You might be baffled by the title of this post, but I promise to explain. I even expect that it will make sense in the end and will not be boring. No, this post will not be talking about kinds of machinery necessary to properly taste wine. Wine, in its seeming simplicity, has a mystic aura surrounding it. Perceived taste of wine is definitely one of the areas where mystery of wine unfolds – and this is what I want to discuss.
Quite frankly, blog post by W. Blake Gray “Why expensive wines taste better: Psychology 101” prompted me to think about subject of taste of wine, and the factors which affect the perceived taste. Being a computer engineer by education, I like to use an orderly approach when a phenomena needs to be analyzed. But wine has nothing to do with computer engineering you contend? True, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t use some interesting tools to put the thoughts in order. As a side note, I want to mention that I have experience successfully using engineer approach in totally non-engineering subjects – in college, together with my friend Alexander (Sasha) we converted whole semester course of philosophy into block-charts, one night before exam. It worked!
Please relax – there will be no block-charts or algorithms in this post. For putting the thoughts in order I would like to use tool from the Mind Mapping category, called FreeMind – you can find it on internet, and if not – send me a message and I will help. This tool allows you to put your thoughts in order, and then do the analysis. How? Let’s see. So here is the group of factors which affect the perceived taste of wine (good/bad, tasty/disguising and so on): Organoleptic (smell, color, taste and so on), Tools which can alter the taste, Expectations and Environment – note, that these are only my thoughts, though. Here is the same – but in the format of the mind map:
What are this “Expectations”, or what does “Environment” means, and do I include screwdriver into the “Tools” and why, you may ask? Let’s add one more level of details and then talk about it. So here is the expanded picture:
Now, there is a lot more we can talk about. Let’s start with expectations. There is a lot of factors which might influence our opinion about the wine by setting our expectations prior to opening the bottle. Do Ratings affect perceived taste of wine? You bet! “Robert Parker gave this wine 97 rating, I’m sure it should taste amazing”. “This wine is rated at 95 by Wine Spectator – I’m sure it will taste great!”. And then it does not – for you personally, it doesn’t. And there is nothing wrong with you – may be you are just in bad mood, or may be this magnificent Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley simply doesn’t work well with Chinese sweet and sour chicken, or may be this is just not the wine you like. Those critics who rated the wine 95 points have to be objective ( this is their job), but you, consumer, don’t have to – like/don’t like is the best rating (we will discuss this in the future).
Where the wine was made (“I love the wines from Napa”, “German wines are the best in the world”…), who made it (“ahh, it is Petrus”, “oh my, this wine is made by Screaming Eagle”) and the price (“I paid $100 for this bottle!”, “yeah, I only paid $10 for this bottle”) – all will (or at least, might) influence the perceived taste. Do other people opinions affect our expectations? Absolutely. What about books, articles and advertisements? Yep, most definitely. However, it is very important to note that the more you learn about wines, and by learning I mostly mean trying different styles of wines coming from different regions, the less “affecting” these factors become.
Will the temperature affect the taste of wine? Of course. Will proper (or improper) decanting affect taste of wine – yes, in many cases. Some of the factors, such as decanting, might affect the taste in the two different ways – one is simply aesthetics, with the expectations are set with the sheer “wow” factor of the proper decanting, and another one is a physical effect, by allowing the wine to “breathe” , open up to reach the optimum flavor profile (yes, there is more to the decanting, but this is not what this post is all about).
We can go and discuss the factors one by one for a long time – it will make this post very long – and probably equally boring. But as we have an advantage of playing with the mind map, let me simply give you more food for thought – here is fully expanded version of this mind map. Remember, it is just a momentary snapshot of your thought process, and it is as fluid as thoughts themselves:
Before we conclude, I would like to touch on of the important factors which is hiding there in the “Environment” group – blind wine tasting. Of course there are different levels of “blindness”. When you taste the wines as part of the Master Sommelier exams, you have no information about the wine, outside of what you can see, smell and taste. In many other cases, you know only a small piece of information – for instance, tasting the wines during the Windows of the World Wine School classes, we knew the region (Bordeaux, California…), but nothing beyond that. Why it is important to taste the wine blind? It eliminates most of the influencing factors which get in the way of you establishing very simple relationship with the glass of wine you have in your hand – I like it, or I don’t.
Well, I think it is enough for this post. I would love to hear from you – was it boring, was it interesting, am I totally off in my thought process. If you want more information on the mind mapping – I will be glad to send you links. If you want the mind map file for the Taste of Wine – drop me a note, I will be glad to send it to you. And most importantly, tell me your wine tasting stories – and keep learning about the wines!
In one of the previous posts, I came up with the term “dangerous wine” – the wine which is so smooth and so good, once you start drinking it, you pretty much can’t put the glass down until the wine is all gone. Here come the second wine from Spain which I also have to declare “dangerous”.
It is called Claraval and it is coming from the Calatayud region. This wine is a blend of four grapes – Garnacha (50%), Tempranillo (20%), Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) and Syrah (10%). The wine has sour cherries on the nose, and it opens up into a beautiful array of spices and fruit, with earthy notes coming through, all complemented by balancing acidity and tannins. If anything, this wine is reminiscent of good Southern Rhone wines (which is not surprising as it shares the same main grape, Grenache, known as Garnacha in Spain), but it definitely has its own character. Judging by the mid-palate weight and tannins, this wine will also do well in the cellar – and I was glad to see that Robert Parker think the same, giving this wine 91 rating and saying that wine will evolve all the way into 2020.
So, how much do you think such wine should cost? Nope, it is not $30, which would not be surprising at such a level of quality, it is only… $11.99, so it definitely has very high QPR. This is definitely the wine to buy by the case.
And now, it is time for the verdict (of course you already guessed it):
What is next? The trip to Long Island wineries, which is almost a annual tradition by now – a trip to Long Island wineries in the Fall, when it is already not hot, and still very beautiful. Off we go (well, the team members have to wake up first). Report to follow…
While I’m trying to avoid repeating the same category, I guess the desire to reach the coveted 300 grape varieties (honestly – sometimes I really wonder why…) is forcing my daily glass choices… So here is a quick report on two new varieties (well, actually 3, but more details are down below) – Freisa and Rufete.
Freisa - Monferrato Chiaretto Berro Rosato Pico Maccario 2009. Nice clean Rose, with aromas of the fresh fruit, strawberries and slightly under-ripe plums and refreshing acidity. Very nice wine, I would rate it at 7+.
Rufete – Gazela Rose N/V, Portugal. Interesting wine (you can see my true meaning of “interesting” here). This wine doesn’t have much going, except slight effervescence and nice pink color. But at least it is +1 grape.
From time to time we make some unexpected ( and pleasant ) discoveries. While looking through the list of the wine grapes on Wikipedia in a search of “what else can I reasonably find in order to get to 300 grapes”, I noticed the grape with then name I never heard of (of course it was not the only one, but nevertheless) – the grape called Alexandrouli. It appears that this grape is used to produce a Georgian semi-sweet wine called Khvanchkara, which I had before a number of times. End result – one additional grape to the list
Alexandruli - Khvanchkara, Georgia
Whatever it is to this Treble Journey, but now I’m getting questions and advises – how about this grape, and what about that grape – and I really appreciate all the help! If anyone got any suggestions about finding wines with unique grapes – that would be simply great! 34 more to go – come on, people!
For those who is just joining us and for those who forgot: if you wonder what this mysterious journey is, please take a look at this post. As I was wondering in my last post if there can be too many wines in the tasting, I’m continuing here with the update on the progress of the “treble journey”, inching on the ultimate destination point – 300 different grapes. Well, if tasting of the new grape can be defined as “inching”, or in other words, moving forward by an inch, then as a result of the last wine tasting I made more than a foot of the progress – 16 different grapes in one day. Considering that we are talking about that many grapes, I will simply list grapes and wines without providing much of the detailed notes or ratings (besides, with some of the wines, I will be very happy to never try them again…). Here is the list:
Ansonica – Donnafugata Anthilia White 2008, Sicily
Bovale Sardo – Serralori Rosato IGT 2009, Italy
Drupeggio – Palazzone Orvieto 2009, Italy
Frapatto, Nerello Capuccio – Dievole Fourplay Rosso 2007, Italy
Mantonico – Efeso Bianco IGT 2005, Italy
Moristel = Marbore 2003, Spain
Moscato Reale – Apianae 2007, Italy
Muscardin, Terret, Vaccarese - Domaine de Beaurenard Chateauneuf duPape Boisrenard Red 2007, France
Muscat de Frontignan – Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2005, South Africa
Nuragus - Selegas DOC 2009, Italy
Rabo de Ovelha – Loios White 2009, Portugal
Roscetto - Ferentano Bianco Lazio IGT 2007
Scheurebe - Joseph Phelps Eisrebe 2005, California
So while it is great to add a big number of new grapes, each additional grape makes the “journey” more and more difficult, as now you need to search far and wide in order to find the new grape. But – this search and anticipation are big part of the process, so lets enjoy it.
To sum up – there are still 38 more grapes to go… Unique grape suggestions, anyone?
Assuming you like wine ( otherwise, I don’t think you would be reading this blog), what would you say of a prospect of trying many hundreds of wines in a day ( about 5 hours, to be precise)? I would think at first you would get excited, right. Now, let’s do some simple math – let’s say you will be tasting 500 wines, 1 oz each… will make it equal to 20 (!) bottles of wine. Don’t think that sounds appealing anymore? This is where the bucket with romantic name “spittoon” comes to the rescue (I’m sure many of you are appalled now – what, spit wines?! No way!) – but this is what the professionals have to do. So why is all this talk about professionals and wasted wine? Simply because that this past weekend, thanks to my friend Zak, an owner of Cost Less Wine and Liquors store in Stamford, I was able to join him in the “trade-only” wine tasting events run by two of the Connecticut wine wholesalers, Wine Bow and World Wide Wines.
Believe it or not, tasting wines in such quantities is a hard work. Of course nobody tastes 50o wines in the row – spitting or not, but your palate gets really tired from tasting and tasting and tasting, and while I’m looking only for the fun component of such an event, people in the trade have to actually make business decisions – getting right wines for the store or a restaurant is a border line between success and failure. Luckily, this hard work is associated with pleasure, so enough of the sad picture – no need to take pity. Yes, it is a great opportunity to try an amazing variety of wines, a lot of them being simply great wines, and for me personally it was also an opportunity to make progress in the treble journey ( which I did), but I will report on this in the next post.
It is impossible ( and probably pointless) to write about all the great wines – but I would like to mention a few highlights. First, among the Cabernet Sauvignon, Neyers Ranch Conn Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 and 2006 were simply outstanding, with pure Cabernet expression of black currant, chocolate and hint of eucalyptus, all beautifully balanced. Ladera Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, Lone Canyon and Howell Mountain were all between excellent and outstanding – again, with beautiful and clean California Cabernet expression at its best. It is also worth mentioning that all of these wines are quite accessible with retail prices at $30 – $60 per bottle. Few more personal highlights among the reds were Morgan Monterey Syrah 2007 (less than $20 retail), amazing 100% Syrah demonstrating all the “textbook” Syrah spicy qualities, and then couple of Zinfandels, Bradford Mountain Dry Creek and Bradford Mountain “Grist” by C. Donatiello Winery, both from 2005.
There were a lot of great white wines, but I would like to mention only one, again as personal favorite – the wine called Eisrebe by Joseph Phelps. This is desert wine made from the grape called Scheurebe ( that was a nice surprise for my “treble journey”), and it is done in the style of the Ice wines, except that as there is no chance for the grapes in California to naturally freeze at -8C, special cryogenic methods used to achieve “ice” wine result. The wine had an amazing balance of the white fruits, honey and ripe comice pears with refreshing acidity, so it was not overpowering the palate. Amazingly enough to me, this wine was also perfectly complementing wide variety of desserts, which is not very common from my experience.
All in all – it was a great fun, and I have to conclude that when it comes to the wine tasting, there can be no too much of a good thing (well, a “good thing” is an important hint here), and therefore I will gladly repeat it at any time.
As promised, here is an update on the Kosher wines we had during the Rosh Hashanah celebration. Starting with white, the first one was wine with a tricky name Chateneuf, coming from Bordeaux in France. This wine made out of the Semillon and Muscadelle grapes and stated to be semi-dry. When chilled to the ice-cold condition, the wine does show as semi-dry, but as it had some off flavor, borderline corked, so I would simply avoid rating this wine now.
The next wine came from Israeli producer called Teperberg. In one of the previous posts I already talked about Teperberg Malbec. This time we had a bottle of Teperberg Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 – it was a nice wine, showing some good Cabernet Sauvignon flavors, like black currant and blueberries, but appearing a little weak on the palate. Still, the wine did drink well, so here is the verdict:
Last, but definitely not least is Vitkin Carignan 2004. Vitkin is one of the best Israeli wine producers – but its wines are literally unavailable outside of Israel. Quick search on wine searcher produced no results for the USA, and even worldwide search showed Vitkin wines available only in one store in Germany, at least as it comes to buying the wine online. Therefore, you need to rely on your good friends in order to enjoy Vitkin and many other small production Israeli wines outside of Israel. This Vitkin Carignan 2004 showed deep purple color, very nice nose of spicy fruits and then showed pepper and earthy notes on the palate with layered complexity. Judging by the tannins and midpalate density, I opened this bottle about 4-5 years too soon, but oh well, I will have to rely on my dear friends in the hope to experience this wine again (hmmm, did that just sound needy?).
Talking about “other updates”: I undertook a small project of compiling a list of highly rated wines I kept the records of in my books (for more information regarding my record keeping you can refer to the About page), and this list is now available in the Wine Ratings page. This list comprises 8- and above rated wines, accumulated starting from 2003 (this is when I started keeping the labels and the notes) all the way until now. Take a look, I’m sure you will see some familiar names. I’m sure some wines in that list will raise an eyebrow or two – but I decided to simply comb through the books, find everything rated 8- and above, and not to second-guess myself. Subject of wine ratings will make it into a separate post I’m planning to write for a while, so until then – cheers!
This is a quick update on progress of the Treble Journey. Two more grapes added to the list, both somewhat basic but quite rare in terms of ease of finding them. The first one was Aligote, the grape from Burgundy in France, where it is usually used as a blending grape. It is also quite popular in Eastern European countries where it used more by itself. The wine I had, Clos de la Combe Bourgogne Aligote by Domain Jean Chartron, was very nice with the nose and palate of fresh fig and pear, very round and balanced, with good acidity. I would honestly say that this was somewhat of an unexpected surprise – but nice surprises are always good, don’t they? I would rate this wine as 7+ and would definitely try it again.
The second wine, Rosa Regale Brachetto di Acqui DOCG made by venerable Italian producer, Castello Banfi. This is a sweet ( dolce) sparkling wine, which to me was a bit heavy while lacking the acidity. Did not really appreciate this wine by itself, but have to admit it was very good with dessert. I will give it a rating of 6+ in my corner of the world.
Believe it or not, this is it for this post – as I said, this is just a quick report, nothing more, nothing less – it is two up, 53 more to go…
As I mentioned in my previous post, grape called Norton was on my “to try” list for the long time ( ever since I started with The Wine Century club). Finally, during my visit to Chrysalis Vineyards, I got an opportunity to try it in the different versions (Estate 2005, Estate 2006, Locksley Reserve 2005 and Sarah’s Patio Red, a semi-sweet wine). As I also shared the bottle with friends, I decided that it would be appropriate to share this post between daily glass and treble journey.
Talking about whole line of Norton wines I happened to try during the tasting, they were all good wines, or to use the previously given definitions, they were all “pleasant” wines. Not to say that I’m very judgmental, but this would not be my average experience of visiting the wineries. So I’m happy to repeat that I was pleasantly surprised. Now, looking at all those Norton wines, I have to say that while Norton Locksley Reserve 2005 is designated “best” by the winery (if price, $35, is any indicator), and excluding Sarah’s Patio Red, as semi-sweet wine to me is a “special occasion” wine, my favorite was Norton Estate 2005 ($19).
This Norton Estate 2005 wine was very round and supple, with good amount of red fruit, like blackberries, and hint of spicy cedar notes. Soft tannins, fruit and acidity are well balanced, and finish is lingering for a very long time.
My only wish at this point is that the rest of the 55 grapes I still need to get through in my Treble journey would be as good as the grape #245 – Norton, The Real American Grape.
Gigondas is a small appellation in Southern Rhone in France, which produces the wines somewhat similar in style to the famed Chateaneuf du Pape. Absolute majority of the wines are red, and main grape is Granache (up to 80% in the final wine based on AOC laws), with Syrah and other grapes adding up. Grenache is a very versatile red grape, used in a wide range of wines all over the world.
Considering that Robert Parker gave 2007 vintage in Southern Rhone a 98 rating ( of course this rating is generalized for the whole region and nobody expect all the wines to achieve the same rating), I had good expectations for this wine as well ( as I had already a number of great generic Cote du Rhones from 2007 vintage). Unfortunately, that didn’t play out. The problem with this wine was related to alcohol. Yes, yes, the wine is alcoholic beverage, duh, of course. But it is the balance which I’m looking for in wine. While at 14.5% ABV it doesn’t stand out in today’s wine world as super-loaded, somehow the alcohol in this wine was not integrated at all. Burning sensation of alcohol was overpowering all other smells on the nose, and burning sensation of alcohol was absolutely prevalent on the palate, even on the second day. While it was possible to catch a glimpse of leather and pepper, which is a characteristic of Southern Rhone wines, this wine didn’t achieve great deal of balance. So the rating is:
Well, I guess I have to keep trying…
And once again this will be rather a progress report on the road to the Treble status at Wine Century Club. Three new grapes, three unusual names (well, yeah, it would be surprising to see grape #242 being called Merlot).
Domaine Du Ridge Champs de Florence 2008, Quebec, Canada
As I routinely check the grapes for the wines I drink, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this Rose wine was made out of the grape called Seyval Noir. I know Seyval Blanc, which is a popular grape choice for the white wines in the eastern part of US, but Seyval Noir is a new one. The wine, Champs de Florence from Domaine du Ridge is a nice rose wine, with aromas of fresh strawberries ( quite typical for rose), medium body and good refreshing acidity.
Every time I’m lucky enough to come across the wine from Switzerland, I regret that it is almost impossible to find them in US – both traditional ( Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay) and indigenous grapes (Gamaret, Diolinoir, Humagne…) produce very good results there – but the wines are literally unknown outside of Switzerland. This particular white wine is made out of the grape called Heida. I would like to note that every “unknown” grape forces me to do quite a bit of research (and it deserves a separate post) – and based on information available on internet, Heida is a close relative of another grape coming from Jura in France and called Savagnin – however, the information is not strong enough to declare Heida and Savagnin to be identical, so please let me consider Heida a grape on its own for now.
Going back to wine, it has very pleasant nose with aromas of white peaches and hints of white flowers, medium body and nice rounding acidity, all in all making it great wine for summer day. Interesting to note that wine didn’t have enough aromatics to stand up against Asian food, but should work better with mild cheeses ( well, I wish I had another bottle to try it with ).
#244, Raboso Piave
This wine comes from Vigna Dogarina winery in Veneto region in northern Italy. Veneto is well known for its traditional Valpolicella, Amarone and Bardolino wines, though grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot also produce very good results. Ros de Plana is a very good example of that – this blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Raboso Piave is unmistakably Italian wine – dense and earthy on the palate, somewhat of a middle ground between Barolo and Brunello, two of very famous and powerful Italian wines, it opens into a very nice and balanced wine, with spicy oak, walnuts and sour cherries and great midpalate density. This balanced wine will also continue to age very nicely. Just to comment on what seems to be a wine-geek talk, “midpalate density” (essentially the feeling of the liquid weight in your mouth) is a term I recently learned in the article by one of my favorite wine writers, Matt Kramer, regular contributor to the Wine Spectator magazine. Matt Kramer uses midpalate density as a main factor in determining age-worthiness of the wine. One more comment on a comment – to open an article from the link above you might need a subscription to the Wine Spectator online (if you like wine – this is one of the best investments you can make). Anyway, talking about Ros de Plana – here is the rating:
I just hope that I didn’t overwhelm my readers with the wine speak and geek – and if I did – please feel free to slap me…
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