I’m going to try and explain the art of tasting. Well, I am going to try. Over the years I have done a lot of tasting and it’s really not a race to finish line. There is so much to learn. Yep, It’s a good way to live mathematics!?! Huh?In actuality wine is infinite. Endless!!! I often tell my friends…’How many flavors do you come across each day when you drink?’ After a blank stare, I usually say milk, orange juice, soda pop, etc…but in wine the flavors are endless, and the nuances are not just subtle either. It’s changing all the time in the bottle too. Drink it on its own or drink it with food. There is so much opportunity!
The pairing of food and wine ‘is’ a life altering experience. But you have to educate yourself a little and understand that there are benchmarks and a classic way of thinking that you have to acknowledge and pay attention to; because wine has been made for a very long long time and there are some things set in stone on how varietals (the grapes) are supposed to taste like. Learning to taste like the “Pros”; this way is not inexpensive, but if you do it among friends it can be done consistently and there’s nothing more important while learning about wine than talking and listening to others that’s how it sticks in the brain.So let’s talk about that…
You often near people say “Oh, that’s Old World.” “Oh, that’s a New World wine.” Let’s get one thing straight. There is awesome wine being made all over the planet and there has been a lot of updating and rebirth happening over the last 50 years. There’s a lot of money to be made these days.
When it comes to the character and style of wine it really boils down to 4 or 5 places maybe a few more with some pockets here and there in some very historical wine countries. Wow! Now before you tar and feather me about this fact. I will explain and honestly there is no eccentricity permitted from this school of thought...It’s not set in stone, but it is close.
Most French wines are good to taste with because they have a lengthy track record and are made following laws that are firm, developed and methodical. Places like Loire, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone and Champagne can be relied on for the character of the grape along with the style which has gone through extensive and consistent documentation.
So places in Spain like Ribera Del Duero, and La Mancha are not acceptable for benchmark tasting, perhaps Priorat though…
You see that is the key. There has to a model or “The Ideal Benchmark” where you know characteristic or style comes from.We live in a period of wine discovery and there is a wine revolution going on. The thing is to learn what “The Ideal Benchmark” for the wine region or style is and you do that by picking one or two and remembering and realizing and knowing it. That’s how you know the classics. I relate to it this way too. It’s like thinking about the intricacy of all the Beatles songs and thinking about all their influences and listening to their stuff.
Well then, how do you remember and realize and know this stuff. Try to train your palate to spot aromas and flavors (I made up and posted a chart that can get you started). Also try to do it with friend too. Find a wine guy you can work with at a wine store to chat things up. Try to travel to wine country. It’s hard to do it alone; but it can certainly be done.
Let’s move on to just some of these ‘Ideal Benchmarks’…Which can set you back $50 a pop. But remember the goal here is to get the idea of the characteristic and style of the benchmark.
- Merlot should taste like wines from Pomerol which is kind of rare even though it’s well known…demand also outstrips supply. So it’s more expensive. It’s fleshy, supple with minerality. Try Chateau Bourgneuf Pomerol and Chateau Lafleur-Gazin an entry level.
- Pinot Noir should taste like wines from Burgundy, Oregon has also reached classic status in my book Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin and Louis Latour Volnay 1er Cru En Chevret…The Oregon Pinot’s are less expensive. Tempranillo should only be from old school Rioja like Muga or LAN. Try a Reserve or Grand Reserve some which are in $20 - $40 range.
- Chardonnay has some terrific values Mâcon and Chablis are the two places to look. Look for lemon, pears and some creaminess, flowers, limestone, minerality and barely a hint of oak. Try Louis Latour’s Pouilly-Vinzelles and Simonnet-Febvre at about $20.
- Sangiovese from Tuscany where the classics come from Chianti and Brunello Montalcino. Herbal, strong nose nice tarty cherry or some earthiness and spice, ruby red garnet with acidity. If it’s real dark it’s a more modern style because they are using more oak. Try Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG and the Friggiali Brunello di Montalcino $20-$40.
- Cabernet Sauvignon is a great grape! Reach for the Pauillac region of Bordeaux. Black currants(cassis), black cherries, Hints of herbs and bell peppers, tobacco and cedar. When Cabernet is very ripe blackberries come out in front… the blackberries conquer and you get the plums and the jam flavors (happens a lot in Napa Valley). Cabernet Sauvignon can sometimes have vicious tannins and in Bordeaux it is blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc to legendary success. Old Bordeaux’s bring on the flavors of leather, meat and mushrooms and have what I call a Robin Hood effect with suggests a cool forest. The older they get the more they can be easily mistaken for Syrah/Shiraz. Try Château Batailley it is a rock-solid about $50 wine that rates high and may find this wine's prices somewhat reasonable compared to the other and I mean that seriously. Château Pontet-Canet is another reasonably priced, very well-made Pauillac. Try Cabernet’s from the Santa Cruz Mountains just for kicks as well.