Musings on the Vine
Musings on the Vine
Musings on the Vine Musings on the Vine
Musings on the Vine
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Musings on the Vine
Musings on the Vine

Wine Tasting Tool Box
  - Introduction

Wine tasting is one of those activities where what you get out depends on what you put in. On those lazy afternoons, which seem to be fewer and farther between these days, when I’m on the porch sipping some “pretty little quaffer” from a terrific little region in the south of France, I’m really not investing a whole lot in the activity.

The Tool Box

But then I’m also not expecting much either: simple pleasure, relaxation, something to ease my mind of the drudgery of the day-to-day.

Now maybe it’s the engineer in me, or maybe it’s because my Myers-Briggs tells me I’m an ENTJ (I like to have a plan…some would characterize me as obsessive-compulsive…) but when I’m tasting “with purpose” I need to think of wine tasting as a structured activity. It’s easier to think about it in these terms because as one gets more “serious” about wine tasting, the application of structure is helpful to create an organized process. Having a simple, consistent process is really a large part of what makes professional wine tasters successful.

Another important factor in wine tasting is that “the process,” whatever it is, works for you. We are all individuals and our sensory thresholds vary, sometimes considerably. Wine tasting involves assessment through assimilation and interpretation of sensory inputs. Wine tasting also involves opinion. As we develop from childhood we are in a constant process of forming opinions around our taste buds. Often times, flavors that we didn’t like as a child become tastes we like as an adult, and vice-versa. Along with the development of taste opinions comes the development of taste memories. Remember when you were a child and you got violently ill on Aunt Philly’s stuffed artichokes? No? Well I do. Maybe it wasn’t artichokes, but I’m sure there is something in everyone’s past that forces the “run-and-hide” reaction (or worse…). Funny thing is, more than 30 years after my fateful date with those artichokes I still get “squirrelly” around artichokes. What do you think this reaction does when I’m tasting a wine and suddenly realize that I’m smelling, or worse, tasting, Aunt Philly’s fateful artichokes? Yup, you guessed it, poor marks for that unfortunate wine. Now it is true that as adults we have the power to acquire tastes, which is important to undo the bad lessons we learned in our youth (or sometimes in our reckless college days). “Acquiring” to me translates to practice. Practice effectively re-wires our minds so that our “gut” reactions are controlled. More on this when we talk about developing our “recognition threshold.”

Now, back to process. There are many variables in wine tasting. Some would argue too many, which is what makes it so damn confusing. The goal is to develop a process wherein you try to reign in all of the variables before you. Another aspect of developing “your process” is keeping in mind that there are really only three tools available to help with the tasting exercise: Sight, Smell, and Taste. The final thing to keep in mind about “your process” is repeatability. The process must be consistently repeatable. As one begins to get more serious about wine tasting, one finds that the ability to consistently repeat the tasting cycle, each time pulling more data from the sample, is the real distinction between what I call tasting for pleasure versus tasting for assessment, or analysis.

Next: Part 1: Sight >


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