“A hint of black cherry with cedar and loam.” “Orange peel and slight touch of citrus”. “Lucious jammy blackcurrant, chocolate, and tea.” Heard something similar before? You may be thinking someone had a little too much before they started tasting! But no, in reality wine can contain traces of chemicals that in fact suggest various kinds of fruit, nuts, spices, minerals, and many other elements.
I’m not going to dispute that they are many nuances in a glass of wine (if you have the opportunity check out Le Nez du Vin, which contains small bottles of chemicals that represent the smells you will often find in a glass of red or white wine). With a lot of practice one can start to identify many of these elements.
But … that’s not the subject of this blog: what I wanted to talk about is that no matter how hard people try to explain various tastes in wine and no matter what the pundits (reviewers) say or experience, you may or may not experience the same smells or tastes.
In a recent blog – Tasting Tuesday – Wine Lingo, Heather Fleming did a good job in sizing the issue , by using a car industry metaphor, and then providing some good advice regarding how to taste wine.
This is one of many attempts to try to help those new to wine to increase their appreciation and enjoyment. I have seen countless attempts by many bloggers as well as wine organizations such as the Wine & Spirits Education Trust or UC Davis. All of these are valid.
However, one of the issues that no one can avoid is that all of this is subjective: humans don’t all have the same sensitivities to taste and smell. Tartness and sweetness are not perceived at the same level by everyone.
So, while I agree that practice makes perfect – and the more you taste the better you get at it – if you are simply trying to find new wines to try based on tasting notes, then I would suggest the following:
- Read tasting notes from a multitude of reviewers such as the Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, or Gary Vaynurchuk….to name a few.
- Try these wines and determine which you like and don’t like ( too dry, too sweet, too earthy, too jammy, whatever)
- Make note of the reviewer that most often describes a wine that is to your taste as well as reviewers that do not.
- Then, when you see a wine praised by someone that often appreciates wine in line with your tastes, it is likely you will like that wine as well. On the other hand, if you see a review by one of the tasters that usually dislikes wines you like, and he/she has nothing but praise for that wine, it may be one to avoid (at least for you).
So, nothing scientific -but it works most of the time!
Many people have special interests that over time turn into a passion. Sometimes a passion remains pent up and is not acted upon for whatever reason, while other times it is vigorously pursued. Here at ViralVines the passion is wine.. in case you couldn’t tell
I have followed that passion in many ways over the years – through tastings, reading about wine, making wine, visiting wine regions, having communication with fellow wine enthusiasts, working in the industry, taking the latest quiz on the Wine Hub (let Luiz know I sent you:-), and yes, blogging about wine here on Viralvines too!
So after completing my Intermediate Certification with the Wine Education Trust (WSET) last Spring, I thought it would be beneficial to move on to the Level 3 Advanced Certification. The WSET is a wine education organization located in London with worldwide recognition, and often the starting point for gaining knowledge and pursuing education in the wine industry. Courses can be taken in London or they are offered around the world by local educators with usually a minimum Level 4 Diploma, which is viewed universally as the stepping-stone to the Master of Wine qualification (with only 279 members worldwide).
The Advanced Certification level includes a tasting test as well as multiple choice and short answer and/or essay questions, and it covers all the major wine producing regions in the world as well as a focus on the production of various spirits.
So for most Mondays since September I have been driving to the train, heading into Backbay, and learning more about wine at the Boston Center for Adult Education.
What did I learn? Well, I’m not the best taster and …..need to keep working at it!
But at least now I can systematically approach each wine and make a better judgement. What else? Lots of facts and figures .. some that frankly are good to know but will likely be forgotten, but many others that will help in both the evaluation as well as the enjoyment of wine.
For example, with properties in Bordeaux the Chateau name is largely a trademark. The owner can increase the size of the property by purchasing vineyard plots anywhere within the same appellation and sell it all under the same name. On the other hand, in Burgundy the name is attached to a plot of land and registered in that town where the size seldom varies. Bordeaux has 60 names under Appellation contrôlée (AC ) while Burgundy has ten times that many even though it has less than half as much land. So why is that of any importance?
The devil is in the details! While in Bordeaux the same team and winemaker will be responsible for all of the wines from that Chateau (even if multiple labels), in Burgundy the vineyard is seldom a monopole (owned and worked by one person or group), it normally has multiple owners and each owner can and often does make wine in his / her own style. So while in Bordeaux you will find consistency under one or multiple labels from the same chateau, in Burgundy you may find great variance from a bottle that comes from the same piece of land with the same classification, but different producer.
There were some other facts that I learned such as the residual grams of sugar in a brute bottle of champagne or in a bottle of Tokaji Azsu 3 Puttonyos, the temperature at which most sherries are fermented, and why Chile is such an ideal place to grow grapes and make wine. There is also much discussion on the aromas and taste of grapes grown in different regions around the world. Chardonnay for example can taste vastly different based on whether it is grown in cooler or hotter climates, whether or not it undergoes malolactic fermentation, as well as the vessel and length in which it is matured.
What made this all come together was a passoniate and knowledgeable instructor by the name of Adam Chase who leads GrapeExperience in the Boston and San Francisco areas. Grape Experience is a company that offers educational studies to individuals as well as education services to businesses. While Adam covered all the material in the book, he also often provided anecdotes to help understand some of the nuances surrounding the growth and adoption of wine in various countries.
For instance, certain cities such as Valparaiso in Chile, and Cape Town in South Africa grew and prospered simply because they became logical supply points – places to rest and resupply – as ships headed from west to east or east to west. Another example was the fall of the Spanish Empire and the migration of Spanish, Italian, French and German settlers into countries such as Argentina, Australia, the USA and Chile, that brought their love of wine and skills with them.
All in all it took a considerable amount of time and effort, but for someone with a passion for wine, it was well worth the time and money. I can now approach my enjoyment of wine with a higher appreciation of what makes a great wine great… or sometimes, not so great.
Don’t know what my next step will be … but I did receive the latest edition of the Wine Atlas by Oz Clark for Christmas. So I guess its time to start reading…. of course with the appropriate glass of wine to coincide with each chapter!
UPDATE: Just received word (March 2010) passed the WSET Advanced Exam with Distinction!