How to Really Taste Wine (by Matt Kramer)

Posted: January 7, 2013 by wynmaker in Oenology, Tasting, Vintage, Wine, World wine news
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
How to really taste wine.

How to really taste wine.

 

The six most important words in wine tasting

The past few weeks have put me in situations where I’ve been called upon to talk about wine. I’m not a shy sort, so such occasions are fine with me. For example, I was recently in Seoul hosting a wine dinner.

Now, there’s all sorts of nonsense making the rounds about Asians and wine. Some of this talk is even put about, I gather, by Asians themselves in the mistaken belief that because they’re not Western they can’t readily grasp the fine points of wine.

So when I stood in front of 65 people at the wine dinner in Seoul, all but a few of whom were Korean, I was politely blunt. I said that being a newcomer to wine was just that. It transcends culture. Being Asian was meaningless. Everybody is a newcomer to fine wine at some point in their lives, and that includes Europeans.

I went on to say that 40 years ago we Americans were collectively as ignorant about wine as any group of Asian wine newbies. And that we generated our own horror stories of rich guys who swaggered around insisting that they only wanted the “best” and that they didn’t care what it cost.

Then I asserted that talking about wine doesn’t involve flavor descriptors. This, it turned out, was the real jolt. I could sense the surprise when I said it. I, in turn, was myself surprised.

Since when did flavor descriptors become the basis of intelligent wine discussion? I later learned from guests at the dinner that the wine instruction that they had received was invariably just a string of flavor descriptors for each wine under “discussion.”

We all know, of course, how this I-Spy game of ever more precise-seeming associations of scents and tastes—coffee, chalk, bergamot, road dust and so forth—came about. It was we wine writers who did it. And we then did yet more of it as wines from everywhere increased exponentially.

You, the reader, want to know what a wine tastes like. And someone saying, “This here wine tastes really good,” is hardly going to satisfy. With thousands of wines a year to review, writers had no choice. How many times can you describe a Pinot Noir as being “cherry-scented”? So you get more specific, summoning up black cherry, wild cherry, pie cherry, maraschino cherry, cherry jam and cherry liqueur.

There’s nothing wrong with this and I, for one, will happily defend my colleagues in the tasting-note trenches.

That said, anatomizing the scents and flavors of a wine hardly tells the whole story. Nowhere is this more true than during a wine tasting such as the one I was doing at the dinner or, earlier, at two training sessions for the hotel’s eager-to-learn restaurant staff.

So how should you talk about wine? Every taster is different, and I’m not about to say that the following features represent the entirety of what could or should be examined and discussed.

But I will say this much: If you’re missing these points, you’re not going to fully grasp the qualities of the wine at hand. For me, these are the six most important words in wine tasting:
Read on …

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