. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: Quick Sips

Friday, April 09, 2010

Quick Sips

If you read my previous post and found some truth in it, you may be looking for a new approach to the wine world. This particular world is not made of absolutes, there is no mathematical certainty. Even if you are able to retain untold volumes of wine statistics, the numbers and figures are bound to change every single year.

So - how can we value a wine? A good start, I feel, is to create a sort of template that will put 'apples with apples and oranges with oranges,' so to speak. There are many different ways to taste and drink wine; in trade tastings or blind tastings, with food or without it, vertically or horizontally (no, that has nothing to do with body orientation... verticals are when you taste different vintages of the same wine from the same producer, and horizontals involve only one vintage), all these different ways will allow you to see and appreciate wine from different angles and prospective. Today, I'm going to stick to an analysis of trade tasting.

When I'm tasting professionally, I'll have maybe two sips of each individual wine, and often I don't actually drink it - I spit it. All professionals have their own specific objectives at trade tastings. My goals are few and simple: I'm either trying new wines, or new vintages of wines I already know. In both cases, my limited tasting time forces me to taste the wine without context (trade tastings are often packed with people, and it is common to feel rushed). Instead, I make a summary judgment either on the differences from previous vintages, or the basic objective value of the wines (if I haven't tried them before).

When I attend these tastings, my sole objective is to find wine that eventually I will buy for De-Vino. That action is comparable to being a critic, with one main difference: I do not primarily use my own personal taste. I buy based on more objective parameters; overall quality, observable elements of the bouquet, palate and finish (regardless of the style), balance, and acidity. Independent of my individual taste, I believe those criteria to be sturdy and thorough in the general assessment of a wine. There are, of course, more detailed parameters applied for specific kinds of wines; for instance, reds require a judgment regarding tannins, and in champagne, the finesse of the "perlage" must be taken into account. Provenance, the size of the winery and price are also key factors. A wine can be spectacular, but horribly outpriced for the market.

These points will work for any style of wine, and I think they are just about as objective as they can be, especially in a field where personal taste is so highly prized. In this particular kind of tasting, whether or not I like a wine isn't as important as whether or not I believe my customers will like that same wine, keeping in mind, we may not have similar tastes. Sometimes I feel as though trade tasting is like speed dating; but, instead of meeting women, I meet wines.

I don't mean to make it seem as though professional tasting is impersonal and menial. It's not. Going to big tastings lets you asses a flavor and style profile; modern, traditional, fruity, dry, full, light, floral, astringent, velvety... you can develop a vocabulary to match the sensations you get from the wines. It is also a good way for non-professional palates to create flavor memories. Part of my own education consisted of going to trade tastings with wine experts. Often, the producer himself (or herself!) will be pouring the wines, so just listening to the conversations between producers and experts can be a great resource. You'll learn about tannins, acidity, wood, mold, yeast, sugar, flavors and countless other elements of the winemaking and tasting process. That said, listening should always be a big part of the process. It certainly has been for me, from listening to my parents talking about wine at dinner as a kid, up to now, listening to the wine itself. If you're just starting out, don't worry if most of what is said doesn't mean anything to you. Consider, perhaps, that you are accumulating dots that only time and experience can connect. With patience, every piece of the puzzle will come together.

Trade tastings are a great resource. It's like scratching the tip of the iceberg - it's a great way to broadly taste numerous wines and help you increase your flavor data base, learn terminology and vinification techniques from the people of the trade. But! It will not give you the value of emotion, because you are tasting wine without context, and thereby without the mechanism required appreciate the more subtle complexities it may have to offer.

In the next few posts I will keep on analyze different ways to taste and appreciate wine, hopefully giving you more dots that than we can try to connect together. So for now and until next time...

...Buona Bevuta a Tutti

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