As I mentioned a few weeks ago, one of the best ways to get acquainted with wine is via wine flights. Usually, a wine “flight” consists of small samples of wine of the same varietal. Say, three to five small pours (1- or 2-oz. each) of Chardonnay. Tasting a handful of Chardonnays from different producers head-to-head is very useful in discovering what style of that wine you like best. A Chardonnay flight might include a trio of Napa Valley Chards, in order to taste the sometimes subtle differences between winemakers in the same region. Or, you could go global and taste Chardonnays from California and Italy, as well as a French white Burgundy, side by side.
Another way to do a wine flight is to sample different wine varietals next to each other. This is an especially useful exercise if you’re a wine rookie and still learning about the different types of wine. You might, for example, do a wine flight consisting of Merlot, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Then once you’ve zeroed in on a varietal that you especially like —Pinot Noir, let’s say—do another wine flight consisting of three different styles of Pinot Noir. In no time at all, you’ll be a Pinot expert!
The obvious problem with conducting wine flight tastings at home is that unless you do it with a large crowd, you’re going to have a lot of leftover wine. But don’t panic! Because now that the whiz kids at the UDABC have determined that it makes as much sense in a restaurant to have five 1-oz. glasses of wine in front of you as one 5-oz. glass, those restaurants can now offer wine flight tastings.
One of the best places I can think of to do that is Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. Since Fleming’s offers more than 100 different wines by the glass, there are plenty of opportunities for wine flight tastings. For example, if you’re interested in different styles of Cabernet Sauvignon, there are 15 offered by the glass at Fleming’s, and lots more by the bottle on their reserve wine list. You might want to sample some of their California Cabernets—perhaps a relatively lightweight Beringer Founders Reserve Estate 1999, the more meaty Chateau Souverain, and the thick, viscous and tannic Niebaum-Coppola Claret Napa Valley 2000. You may be surprised at how different three Cabernets from the same state can be. Or, you might prefer to go global with three worldly Cabernets: Les Jamelles Vin de Pays D’Oc 2000 from France, Chile’s Montes Colchagua Valley Reserve 2000, and an Aussie Peter Lehmann Barossa Valley 2000. You’ll definitely find some differences among those wines.
Besides the sheer number of wines by the glass, another thing that distinguishes Fleming’s is its wine service. Manager and wine expert Chris Horton conducts weekly tastings with the Fleming’s staff (even the dishwashers) and so the Fleming’s service staff is often a good source of wine information. And since Chris Horton himself is usually on the floor, making wine recommendations and opening bottles, I’d certainly recommend picking his brain about wine flight tastings—or anything else relating to wine, for that matter.
And while most budgets won’t allow it, if you’re feeling a bit flush, you might want to dip into Fleming’s reserve wine list for a wine flight tasting. There are some gems on the list and you could do a vertical tasting (different vintages of the same wine) of some yummy Gallo Estate, Caymus, or Opus One Cabernets, or perhaps try back-to-back years of St. Supery Meritage.
One thing is for sure: Whether by the glass, in flights, or by the bottle, Fleming’s is a splendid place to educate yourself about wine.