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Keeping Track


Posted on September 13

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It's human nature to keep records of things. The Mormons have their genealogy, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration counts fish in the Pacific, and sports leagues provide enough stats to keep 10-year-old boys from thinking about girls for a couple of years. But how do wine lovers keep track of what are, after all, sensory experiences?

Compiling a personal tasting history is both art and science, and it can be almost as fun as drinking the stuff. Every wine lover has his or her own style of remembrance that ranges from blithe indifference to the use of bar code scanners. Here's a look at some basic approaches.

The Amnesiac: Remember nothing! Live in the moment! Vintages change every year anyway, so why keep track? Wait a minute&emdash;what's this in my mouth?

The Steel Trap:
It's all up here. More power to you if you keep everything filed away neatly in your noggin. Many brain cells ago, this was my method. Retrieving the files becomes more challenging every year.

The Cork Dork:
Unsentimental and unscientific, the cork collection is a nubbly, tactile memory jogger, even if some doubt its dcor value. I like oceans of corks swimming in big, clear glass vases of different shapes. You can organize according to themes, but I love the chaos of long, white Côte-Rôtie corks breast-stroking alongside surf-punk, black-plastic plugs from cheap Aussie Shiraz.

Trivets and memo boards lined with corks are deliciously tacky. Heck, go ahead and tile a kitchen wall. Corks also make excellent bath toys; you can make a floating armada with the addition of colored toothpicks. Or make the real thing: A guy named John Pollack sailed down the Douro River in a wine-cork boat. No word yet on what screw-cap proponents are fashioning from their Stelvins.

A subset of Cork Dorks are those who specialize in Champagne closures. They don't just snag the oversized mushroom corks; artists make fairy-size cafe tables and chairs out of the wire cork cages. And did you know that collectors display the colorful metal caps that crown the top
of the cork in special albums and shadowboxes?


The Diarist: This type writes it all down. You can use anything from a simple spiral notebook to hand-sewn leaves of artisan paper, detailing a chronological history of what, where and with whom you tasted the good stuff. It's up to you whether you go with a preprinted format or blank pages. Winery tasting rooms often sell beautiful tasting books.

The Scrapbooker: A visual feast based upon the art of the wine label, the scrapbook also can feature photos from a tasting trip, recipes for food pairings, clippings from wine critics and, of course, an image of the bottle. In the past, scrapbookers would soak off a label or use super-grip clear packaging tape to pull it off, but nowadays it's easy to download bottle pinup shots from the web. Wineries are happy to give you a real label if they have any extras around.

The Databaser:
Computer software aids abound, and the opportunities to geek out are limitless. Two essential features for databasers to look for: interactivity with the Internet and the ability to communicate with other devices, such as a cell phone or PDA.

My favorite is Cellar Tracker shareware. You download it from the web (a $30 donation is requested), and it performs better than some expensive private packages. Adding a tasting note is easy, particularly because you can search in Cellar Tracker's ever-growing community database to find your wine. (This saves on data entry and the inevitable spelling mistakes.) The wine pops up with the winery, wine type, varietal and appellation already in place. You can fine-tune the entry by editing the vintage or any other field that differs from your bottle. Tasting notes are entered in a free-form box, so you can write anything from one smiley face to a long-winded diatribe against the homogenizing effects of microoxygenation, depending on the moment's inspiration. 

If you happen to keep wines past Saturday night, you may want to enter the wine's name, quantity and location in Cellar Tracker's cool inventory database. For a recent dinner party, I found it much faster to search for Smith Woodhouse Vintage Port 1990 with my keyboard than to race around my house, looking under the bed and through the basement before finding it in my office. The drinkability index is particularly helpful with a hard-to-manage collection: If I search by a drink by date, I can rescue some neglected older wines growing more desperate by the hour.

With Cellar Tracker, you can print a restaurant-style wine list from your entries, organizing it by varietal, appellation or cellar location. I also like the fact that you can download label graphics, then print your inventory or tasting notes with the label next to the name of the wine.

Elaine's Pick of the Month

2001 Château Cheval Blanc St. Émilion ($290)&emdash;I recently tasted through a long lineup of blue-chip Bordeaux, and this wine brought my steady pace to a stop. No fancy recording device was needed: Its elegance, structure and complexity are etched in my memory like the name Riedel on a handblown Sommelier glass.

Wine Trivia Contest

>>  In the movie Sideways, the Merlot-hating main character, Miles, treasures a bottle of 1961 Château Cheval Blanc. What grapes are used to make Cheval Blanc?
E-mail your answer to wine@sacmag.com by Oct. 15. The winner will receive a nine-bottle wine tote by Reisenthel. Make sure to include your name, address and telephone number. The winner will be selected by random drawing from all the correct responses.

We've got a winner! In August, we asked: What is the Sacramento area's oldest wine bar? a) Enotria Restaurant & Wine Bar; b) Tucos Wine Market & Cafe; c) Carpe Vino; d) Vino Volo.

The correct answer: Enotria, which opened in 1996. The winner, Cynthia Williams of Sacramento, received a copy of A Moveable Thirst: Tales and Tastes from a Season in Napa Wine Country by Rick Kushman and Hank Beal.

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