Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oh I fancy huh

It may shock some of you to learn that these posts aren't all that official. Like the Schouten Feelings Standard has yet to be adopted by sommeliers worldwide. Lame. For fun, I thought I'd share a proper tasting note I did last spring for my wine class. It also allows me to brag about the one time I drank a wine that cost more than $20 (thanks, Dad). True tasters will evaluate wines the same way every time, taking down each detail from price to palate. This allows them to compare wines efficiently, even if they haven't tasted a particular wine in a while.

Below my tasting note (after the terribly framed photo. Thanks, self) is an explanation of how to draw each of these official, non-feelings-based conclusions. Even if you don't plan to ever make a proper tasting note, these tips will help you evaluate wine wherever you are and whatever your price point. Because engaging our senses is fun! Speaking of fun, quick puzzle update, I am TEARING THROUGH this thing even without a box top so I don't know what it looks like. It's a great puzzle full of twists and turns and things are going really well between us.

Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cut 2011 Merlot
Sonoma County, CA
$20.99, 13.5% ABV

Appearance: A normal red wine in the glass. Only the tiniest bit transparent, mostly opaque. Ruby red with a little purpley-blue.

Nose: Earth aromas of forest floor and oak alongside black cherry, blackberry and smoke. A little caramel, coconut and cedar as well.

Palate: Dry wine with sweetness at the tip of the tongue. Fruit-forward with a little raspberry in addition to the black cherry and blackberry. Lots of earth and smoke here as well. Finish is medium to long, especially since the caramel and coconut really hang on the alcohol. Both acidity and tannins and low to medium, and the quality of the tannins are smooth and round.

Conclusion: I'd call this wine layered but not complex. It is straightforward in its many aromatics, which hit fruit and earth and winemaking right on the head. To enhance the smoke, pair with grilled meats in a lighter marinade or chipotle-spiced tacos.

Tasting note breakdown

Heading: Here you will provide all practical information about the wine. If wine tasting is like dating (which I have already told you it is), this is where you get the basic details: height, job, dopeness of hairstyle.

Appearance: Unlike in dating, here the appearance is the least important factor in determining anything about anything. A few clues, however, can give us potential insight into a wine's age, style and grape varietal, but all must be confirmed by other factors. A quick swirl can help you determine the body of the wine. Unless a wine is high in sugar and alcohol, like port, which will move more slowly, it should be in the normal range.

When I say age, I mean age for that wine. A Cabernet may be too young to drink even after a few years, while a Sauvignon Blanc should be consumed quickly and will start to look old perhaps after only 18 months. Red wines get lighter with age while white wines get darker. A young red wine will have a purpley-blue tone that reaches all the way to the edge of the liquid when the glass is tipped slightly, while over time the color will move toward a translucent rust-brown color. White wines will be clear and bright in youth, then they'll brown over time. But a good Pinot Noir is often transparent, and a beautiful Amarone will be brown-ish in color even when young. And you may prefer an older wine. I sometimes do. Young wines will yield more fruit-forward flavors. Older wines develop what is known as a "bottle bouquet" and have weirder, more complex, tertiary flavors in play.

This is also the time to notice sediment or petillance. Sediment is extremely rare and usually a good thing. Most wine now is fined and filtered, expect for old or fancy or super organic wines. So before you send a sediment-y wine back, consider how expensive it is. Seriously. The more expensive, the more likely that sediment is supposed to be there. What you believe is sediment may also be tartrates, a natural byproduct of tartaric acid, which is the acid from grapes. Not an issue. Petillance is common in delicate whites. If you see it in a red that's not supposed to sparkle, it could be a sign of bad things. Ask your server for their opinion.

Nose: Contrary to popular belief, you should not immediately swirl your wine. You'll actually pick up a different set of aromatics when a wine is still and right after it's been swirled. So give it a good sniff and make some notes before swirling. Then spin and get your nose up in there again. Cool, right? The incomparable Shelby Ledgerwood gave us a neat tip for helping to determine what we're smelling: start broad then narrow it down. So start with citrus, then consider what kind and even what form. Fresh grapefruit. Lemon curd. Dried orange peel. Start with earth, then narrow that down: dirt, leather, tobacco, horse. I don't always get all the way there (see: "earth" in every post I've ever written), but it makes trying less intimidating.

Palate: The same as nose, plus more! You may get slightly different aromatics on the palate (known as "in-mouth aromatics"). To help with that, hold the wine in your mouth and suck a little air in through your teeth. You'll get a little slurping noise. The air coming in helps you activate your nose, which is where tasting really happens. Our mouths only taste sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. Everything else is scent. Here you'll evaluate those taste elements (dry wine or sweet, how dry and how sweet?). Salty wines don't really exist, but some super fresh whites will be so dry they'll seem salty, as you'll salivate a lot after drinking them. Bitterness comes from tannin. The tannin level will inform your serving and pairing suggestions (which will come in the conclusion). Fats cut tannins, and bitter foods like greens boost the bitterness. Most wines do NOT need to be decanted or oxygenated or let to breathe. Only super tannic wines require this, so don't pour out your reds automatically. Taste first, pour second. The acidity and finish are also evaluated here. I'm terrible at evaluating acidity. I think it's like determined by the sides of your tongue? And how dry your mouth is after? Sorry, bros. The finish is how long the flavors persist on the palate. 2-4 seconds is short, 5-8 is medium, 9+ is long. A classic "one Mississippi, two Mississippi..." in your head will do.

Conclusion: Here is where you evaluate anything you want about the wine. The value for it's price, what to serve with it, when to drink it, how it compares to other wines of its varietal and/or region. It seems like a good spot for some feelings, but a true taster will be using an objective system. It's not about if you like it, it's about the structure, nose, and quality of the wine. I tend to do a little of each. I try to evaluate first objectively, then in terms of how much I like it. This allows me to determine the kinds of wines I like to drink. So at this point, even without my recent discovery that I'm embarrassingly predictable, I know I enjoy a murky, dirty, Old World-style wine. Give proper tasting a try. At the very least, you'll have taken a moment out of your drinking to engage the senses. If that's not the best form of meditation, I don't know what is.

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