The Goddess of Wine had the opportunity to lead a group of students through a blind tasting at the Fossil Wine Bar in Atascadero. This is what I told them as we tasted through the 6 wines pre-poured for them.
The world of wine tasting often seems magical and esoteric. It’s not really. And it’s easier than you think to taste wine blind. In fact, you may be already using many of the techniques that so-called experts use. There are four basic steps to tasting wine – and these can be used whether or not you’re tasting blind:
2. Smell the wine - Swirl the wine to aerate it in the glass, and stick your nose in as far as you can. The millions of sensors in your nose prepare your brain for what you're going to taste. When you first start smelling the wine, think big to small. Are there fruits? Think of broad categories first, i.e. citrus, orchard, or tropical fruits in whites, or, red, blue, or black fruits in red wines.
3. Taste the wine - Take a good sip, swish it around as if you're brushing your teeth, and let it touch all the surfaces in your mouth. Our tongues detect salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. You perceive the wine's texture or "mouthfeel". Texture in wine is related to a few factors, but an increase in texture is almost always due to higher-alcohol, riper wine. Ethanol gives a wine texture because we perceive it as “richer” than water. We also can detect tannins with our tongue, which makes your teeth feel as if they're wearing tiny fur coats. The taste of wine is also time-based; there is a beginning, middle (mid-palate) and end (finish). Ask yourself, how long does it take until the wine isn’t with you anymore? 10 seconds? More?
4. Think about the wine - Did the wine seem balanced or out of balance: too acidic, too alcoholic, too tannic? Did you like the wine? Was this wine unique or unmemorable? Were there any characteristics that shined through and impressed you? Did this wine evoke a memory for you? Be specific.
We poured 6 wines for our students, with varied and specific tasting notes. Some of the wines were polarizing. Strong opinions were voiced. It was fun!
Here are the wines:
2016 Ferraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone Villages Laudun Blanc, Rhone Valley, France - A juicy white Rhone blend, with apricot, pear flavors, with a subtle bitter almond thread on the finish. I want to drink a lot of this wine!
2017 Zanoli Chenin Blanc, Jurassic Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley, California – Located along Foxen Canyon in Los Olivos, this site is rich in fossils, providing some nice wet stone elements along with apple and pear character.
2012 Luna Hart Grüner Veltliner, Fiddlestix Vineyard, Sta Rita Hills, California – Rich golden color and some light tannin structure. Delicate aromas of lime, lemongrass, and wet stones. Delicious!
2015 Deovlet Sonny Boy Red Blend, Santa Barbara County, California – 78% Merlot/22% Cabernet Sauvignon. Full-bodied and balanced, this wine has notes of currant, blueberry, and herbs. Easy drinking. Interestingly, most of the students picked up on the Cab, but were confused by the Merlot aspects.
2017 Corner Cellars Tempranillo, Cholame Vineyard, Monterey County, California – Bright and acidic, tart red fruit, a bit under-ripe, this wine confused some of our students.
2017 Stolo Cellars Syrah, San Luis Obispo County, California – Purple-fruit flavors on the palate alongside rosemary and green herbs. This was the most polarizing of the wines. There was no one on the fence - it was either love or hate! "Wet towels" was the most interesting note for this wine.
And then, just for fun, owner Paul Zuniga had purchased a "special" wine for all of us to taste blind - including the Goddess! Doing a deductive tasting, I could tell what the wine was NOT. It was not Pinot Noir. It was not Grenache. I could see through it, but not read though it. I was able to determine that the wine was Old World. I thought Spain at first, but the longer I smelled and tasted it, I leaned towards Italy. I thought it was about 3 years old. It turned out to be a 2016 Mille Lire Montepulciano D'Abruzzo. Would I have figured it out with enough time? Doubtful, because it's not the first wine that comes to my mind. Like everyone else, I need more practice.
Next month, Bordeaux vs. Paso Robles on June 17th. Save the date!