Field Studies - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Field Studies

My favorite course in college was field biology. There were twelve of us in all, limited by the number of students who could fi t into the van that took us to the edge of the woods to count plant populations. We split up into teams and canvassed meadows, catching insects to mount on numbered pins. At the end of the semester, each team presented its collection, complete with background on the various tiny beasts that had given their lives in the name of science.

As students we were focused on the interconnectedness of the plants and animals in the field, with an unexpected side effect: We had a blast for the semester studying those creatures together. It’s the same sort of pleasure people get out of participating in the Audubon bird count each year, one small flock observing and appreciating another. For this issue, we decided to conduct a fi eld study of our own, and send bands of sommeliers into the vineyards for our First Annual Sommelier Scavenger Hunt.

It’s a different sort of wine travel than the kind promoted in tasting rooms; this kind requires jeans and hiking boots. We chose five of our favorite sommeliers as our tour guides and asked them to choose two friends to help them hunt down the most compelling range of terroir-expressive wines they could find. Then we sent each team out to a different region, from New York’s Finger Lakes, where riesling rules, to Santa Barbara County and its diverse conditions for chardonnay. Our red wine teams went to Anderson Valley for pinot noir, to Washington for blends of cabernet-family wines and to Napa Valley, into the heart of cabernet country.

We’ve reported on each team’s hunt for six contemporary classics, wines a fellow sommelier would be able to nail in a blind tasting for being so clearly from the place where it was grown—wines you might find both delicious and memorable. Whether you’re an armchair traveler or want to get into the dirt yourself, their search makes for compelling reading and great drinking. Who presented the most compelling case for terroir expression in the New World? Check out our Sommelier Scavenger Hunt on page 46 for the wines and the winning team.

This story appears in the print issue of December 2014.
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