Archive for the ‘wine tasting’ Category

Taste the aromas in wine

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Flavor and aroma in wine are closely linked. In fact, Dr. Marion Baldy who teaches a University-Level course in the evaluation of wine, jokingly refers to her class as the “Winesmelling Course”. What you taste in a given wine depends most heavily on cooperation from your sense of smell. The rich, complex odors and flavors of wines are for the most part sensed by the olfactory epithelium­ a specialized patch of millions of nerve endings at the top and rear of the nasal cavity, above and behind the nose. Sometimes wine tasters suck a stream of air through a portion of wine they have taken into their mouth, bubbling it through the wine in the process. This volatilizes the aromatic components in the wine so that they are carried into the epithelium and amplified.

But once a wine has been tasted, how do we describe what we’ve perceived?

We all describe odors differently probably because of our differing life experiences and our varying abilities to perceive scents. In particular, it becomes challenging for most of us to place a name on a particular odor once we’ve encountered it again. This brings up a issue in the tasting and evaluation of wines­ How do we communicate consistently with one another
the flavors aromas found in wines?

To address this issue, Professor Ann Noble of the University of California, Davis developed the wine aroma wheel in the 1980s. Similar tools existed in the beer and scotch whisky industries, I am told. Professor Noble used the approach of grouping similar aromas into descriptive categories, which were then organized into groups by origin and/or similarity of smell and displayed in the circular format shown in Figure 1. This provided a common “catalog” of descriptive and commonly perceived wine aromas­ a lingua franca which allows our epitheliums to relate to one another.

Figure 1: The Wine Aroma Wheel

There are 12 fundamental groupings of aromas in the “catalog”, each of which has two or three sub-categories related to the fundamental. These sub-categories, in-turn, have multiple specific descriptors which pin-point an aroma. Often, the specific descriptors have reference-standards; pure essence of that aroma that can be brewed, extracted, or otherwise reproduced.

Recipes for making aroma standards can be found in article by NobLE, A.C.et al, in the American Society for Enology and Viticulture 38:143-146( 1987). Additionally, colored, plastic laminated copies of the wine aroma wheel (copyright ACNOBLE 1990) may be obtained from A.C.Noble, Dept. Vit and Enology, Univ. California, Davis, CA 95616; FAX 916 752 0382; email acnoble@ucdavis.edu; phone 916 752 0387.

On an editorial note­ aromas in wines can be pleasing to one person and offensive to another. Some folks enjoy an “earthy” wine or a “microbiological” wine (something I might call funky). A little bit of one component can be complex and interesting, whereas a lot can be a flaw. Its all a matter of taste, after all, isn’t it? Also­ these terms are just an attempt by academics to standardize perceived aromas so that they can be accurately discussed. Too often, this sort of tool risks usage in a snobbish or intimidating way­ in all cases I feel one should first concentrate on what’s tasted and smelled and enjoyed in the wine. Keep these “standard” terms as a backdrop to your tasting experience, not a facade.

So where in wine grapes do these aromas come from? Certainly human intervention in the wine growing process, or the introduction of human-made elements can effect the flavors and aromas in wines. But surprisingly mother nature can imbue in her fruit many surprising aromas­ some of which may seem man-made but they are entirely natural. I thought it would be instructive to list the twelve fundamental categories of the aroma wheel and relate some of my thoughts and experiences on just what happens in the vineyard or the winery that can produce each effect.

Fruity Can be caused by cooler fermentation temperature, strain of yeast used, or by carbonic-maceration fermentation (Beaujolais style)
Nutty Sur Lie againg of wines (storing wine on its spent yeast cells after primary fermentation) can introduce a nuttiness or yeastiness to the wine
Vegetative Can be caused by underipe fruit, or by herbaceousness introduced in whole-cluster fermentation
Caramelized Sometimes extracted from barrel aging in newer, toasted French oak barrels. Toasting of oak creates a non-fermentable sugar which can be perceived as caramel.
Woody Can be caused by aging in oak barrels, particularly barrels that have seen several seasons of use. The non-fermentable sugars and other new oak aromas are leached out of the barrel after about 3 seasons of use, leaving only “neutral” wood components behind to effect the wine.
Earthy Can be caused by naturally occurring or “wild-yeast” fermentation
Chemical Can be caused by over use of sulfur dioxide or by over exposure of wine to air (as occurs when head-space in barrels are not keep topped up with fresh wine).
Pungent Sometimes can be caused by high-alcohol content in wine (derived from high-sugar content of grapes when harvested).
Oxidized Caused by over exposure of wine to air, as occurs when head-space in barrels are not kept topped up with fresh wine, or through cavitation of a pump when moving a delicate wine from tank to bottling line.
Microbiological Can be caused by lack of proper cleaning procedures in winery operations and by little or no use of Sulfur-Dioxide, the anti-microbial / anti-oxidative compound used in winemaking.
Floral Most often floral wine components are produced in the grape skins and pulp by mother nature. Floral aromas can also arise when alcohols & acids combine during fermentation to produce esters. Cooler fermentation temperatures retain these volatile esters, whereas hot fermentation temperatures cause them to “blow off”. Floral aromas also can occur during bottle aging of wine, developing a so-called “bottle bouquet.”
Spicy Can be picked up from soil constituents by a particular clone of grape. Sometimes spiciness is derived from prolonged skin contact during pre-fermentation maceration. Too long of a soak on the skins produces astringency

Wine etiquette for restaurants

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

To BYOB, or not to BYOB? That is one of the questions diners face when considering wine etiquette.

Wine is often credited for having a civilizing influence on the people who drink it. Like many civilizing influences, it has spawned a hoard of customs and protocols. Some are useful, like red wine with meat; some sentimental, like passing the port to the left; some obsolete, like long-stemmed glasses; and some just plain silly, like sniffing corks.

Knowing which are worthwhile and which are a waste of time can be more valuable than knowing the best Bordeaux vintages or being on the Grace Family Vineyards “A” list.

Serving wine Take, for example, the care and treatment of sommeliers. You have just finished a delicious dinner in a good restaurant. The bill is €200, €160 for food and €40 for wine. Not cheap but well worth the cost. You gladly add a 20 percent tip, €40. Then your dinner companion whispers, “Shouldn’t you leave something for the sommelier?”

The wine was the the sommelier’s suggestion, and she did make a point of discussing it as if you knew something about the subject. But wasn’t the wine included in the price of the dinner, and wasn’t the tip based on the total price – presumably €32 for the food and €8 for the wine?

We tend to overlook how much the wine we order adds to the tip, even when we spend more on what we drink than on what we eat, as wine enthusiasts often do. If the wine bill comes to several hundred euros, as it often does these days, should the tip get even bigger?

My feeling is that the 20 percent is adequate, unless the service was very special – for example, if it involved going to considerable effort to locate a particular bottle, or collaborating with the chef to make the evening special.

More restaurants are moving away from the traditional wine service of opening the bottle (without placing it on the table), offering the cork for inspection and pouring a sip of wine to taste. What does one do with the cork anyway? Sniffing is supposed to tell you if the wine is bad.

Rubbing it to see if it’s wet is supposed to show if the bottle was properly stored on its side. But isn’t that what the sommelier is supposed to do? As for that preliminary little taste, unless the wine is truly foul, it isn’t going to do much for you.

Bottle diplomacy

Most people don’t readily recognize corked wine; even experts often don’t detect that moldy smell until the third or fourth taste, and by then the server is gone.

Ary's Warung restaurant, Ubud, Bali, by s.rejekiCalling her back and saying, “I’ve changed my mind; this stuff is corked,” can be embarrassing. If you know the wine person, you can say, “Just pour it.” After all, you’ll know soon enough if there are problems.

Unfortunately, this tends to confuse some enthusiastic young wine stewards who have been taught to take pride in this pre-prandial rigamarole. Happily, some restaurants are bypassing the wine ballet by bringing wine to the table after it has already been opened at the bar. The ultimate decision on the wine is still the client’s; it is just that the whole process has been simplified.

Of course, there will always be a few bad bottles, and one day you may get one of them. Suppose you do feel something is wrong with the wine but, coward that you are, you’re not about to face down the wine person.

Here’s how to do it. Don’t say, “This wine is no good.” Too confrontational. Try, “Taste this and tell me what you think of it.” Now you’re asking for help. Even if the wine maven thinks the stuff is OK, it will now be much easier for you to assert yourself and say, “I don’t like it.”

Actually, these little dust-ups are increasingly rare. Winemaking, and bottling, have vastly improved in recent years. Badly made vinegary wine is practically nonexistent. Yet corked bottles are still a problem.
To some wine fans, bringing one’s own bottle is the solution to all these problems, including that of high restaurant wine prices. One word – no, three: Don’t do it. Unless you are very sure the restaurant welcomes it. A few still do, mostly on the US West Coast. But even there, the picture is changing.

Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, which once welcomed all wines, now charges a $20 corkage per bottle. Restaurants pride themselves on their wine lists and often have major investments in wine. You wouldn’t expect Sirio Maccioni to admit you to Le Cirque 2000 with your own ham sandwich. Why should he welcome you with your own wine?

How to enjoy Champagne wines

Monday, November 26th, 2012

How should I store Champagne?

Champagne wines should be kept in a cool, dark place away from heat, light, vibrations and severe temperature variations. Unlike the best wines from Bordeaux or California, Champagne wines are ready for consumption when they are shipped to the market. However, some wine lovers also enjoy cellaring their Champagnes for a few extra years.

What is the best way to chill Champagne?

Before opening, chill the wine well, but do not freeze it. Champagne is best chilled by placing the bottle in a bucket filled with ice and water for 30-40 minutes or in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator for several hours.
Lovers of (French) Champagne always keep a bottle there for inspiration, unexpected guests and homey dinners.

How do I open a bottle of Champagne?

The pressure in a bottle of Champagne is equivalent to that of a tire of a double-decker bus, about ninety pounds per square inch. Slant the bottle at a 45 degree angle away from guests. Put a thumb on the cork, untwist and loosen the wire muzzle. Grasp the cork firmly, twist the bottle slowly and let the pressure help push out the cork. Allow a light and merry pop.

How should I serve Champagne?

Drinking Champagne by the bottleChampagne is best served in tall flute or tulip glasses, at a temperature of 42-47 degrees Fahrenheit. Tiny bubbles will rise in a continuous stream. When serving, pour a small quantity of wine into each glass and allow it to settle. Then fill each glass two-thirds full. Victorian saucer-shaped glasses are best kept for the service of sherbet or ice cream.

How much Champagne will I need?

For a Champagne apéritif at cocktail hour, allow one bottle for every three or four guests. When served at a meal, count on one bottle for every two or three people. And for the traditional Champagne toast to the bride, one bottle can serve six to ten people.

Related articles: the regions that produce Champagne and the red grapes that go into Champagne.

Varietal descriptions and pronunciations of white wines

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Here is how to pronounce the names of white varietals. And what they taste like.

Chardonnay (SHAR-doe-nay): The world’s most popular dry white; it’s medium-to full-bodied, with rich apple and citrus flavors and sometimes a buttery tone from fermentation and aging in oak barrels; a good choice for simply prepared seafood and poultry dishes.

Sauvignon Blanc (SO-vin-yawn BLONK): Generally lighter than Chardonnay, with bright melon and citrus aromas and a herbal character suggesting bell pepper or freshly mown grass; a versatile food wine for shellfish, lighter fish and chicken dishes, pasta with pesto and Caesar salad.

Riesling (REES-ling): A light-bodied wine of German origin with flowery aromas of honeysuckle, apples, and peaches; Rieslings range from slightly to very sweet and can be either table or dessert wines. Drier versions go well with chicken and pork dishes, as well as spicy foods.

Gewürztraminer (Guh-VERTZ-tra-meener): Another aromatic variety of German origin with aromas of rose petals, peaches, grapefruit, lychees, and allspice, and full, fruity, spicy flavors ideal with Asian food, ham, pork and grilled sausages.

Chenin Blanc (SHEN-in Blonk): A relatively light, fruity variety with melon, apple, and peach/apricot aromas and flavors; used to be more popular than it is today; a nice wine by itself or with casual meals (salads, sandwiches, etc.)

Muscat (MUSS-cat): A very flowery dessert-style wine, with floral and peach/apricot aromas and flavors; great with desserts of fresh fruit or fruit/nut tarts.

Other white varieties of note include Semillon (SEM-e-on), Viognier (V- OWN-yay), and Pinot Grigio (PEE-no GREEG-e-o).

This article is based on the reference guide to types of white wine.