Tag: wine tasting

Gluttony Punished

Gluttony Punished

A while back our friends Inna and Igor – fellow wine afficionados – proposed a novel idea for a wine tasting:  a side-by-side tasting of the same varietal – in this case, Pinot Noir. What made this proposal particularly novel is that all four wines would be from the same producer, Etude Wines.  We have visited Etude on two occasions and posted about our very first visit there last summer (Wine With A ‘Tude.).  On our visit to Etude we sampled Pinot Noir from vineyards in Napa Valley’s Carneros region.  Our friends’ proposed tasting would consist of four Etude Pinot Noir wines that were new to us:  one from Sonoma Coast, two from the Santa Barbara area, and one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

We didn’t spend too much time thinking about the proposal, quickly agreeing to the idea and setting a date for the tasting.  When we arrived at our friends’ house we saw right away how seriously they were taking the tasting endeavor.

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This is serious wine tasting

Not only were the wines poured but there was a tasting sheet to write notes and comments and tally scores.  Like all athletic endeavors, wine tasting needs the right level of hydration and nourishment.

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Mom always said “Don’t drink on an empty stomach”

When we took our seats at the table each of us sized up the wines and took a few minutes reading the labels and tried to find some nugget of information that would give us an edge in the wine tasting challenge.  For the record, the four wines were:

2014 Etude Ellengach Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

2014 Etude Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills (Santa Barbara County)

2014 Etude North Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County)

2014 Etude Yamhill Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley (Oregon)

While there were no financial stakes in this great wine taste-off, pride was certaintly at stake and each of the four participants was hoping to show off his or her wine acumen and ability to distinguish aromas and flavors.  For the first several minutes only murmurs could be heard as we lifted the glasses and tried to make sense of the different color shades in each glass.  Hmmm, the first one looks slightly darker than the second, perhaps that signifies that it was grown in a hotter climate and the grapes ripened more?  Then came the sniffing excercise – trying to identify aromas that would distinguish the four Pinot Noir wines from each other.

Looking back, we have to laugh a little bit because we set ourselves up for quite a challenge:  identifying which wines came from which region even though 3 of the 4 wines are from California and two of them were from wine regions separate by just a few miles.  Finally we got to the tasting, which resulted in more murmurs and mutterings under our breath and furious note-taking.  After each wine we confidently assigned it to a region only to furiously cross it out immediately after tasting the next wine and confidently jotting a region down next to it. By the fourth wine almost every confident prediction had been changed to something else, changed back, and then changed again.

When we finally made our collective way through the four Etude Pinot Noir wines and made our “matches” to wine region, the time came to uncover the bottles and reveal their geographic identity.  Despite all of our cumulative years of wine tasting, the best effort in the wine tasting match was 2 out of 4, with at least two of us guessing only 1 out of 4.  Stubborn people that we are, we decided to do a second round of tasting, mixing the wines up again and trying to apply the lessons learned from the first round.  Memory is somewhat hazy after the amount of wine consumed but I recall that no one did better in the second round than the first.  Naturally, we concluded that another round of tasting would be a good idea, for some reason expecting that the cumulative effect of the two previous rounds of tasting would promote greater accuracy.  Round 3 was no more impressive than than the earlier efforts; clearly none of us is ready to take on the Master Sommelier exam just yet.

Rather than proceed to a round 4 we decided instead to polish off the remaining Pinot Noir and enjoy them just for their own sake, with no competition involved.  To top off the afternoon we enjoyed a fantastic lunch paired with one of the Croatian wines that we will soon be introducing to the United States market.

John & Irene Ingersoll

July 18, 2017

 

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Top 10 Ways to Embarass Yourself at Wine Tasting

Last week we posted an article entitled “Top 10 ways to show off at wine tasting”  (Top 10.)  Today, we are focused on 10 ways to stand out from the crowd – but in a bad way.  Hopefully everyone will consider this a list of things not to do rather than a list of suggested activities.

  1. Show up at the winery with no appointment or advance notice and expect to be accommodated.  This is especially aggravating when a huge group shows up unannounced – a family reunion or the noisy bachelorette party – and piles out of a van or bus and descends on the tasting room.  All or most wineries have specific visit restrictions (per day and per week) in their permits and cannot take all comers. Also, with the exception of the mega-wineries, most wineries have limited staff and simply cannot comfortably handle large (unexpected) crowds.  So hey, why don’t you check online before you show up and see if reservations are required, or recommended.  Even if they are not, maybe show some courtesy and call ahead and see how busy they are and if they can accommodate you.
  2. Visit five or six or seven wineries in one day.  Unless you are an accomplished professional expert at wine tasting instead of wine swallowing, this is simply too many places to visit.  After the second or third winery you’ll have blown out your palate and you’re just wasting your time. And thus everyone else’s.  Moreover, that many winery visits doesn’t even allow you sit down and soak in the atmosphere or absorb any information. We call these “running tastings” because the groups that do this seem to literally run through the tasting room, hardly stopping to taste or engage.
  3. Complain about the cost of the tasting.  Yes, we know, you visited Napa way back when you had hair and wine tastings were free; and the wineries back where you come from have free tastings.  Apologies for discussing business but, well, wineries are businesses.  If your tasting is $30, or $40, or $100, it’s because that’s how much wineries have to charge to cover all of the saps who visit and don’t buy any wine.  Also keep in mind that in places like Napa Valley, an acre of undeveloped land costs upwards of $500,000 an acre.  In other words, it’s super expensive and not a fair comparison to your favorite winery in your neck of the woods.
  4. Complain about the cost of the wine.  See the discussion in #3.  If you want cheap wine, go to a cheap winery.  Even in Napa you can visit wineries that sell cheaper wine. If you go to Opus One and complain about the several hundred dollar bottle of Cabernet, that just makes you look bad.
  5. Complain about the size of your pour.  Wine tasting rooms are not restaurants or bars.  You are not purchasing a glass of wine, you are purchasing a series of small tastes. The objective is to put enough wine in the glass – 1-2 ounce pours are common – to enable you to evaluate the color, aroma and flavor.
  6. Gulp your wine.  Wine gulpers – the visitors who don’t even bother to swirl or sniff – can make it through an entire tasting in 5 minutes or less.  Slow down.  Maybe even sit down.
  7. Get sloppy, stupid drunk.  Violations of #6 often lead to this embarrassing outcome.  Tasting room managers all have war stories about the person, or groups, that confused wine tasting with getting hammered.  The results are many, and we have seen broken glasses, people falling down, yelling and screaming, and even crying (melancholy drunks).
  8. Complain that the white wine is “too sour” or “not sweet enough.”  That’s probably what the wine maker was shooting for!
  9. Say that the wine is “not good.”  Unless you are a sommelier or other qualified wine industry expert, stick to simpler evaluations:  “I like” or “I no like.”
  10. Leave without showing your appreciation.  If you had a great time at the winery, consider buying some wine. It might even reduce or eliminate the cost of your tasting. If you don’t want to buy wine, buy something else, like a winery souvenir.  We often buy hats or sweatshirts from wineries where we didn’t love the wine but really enjoyed our time (and our wine tasting guide).  If you don’t feel like buying anything, leave a generous tip for the tasting room staff.

See you around at a winery some time soon and we hope we don’t cringe when we see you.

John & Irene Ingersoll

July 10, 2017

Top 10 Ways To Show Off At Wine Tasting

Wine tasting trips can be fun and exciting, especially if the destination is a superior winery located in a renowned wine region such as Napa Valley, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Rioja or any of the New World regions (Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina).  These trips can also be intimidating given the massive amount of science that gets shared at a wine tasting – chemistry, botany, enology, viticulture, meteorology, soil science, and so much more.  Like all disciplines, grape growing and winemaking have their own lexicons and the jargon of the business can be overwhelming to say the least.  Next time you go wine tasting with your friends, we want you to stand out from the rest, but in a good way.  Go forth armed with these 10 suggestions and leave your friends stunned with your knowledge, sophistication and charm …

  1. Follow the Five S’s.  Yes we know that when you and your friends were in college you gulped the $5 chardonnay down like it was water.  You must leave that in the past and from now on you must learn to savor the wine and faithfully follow the Five S’s of wine tasting:  See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor.  Yes, you’re eager to taste the wine, that’s natural. But wine tasting requires a bit of foreplay and you’re just going to have to wait before you get the wine in your mouth.
  2. Have something interesting to say about the wine.  The whole point of the Five S’s is to make observations about the wine.  So when you’re in the “See” mode, tell your group what you see, and try to be more descriptive than “it’s white” or  “it’s red.”  At most wineries you’ll taste both white and red wines and you should pay attention to the different levels of clarity, viscosity, brightness and color.  If you’re tasting a Sauvignon Blanc, for example, you’ll be sure to impress if you use “pale straw” as a descriptor.  For extra points, you might identify the appearance of green as a secondary color.  When you have moved on to the red wines use words like “garnet” and, if you are tasting a very dark wine, “inky.”  Okay, once you’ve seen and swirled, it’s time to sniff, the step considered by many sommeliers and wine experts to be the most important part of the wine tasting experience.  So stick your nose in that glass and come up with something better than “it smells like alcohol” or “it smells like grape juice.”  Yes, there is fruit juice in your glass, but come on, you can do better than that.  When tasting white wines, there are some basic flavor profiles that you can build your comments around:  citrus, tree fruit, stone fruit, and tropical.  Try these phrases on for size:  “I’m definitely getting citrus on the nose.”  If you want to push it a bit more, get more specific:  maybe you’re picking up hints of lemon.  The truly ambitious show-off might be so bold as to identify grapefruit …or even pink grapefruit!  At a wine tasting for Chardonnay (especially one made in the “French” style) or a Pinot Grigio, identifying citrus is a safe bet.  For other whites, the predominant aroma might be apple, pear or one of the stone fruits (peach, apricot, nectarine).   Some white wines, including those that have been aged in 100% new oak, will present tropical fruit aromas (pineapple, mango, papaya, banana).   In truth, it is not uncommon for a white wine to have aromas of several flavor profiles. You might throw out to the group something like “I’m definitely getting citrus but is anyone getting stone fruit as well?”  You can then debate whether it’s more like peach or nectarine, and whether it’s ripe or unripe.

When you move to the red wine part of the tasting you’ll have two basic profiles to choose between:  dark fruits (blackberry, plum, blueberry, dark cherry, black raisins, fig) and red fruits (red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, currant, cranberry, pomegranate).  When tasting a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec or Tempranillo, stick with the dark fruits:  “Lots of blackberry and blueberry on the nose.”  Red fruit aromas should be expected with Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo:  “I’m picking up a strong cherry aroma.”  Of course, fruit is just one of the aroma profiles that a dedicated show-off will need to be able to share with his friends.  Red wines have so many secondary aromas that need to be identified; it’s simply not good enough to focus on the fruit.  When tasting a wine from the old world, “earth” is always a good bet, or more specific descriptors such as “mushroom” or “forest floor” or “dirt.”  There are too many secondary aromas to list here but a brilliant professor from U.C. Davis invented a wine aroma wheel that the dedicated tasting show-off will want to buy or at least study online before going out with friends.  Here’s the wheel:

wine flavor wheel

 

One of the keys to showing off is to not appear to be showing off.  This is tricky, we know.  Most people fail at this because they act and sound like they are giving a lecture on wine.  That’s an amateur move. The professional show-off has a more nonchalant style:  all comments and observations will be offered as if talking to himself or herself.  “Hmmm, I think I’m getting vanilla and tobacco on the nose.”

3.  Oak.  When your wine tasting guide tells you that the wine was aged in oak, you must ask “was it new oak or neutral oak?”

4.  Fermentation.  For white wines, ask if the wine was fermented in stainless steel or oak.  When this question has been answered, ask whether the wine went through malolactic fermentation.  If the wine guide beat you to it and already told the group that the wine did in fact go through malolactic fermentation, ask “do you know that percent?”  Many wines go through the entire malolactic fermentation process (100% malo) but wine makers can and often do mix wine that went through malo with wine that did not to yield a 50% malolactic fermented wine (or higher or lower percentages).

5.  Rosè.  When tasting this wine, ask your server how long the grapes were “on the skins.”

6.  Harvest conditions.  Sound very interested in the conditions that existed for the vintage you tasted.  Was it a cold or warm year?  Lots of rain vs. drought.  Did they pick early or late?

7.  Terroir.  If you get to ask about terroir you’re sure to impress – after all, it’s a French word, and who isn’t impressed with a bit of French? Terroir refers to the place the grapes are grown – the weather, soil, microclimate, elevation, sun exposure, etc.  A beginner show-off could start off with a question about soil.  Intermediate and advanced show-offs will delve deeper and ask questions about, for example, which way the vineyard faces or what impact the local topography or geography (e.g., mountains, rivers, valleys) has on the vineyards.

8.  Farming practices.  The discriminating show-off will definitely want to know more about how the grapes are grown and how the vineyards are tended.  Does the winery irrigate or are the vineyards dry-farmed?  Are the vineyards organic or managed biodynamically?  What kind of canopy management system is employed in the vineyard (yes, “canopy management” really is a thing).

9.  Brix.  As you progress to PhD-level of showing off, you will want to start asking some very technical questions about the wine-making process.  You might consider asking your tasting guide:  “At what Brix level were the grapes picked?”  He or she likely won’t know but you’ll look like quite the stud with this question.

10.  Food pairing.  Now you’re ready to mix your knowledge of wine with your knowledge of food.  “This Sauvignon Blanc would go beautifully with Italian Sea Bass.”  “This Cabernet needs a thick, juicy steak to stand up to it.”  The more you taste the more specific you’ll be comfortable getting:  “This Moscato would go great with cheese – blue cheese that is.”

Okay you’re ready now to go out and impress your friends.  To avoid being overly annoying or coming across as a complete and utter snob, do not ask all 10 questions at every winery you go to. Spread them around over a few days of wine tasting. Pick your spots and use as much subtlety as you possess.  Good luck!

 

John & Irene Ingersoll

July 5, 2017