So, there actually is a systematic approach to tasting wine.
Might seem silly to some. Just drink it. Why all the theatrics: The swirling, the sniffing, the contemplation?
Those who have been bitten by the wine bug want to know more about what’s in their glass than whether it’s red, white, blush or sparkling. They embrace the journey to discovery. That’s a big part of enjoying wine, using the senses of sight, smell and taste to evaulate the quality of a wine, determine the variety, its origin and how it was made. Fascinating stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Well, I am into that sort of thing. Big time. I’ll sometimes go after a wine like a hound dog on the trail of an escaped convict.
The Wine and Spirit Education Trust offers classes through the Napa Valley Wine Academy. The classes are for people who want to know more about wine and for those in the industry.
Currently, I’m studying for the WSET Level 3 award, which is about midway up the totem pole. Part of the instruction centers on the WSET’s systematic approach to tasting. The four primary factors are appearance, nose, palate and conclusions. Each factor has several aspects to it. For instance, appearance is evaluated in terms of clarity (clear or hazy), intensity (pale, medium, deep), color (a scale from lemon-green to brown), and other observations, including legs, deposits, petillance or bubbles. The nose or aroma of a wine is broken down into condition (clean-unclean), intensity (a five-point scale from light to pronounced), aroma characteristics (e.g. fruits, flowers, spices, vegetables, oak aromas, other) and development (youthful to tired/past its best). Palate and conclusions are equally detailed.
The instructors offered the class several different styles of wine and we employed our senses to evaluate them using the systematic approach. The accompanying lectures included facts about the locations, soil types, climates, laws, history, tradition and winemaking styles of the regions from where the wines originated. On the first day, we studied wines from Burgundy and Alsace; the second day, Bordeaux, Southwest France, the Loire Valley, the Rhone Valley, Southern France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Italy.
Among the wines was a beautiful lineup from Bordeaux. Most of the wines are not hard to find. Below are notes of a few of the Bordeaux wines we tasted using the WSET systematic approach:
2010 Chateau la Mazerolle Entre-Deux-Mers: The appearance is clear, pale gold with thin, sheeting tears . The nose is clean, medium-minus intensity, aromas of green apple. Dry with medium-minus aroma intensity, alcohol medium-minus, body medium-minus. Flavor intensity medium. Flavor characteristics include citrus fruit, lemon, lime and green apple. The finish is medium-minus. The style is old world, as little oak influence is present. It’s fresh and should be consumed now, and the quality is good for a mid-priced wine in the $10-$15 range.
2012 Chateau du Bois Chantant Bordeaux-Superieur: The appearance is clear, medium ruby with thin tears. Clean on the nose, medium-plus intensity, developing, dark fruit aromas, baking spice notes from oak. Dry, medium acidity, medium tannin, medium alcohol and medium body. Flavor intensity is medium with aromas of dark fruit, blackberry, soft baking spices. Acid and tannin are well-integrated, well-balanced. Medium finish. Can drink now but has potential for aging. Good, mid-priced wine.
2006 Chateau Pipeau Saint Emilion Grand Cru: Clear, deep garnet core leading to tawny rim, clean condition, medium-plus intensity on the nose, aromas of earth floor, long lasting tears, developing. Dry, medium-plus acidity, medium-plus fine tannins, medium alcohol, full body, medium-plus flavor intensity giving off plum, tobacco, forest floor with spices from oak. Balanced, long finish, drink now but suitable for aging, old world, very good quality for a high-priced wine.
I’ll share more notes from more wines in future posts.