Archive for June, 2013


Earning your wine tasting diploma

Posted on Jun 26 2013 | By

With a little knowledge you can graduate magna cum tasty

Virginia is home to some 230 wineries; up from zero since the mid-60s and making the Old Dominion the fifth largest wine producing state in the Nation. In Fauquier County twenty-five tasting rooms grace our bucolic countryside.

Morais Vineyards & Winery

Morais Vineyards & Winery

If you haven’t already visited one—or only rarely—there are a few things that will enhance your experience when dropping by a local vineyard. Tasting wine is fun but there’s even more enjoyment awaiting you once you’re armed with a little wine savvy.

First, the infamous “wine snob” is a rare creature seldom seen in front of or behind a tasting bar. Intimidation is not something you are going to encounter at a Virginia winery. Owners and employees are eager to share their knowledge in a down-home style.  And why? Because they are genuinely nice people, of course. But they also want you to come back. Having fun is a sure draw for follow-up visits.

So the first rule in wine tasting is to relax. This is not going to be a scary experience.

Second, there are two types of wine enjoyment: tasting and drinking. The former is devoted to understanding the nuances of the wine before you. The latter is to simply drink up. Both are acceptable ways to appreciate the nectar of the gods but combining the experiences will double your pleasure and double your fun.

Have you ever encountered a tasting note similar to this:Displaying flavors of clementine and candied grapefruit peel, with touches of dried apricot and pine needle. Hints of honey and smoke weave through the seamless texture and resonate on the long finish.

All that in a sip of wine? Come on, get serious.

One can be forgiven after reading many of today’s wine descriptions, if a giggle is followed by a low muttered, “Yeah, right”. It’s difficult to believe that anyone could actually taste the exotic things they purport to write about. It all seems a bit too frou-frou.

Most of us do not focus on the subtle flavors in food and drink. Our wine descriptors fall more along the lines of…crisp, fruity, sweet, spicy, dry, and hopefully, delicious. The art of tasting is largely a learned skill. And taking the time to try and understand the aroma and flavor of wine will deepen your appreciation of this ancient beverage. That’s the primary job of your winery host.

As you progress through a flight of wines, the aroma and palate descriptions in the wines will be described in the tasting notes and by the employee pouring the wine. See if you can pick up any of the sensorial elements being expressed. The moment you realize, by gosh, that does taste like black cherry will be a memorable one.

Here’s an easy four step method to help you reach tasting nirvana:

The beauty of wine begins with its colors. From the pale straw gold of a sauvignon blanc to the ruby hue of a cabernet franc. When you pour your first glass, take a moment to embrace the clarity and depth of color of the wine. Holding the glass against a light and letting it catch the various angles of natural and house lighting sets the stage for what you are about to further explore.

Swirl the glass to release its aromas. Place the glass under your nose and breathe deeply. Come on.  You can stick your nose in deeper that that!  Inhaling through you nose begins telling the wine story. Smell the taste. In fact, you might do this several times before you take your first sip. Build tension—it has its rewards.

Now comes the heart of the wine experience–your first sip. Take a few small sips and roll the wine around your mouth a bit. It may seem odd, but all those flavors you are about to enjoy are actually a result of your olfactory bulb.  What?  OK, your nose.

The olfactory bulb is located at the top your nose and actually sends signals to your brain about what you are tasting based on what you are actually smelling. Our palates only have four taste sensations: salt, sweet, sour and bitter. The apricot, lemon, pineapple, raspberry, cherry, mocha and sundry other tastes are simply aromas rising off your palate and passing through the olfactory bulb. The more you swirl the wine in your mouth the greater perception of flavors will emerge.

After tasting, swallowing the wine comes naturally. No instructions needed here.  However, look for a sensation on your palate that experts call a “finish.” Wine comes with an aftershock, albeit a nice one. In fact, the longer a quality finish remains on your palate the better a wine is rated. World-class wines can linger on the tongue for up to a minute after they are swallowed.

A sip of Cabernet might start out as a bit sweet and tannic and then blossom into black cherry, chocolate and smoke as the aromas pass over our olfactory epithelium. Messages are sent to your brain to confirm the aromas as specific flavors. Taste and smell work together to create our perception of flavor.

On to the drinking
Once the tasting is over it’s time to purchase a glass or bottle—assuming you’ve  found a wine you liked—and adjourn to the lounge or deck for some convivial conversation with family or friends. The “educational” portion of the winery visit is over and its time to simply enjoy your purchase. Within a few minutes you’ll begin to experience the power of wine as a social lubricant.

While the tasting segment of your winery visit has passed, take a moment here or there to re-experience what you discovered at the tasting bar. Hold your glass against the light to again embrace the color of the wine. Pause from time to time to smell and enjoy the aromatics. See if the honeysuckle or black cherry flavors are still on the palate from when you first tasted the wine. Simply put: extract as much value from your purchase as possible.

Excursion tips
So what other advice might wine newbies benefit from as they work toward their wine tasting degree?

Take your time. Your understanding and appreciation of the wines you taste will reveal themselves more fully if you simply slow down. Plan on visiting no more than three wineries on a given day. The old chestnut, “haste makes waste” should become your three-word management plan for extracting maximum enjoyment from each winery visit.

Take at least three or four cellar tours during the early months of your tasting odyssey. You will gain greater insight into how wine is produced, enriching your understanding of both the simplicity–and complexity–of winemaking. By availing yourself of these free educational tours you will deepen your delight of the fruit of the vine.

Barrel Oak Tasting Room

Barrel Oak Tasting Room

Make written comments on tasting notes so as to learn which wineries you have enjoyed visiting. A simple file kept at home will refresh you on the wines you found most delightful. It can also lead to a compilation of your “Top Ten” favorite establishments.

Another fun way to better understand Virginia wines is to drink them along side a bottle of the same varietal, from another state or country. Sound wasteful or over indulgent? Not at all. For instance, at home, open a bottle of Virginia Chardonnay and a bottle of California Chardonnay and sip and compare them side by side. Then, use a rubber stopper and pump (available at any wine shop) to keep the remaining wines fresh for the next few days and enjoy the experience over again.

Comparing wines enhances your appreciation and knowledge of like varietals hailing from different wine producing regions.

Engage your fellow tasters during your tastings. Often wonderful exchanges unfold as complete strangers begin a conversation about their mutual love of wine. And don’t be surprised if your new found friends hail from distant states, or even overseas. Tasting room guests are drawn from points worldwide.

Ask questions freely. Your hosts will enjoy educating you in a variety of wine related subjects. And if they don’t know the answer to a query, it should send them scurrying to get the information.

Most winery employees enjoy being stumped with a wine question. It presents an opportunity to grow their knowledge and be ready when the same question inevitably crops up again. But you are not going to trip them up very often. These folks know their stuff.

Finally, if you find your love of all things wine increasing, consider seeking a job behind the tasting bar yourself. Many wineries are looking for part-time employees, especially on weekends and holidays when the crowds swell.

You are typically offered generous discounts on wine purchases and will be in the company of fellow enophiles. And the best part is the infectious camaraderie you will experience among both the guests and employees. It makes for a most enjoyable work environment.

Your local continuing wine education program is being sponsored daily by the wineries in your area. Enroll today and be the first on your block to receive a wine tasting diploma. Cheers!


Published in the 2013-2014 Guide to Fauquier.


Categories : WINE ARTICLES