and I got to ask him some questions about his background and what prompted his quest to become a Master Sommelier. I am clearly a novice, and he was kind to offer opinions and suggestions that both novices like me and seasoned wine tasters and travelers (like the Pontigo’s!) could use.
We started with his background. While at Texas A&M, he fondly recalled getting a call from his father on his 21st birthday to not only tell him Happy Birthday, but to inform Craig that he was now officially off the family payroll. So what does a college student do? Naturally, Craig, with zero wine experience, applied at a wine tasting room. Turns out he loved it! After three years at the tasting room, a study-abroad opportunity came up in Tuscany, and he took it. What was supposed to be three months, turned into seven, and this is where he had his ah-hah wine experience. He told me all Sommeliers have a moment when their paths are created. His was in 2001 with a 1998 Bran Caia Blu, a Sangiovese Merlot blend with a lot of oak. “It was the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth, and this is what I’m doing for the rest of my life,” Craig thought.
He reluctantly went back to Texas A&M to finish his degree in Public Relations and Communication, then went to work for a distributor in Houston. From there, he worked his way up and studied for the Master Sommelier exam, which he passed in 2011. Now he is the Italian Portfolio Sales Manager for VINTUS and lives in Austin, TX with his wife, April, and two children.
What can we learn from a Master Sommelier?
“No one can tell you you’re wrong if you say you don’t like a particular wine,” Craig said. This was a huge takeaway from our conversation. He went on to say, “I want to instill confidence in you when you taste wine. It’s your palette, and who am I to say what you like and what you don’t.”
This was really the theme of our chat. No matter where you are on the knowledge scale, you can enjoy wine because it’s about what tastes good to you. He shared a few tips and tricks about wine with me, and you can read the questions and answers below.
Brittany: Do you have a favorite wine under $40?
Craig: That’s a hard question! It’s not about my favorite wine, it’s more about what I want to enjoy today. It depends on the weather outside, who I’m with, what they like, where I am, and what I am eating (if I’m eating). But I can tell you what criteria I use to rate wines.
Authenticity. I want it to be typical of the grape varietal it’s representing. If it says Pinot Noir, I want it to have all these Pinot Noir characteristics. I also want it to taste like the place it came from. Tuscany has a flavor to it, the Rhone Valley of France has a flavor.
Value. Whether I spend $20 or $2,000, I need to get value out of it. I want it to be delicious, now and also delicious later. For example, a great wine will taste phenomenal now, but will also taste good in 40 years.
But, to get back to your question, I’ll give you a wine that I really like right now. It’s a 2015 Guigal Cotes Du Rhone costing $15 at Publix that will last 20 years. I know that because I just had a 1978 bottle recently.
Brittany: What do I tell a Sommelier in a restaurant to help them pick a wine for me or my group?
Craig: First, give them a budget. Then, be honest and say what you’re looking for. If you’re in a steakhouse, and the group is craving something bold and dry, let the Sommelier know. If you prefer wine from a certain region because of the flavors present or if you prefer a lighter wine with more fruit or more oak, express this to him or her. These are valuable traits of wines that will help the Sommelier pick the best wine for your evening.
Brittany: Are there any tasting “hacks” to act like we know what we are doing?
Craig: Yes! When tasting white wine, think about this phrase: Lemon and lime all the time, apple and pear is there somewhere. When you’re tasting white wines with your friends, you can definitely pick out these flavors and the rest of the group will most likely agree! Secondly, I always encourage consumers to consider the glass as a tool that makes the wine taste better. Spend per glass what you pay for the average bottle of wine. If you’re an individual who buys on average a $30 bottle of wine, buy a glass that costs $30 per stem. Don’t worry about having “red wine” glasses or “white wine” glasses, just buy one type of glass at a higher quality. The glass will perform better and be a better tool to experience the wine. As for hosting hacks, we use a sharpie to write on the glass for parties instead of wine charms. It works great! And if you like to go for walks around your neighborhood with wine, here’s a tip. Mix 75% Rose with 25% water and make Rose cubes to keep wine cool without diluting it.
It was a pleasure getting to speak to Craig Collins, Master Sommelier. It’s safe to say that I will be buying new wine glasses soon!
To close us out, I encourage you to contact Bo Cure ([email protected]), our very own Wine and Spirits Director, to help you choose wines for your next dinner or special occasion. He has a wealth of knowledge, and he can recommend wines that fit your specific event whether it’s for an easy pizza night or fancy Thanksgiving dinner.