My name is Panos Kakaviatos and I love wine. Born, raised and educated in Washington D.C., I am a trained journalist, having worked for the Associated Press and Agence France Presse among other media. After earning degrees in Communication (B.A.) and International Political Economy (M.A.), I moved in 1996 to Strasbourg, France, in the heart of Alsatian wine country, where I began an enduring press relations career for an international organization called The Council of Europe. During that time, I joined a wine tasting club… which opened this brave new wine world.
At this point, I am figuring out how to best employ the huge variety of networking tools, from Twitter and Facebook to blog placement and videos. Living between France and the United States, I have been earning a living as a press relations manager, with work at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. My press relations activities there to promote the organization have helped also my work in raising press coverage for the hotel restaurants and wineries which cooperate in tasting dinners I organize. Other wine activities related to this website include wine writing for various media, including articles published in Decanter Magazine and wine industry news briefs on the decanter.com website among other media. I organize wine tours and vineyard visits and even work as a sommelier when I have the time. Read about my first-ever sommelier experience on Nantucket Island at a prestigious French restaurant in the summer of 2007.
Viticultural thoughts and epiphanies, culled from wine-loving moments around the world. Often at the dinner table. This section sometimes tackles weighty wine issues, such as the Überinfluence of critic Robert Parker on winemaking today, the question of how non-cork enclosures affect wine over time, understanding modernist taste in wine vs. traditional taste (and what that means) and essential questions like whether inexpensive Chianti really is your choice for pizza.
For me, it comes down to what you like and trying the get the best value for that wine. It is not about being a wine snob. It is about tasting as much as you can and not chasing point scores. I have met many people who proudly say, “Look, all these wines are scored 94 and above [by some famous critic or magazine].” Did they taste all the wines? No. I have my own taste – and it tends to me more classical. And if you trust your own palate and remain open to new tasting experiences, you will be surprised with how your own taste can evolve. Take it from my experience. It is one thing to go through 50-100 wines in a day session of tasting; quite another to appreciate three or four wines over dinner over time – which is what you and most other consumers do. The wines change in glass, they change as you sample the next course. So the point of this site is to counsel you in terms of qualitative tasting, the feel of wines over time and with food. I am not here to give you quantitative beauty contest grades on wines tasted one after the other within a matter of seconds. Such tastings almost always favor big, bold and often over-ripe styles. Wine for me is freshness: a wine that lives and breaths and brings pleasure to your palate, not something which overpowers you.
Remember that wine is part of life’s rich pageant. On the way to one of my many trips to and from France, I once stopped at Vino Volo, a nice if slightly overpriced wine bar at Washington’s Dulles International Airport, and picked out two sample size glasses of fine wine for $26. Expensive, yes. But I am a thorough wine geek. I picked the Napa Valley Dominus 2004 and La Fornace Brunello Di Montalcino 2001. Both are well known, but pleasant discoveries for me, because I specialize in neither Italian nor California wine. Once on the plane, in economy class, I paid $5 for a mini bottle of terribly average Gallo Merlot to go with a re-heated aluminum plate of beef and mashed potatoes. From the sublime to the ridiculous, but I was hungry. In my reporting days at the Associated Press, one of the best cups of coffee I ever had came from an enormous green plastic tank at a U.S. military base in Germany at five in the morning. We had to be there very early for a special military trial. Although the coffee was awful, it hit the spot. Just like the $5 wine on the flight – as unripe and short on the finish as it was. Context matters. The Gallo also reminded me of Miles in the hit road movie Sideways: “No Merlot!”
But it is not that simple, Miles. The Dominus I sampled is almost all Merlot. Miles’ favorite wine, that famous Cheval Blanc, which he finally drank in a depressed state from a paper cup at a fast food joint, often contains as much as 60% Merlot. So it is not always what you drink, but when you drink it, your state of mind, and what food you are eating with the wine.
Still, you can be almost certain that a world of qualitative difference usually exists between a $20 bottle of wine and a $100 bottle. And the more wine you discover and taste, the more evident that gets. But I never forget the simple wines which do not cost too much. If they are made well, they have a place at my table. When I first visited Bordeaux, I did not start at the top; I did not visit Mouton Rothschild, Latour or Petrus. Those visits and tastings came years later. When I first visited Bordeaux, I stayed with humble chateau owners Helene and Yves-Bertrand Coste in the Graves region, met their jeans-donning, bearded winemaker on his tractor. He was smoking a cigarette as he told me about his great great grandfather who fought for the Confederacy in Louisiana before his great grandfather moved to France. His seasonal harvest work force consisted of gypsies, Spaniards and local folk – and I will always remember the party they held after the harvest. The dancing, the drinking from magnum-sized bottles and the celebrating. The wine, Chateau de Gaillat, costs something like $15 per bottle.