There is a huge difference between drinking and academically tasting. I find both immensely enjoyable; however, it’s much easier to just drink wine than it is to really taste, process and deductively reason what and why a wine tastes the way it does.
Today I was sitting in one of my tasting groups and I was more silent then normal. In my tasting groups everyone brings a bottle of wine and we all blind taste the wine and try and deduce what it is. Everyone in my group believes that this is the best method for preparing for the second level Sommelier Exam. You can check out how to start your own tasting group here.
I watched each person taste and give their best possible educated guess while everyone else was silent. We have a rule that unless the person who has the stage asks for help we all keep our guesses and thoughts to ourselves. This made me realize how lucky I am to have such a great group. Everyone is polite, respectful and knowledgeable and it utterly impressed me. I think that is the key to a great tasting group – mutual respect as well as patience and passion.
Each person took their five or so minutes in the spot light where they turned everything off in their head and solely focused on what was in their glass. They named off so many things; the wine is clear, bright, yellow fading into a watery rim, medium viscosity, sound, clean, aromatic, youthful, young, under ripe green apple, meyer lemon, slight stone fruit, a hint of under ripe white nectarine, crushed rock, wet slate, limestone that has just been rained on for the first time in the season, white lilly and possibly some other white flower, no oak – it must be a sancerre (Don’t worry if you don’t understand all these terms yet I will explain them to you over the coming months). I loved listening to the members of my group being able to rattle of the descriptors like they are reading a poem, I am always impressed. These people are not always serious though; I have seen many of them get drunk on wine without thinking about what it was. Drinking to taste and learn is different than drinking to become intoxicated and it takes some effort but is also a lot of fun.
I know that when we are not doing blind tastings, where the pressure is on to get the wine varietal right and not miss the obvious characteristics of the nose or the palate, my tasting group members (who can smell the difference between stewed fruit, ripe fruit or dried fruit) drink like anyone else who can hold their own over an evening. I guess thinking about that makes me less intimidated. I like knowing that they also just drink to enjoy or get a buzz going.
Either way, my point is that there is a huge difference in tasting and drinking. I will go more into depth with this later. For now, if you want to learn more about wine, pay attention and take your time. Look at the wine, see what you can gather from the sight alone. Is it murky, are there bubbles, is there a rim variation because this can tell you how youthful the wine is (more rim variation, where the color changes from the outside to the middle) which can mean that the wine is older. Smell the wine, what stands out, what is hidden, how does is change in the glass? Take a long sniff in and a few short ones, figure out the best spot for you the hold the wine glass in relation to your nose. The more you practice this, the better you get. Also, start paying attention to smells that happen around you, go on a hike and smell the woods, smell herbs, produce and flowers – this will increase your wine vocabulary. Smells will be easily recognizable and instead of being on the tip of your tongue – the descriptors will be out in the open impressing people. Then, taste the wine, hold it in your mouth, try and breath some air in to let more flavor disperse. Here you are trying to confirm what you smelled and see what else you may get or not.
This is a complicated process and I just quickly summed it up. More to come but there is a difference between tasting and drinking. Some days a quick cheers and bottoms up is all you want and thats great too.