What’s The Best Wine Tasting Note You’ve Seen?

My nomination, from CellarTracker, is the following…

Deep and brooding on the nose, like Rodan’s The Thinker blindfolded in Sylvia Plath’s gas-filled oven. Intense asian spice & unsmoked Cuban cigar rolled on the inner thigh of Fidel’s freshly-taken-from-the-market-at-Castro’s-behest, soon-to-be favorite concubine. Perhaps this virgin was wearing a**-less chaps due to the slightest hint of leather. Dark cherries picked at the height of ripeness by intinerant (sic) workers with a touch of soil on their adept cherry-picking digits and intense tannins build to a height that would repel the most fervent Berserker Mongol hordes. It doesn’t just sweep the leg, Johnny, it’s a full-on crane kick to the face. 92+ pts.

It was a fun read for me, and I couldn’t help but smile as I read it.  Over the top? You betcha!  But at the same time, I got a great sense for what the wine was about.

Up for a bit more fun?… answer the question below.  I’ll post the result in the comments section later this week…

Q & A With Richard Jennings; The Man Who Tasted 5000 Wines Last Year

I recently posted a blog about Richard Jennings of RJonWine.com, the most prolific wine taster I know.  Richard was kind enough to grant me an interview, which covered a wide range of topics. The interview has been edited for length and is focused on wine tasting.

Q. How did you come to be interested in wine, and how long have you been drinking wine?

A. I first started drinking wine my sophomore year at Stanford, when I was at the overseas campus in Britain and we made a field trip to Italy. It was just a simple Chianti, but I loved how it worked with the meal. In my senior year at Stanford, I lived in the French Theme House, and we had a French chef and wine with dinner every night. That same year I made my first visit to wine country in Napa. I didn’t get heavily into European wine, though, until 2000.  Some of the older Bordeaux, Rhônes and Sauternes they served amazed me for their complexity and layers of flavor. After that I was really hooked, and started taking classes and reading books on wine.

Q. What advice would you give to an individual who is just starting to enjoy wine?

A. I would recommend finding a wine store in your area that does tastings on a regular basis. By going to as many tastings as you have time for, you start to learn what kind of wines most appeal to you. Good retailers should be able to dialogue with you, and if you tell them what you like about a wine or two in a given tasting, they should be able to direct you to other similar wines that you might like. The most important thing at the beginning, though, I think, is to find out what you like by starting to explore the immense diversity of wine that’s available out there. And you can only do that by tasting.

Q. How can one develop their ability to describe the aromas and flavors in wine?

A. This can be a very intimidating aspect of wine tasting at first. Most of us aren’t used to smelling our beverages, or food, and trying to describe what else it smells like and reminds us of. It is a discipline peculiar to serious wine tasting (which is also found amongst specialized, paid tasters of other products, like coffee, cheeses and chocolate). There are aids out there, like aroma wheels and the WSET list of tasting descriptors. Some of these are helpful in reminding us of what the different red fruits are, or savory aromas, so that we can try to get as specific as possible about what we’re smelling and tasting. I learned from some of my chef friends when I first started tasting, as they seem to develop strong sense memories in the course of cooking and deciding on spices and other ingredients to include in new dishes they create. I’d often ask them what they were smelling, and once they identified it, I could smell it too. It’s important to start smelling other foods, fruits, flowers and everyday items in our lives, to get a better fix on those aromas, so we can better identify them when we come across them in wine. There are also products like the “Nez du Vin,” which include vials of various common aromas found in wine—like coffee, vanilla and dried mushroom—that one can use to train oneself in learning to identify those common smells. Like anything else one is starting to learn, you have to force yourself to smell for a while and see if you can identify familiar scents. It helps to write them down and see if there are common descriptors that come up for certain kinds of wine.  It definitely takes practice and effort.  It’s a new muscle one has to start to exercise to really develop.

Q. You describe yourself as student of wine – what resources have your found helpful in expanding your knowledge of wine?

A.  Two of the most essential wine reference books out there are Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s World Atlas of Wine, and The Oxford Companion to Wine, edited by Jancis Robinson.  It’s also important to meet winemakers and get their perspective on the challenges and techniques for making wine, and to find out why they make the choices they do.  It’s also important to visit wine regions one is interested in, to get a visceral, physical sense of how the terroir impacts the wines one loves.

Q. According to your wine aesthetic, the two most important aspects of wine for you are balance, and complexity – how can one learn to assess the balance and complexity of wine?

A. Balance, for me, means that the primary aspects of the wine—acidity, alcohol, fruit, residual sugar, and tannins—complement and relate harmoniously with each other, with no particular aspect dominating or seeming obtrusive. Doing some tastings and taking particular note of these aspects of the wine will help to give one a sense of what balance tastes like, and also of what it tastes like when the acidity, alcohol or tannins, for example, are obtrusive, depriving the wine of a sense of balance. By complexity, I mean the flavors one discerns in the wine. A simple wine only shows one or two flavors, giving a monochromatic feel on the palate. A complex wine may have a multitude of flavor impressions, and these can change with time in the glass. My favorite wines are the ones with this kind of complexity. I think this is even easier to learn to assess than balance. You taste and try to pick out how many flavors you are sensing, especially after giving the wine some time in the glass to open up. If there are more than a couple of flavors, it has some complexity. If there are a lot of flavors showing, it’s quite complex.

Q. Finish is generally regarded as indicative of the quality of a wine – how do you assess the finish of a wine both in terms of wine tasting technique and how long the finish lasts?

A. When I first got started doing serious tastings of fine wine, I used to actually time the finish of the wines, so I could better understand what critics were talking about in terms of short and long finishes. I took to calling a finish of less than 30 seconds a short finish, more than 30 seconds a medium finish, and 45 seconds to a minute or longer, a long finish. That basic sense of the time of a finish is now so ingrained in me, I can now, simply estimate it. I do generally give higher points to wines with longer finishes, and will subtract points for particularly short finishes.

For the full text of the interview, including how he trained himself to taste over a 100 wines at an event, the evolution of Richard’s palate,  and his favorite wines, among other topics click here.

My Wine Tasting Hero…

March 2006 tasting panel convened to determine...

Image via Wikipedia

While getting a bit of exercise this morning, I was catching up on some of the wine blogs I enjoy reading when I came across this post by Richard Jennings of “RJ on Wine.com”, wherein he summarizes his tasting notes of 128 from 30 producers at the annual Rhone Rangers tasting in San Francisco a couple of weekends ago. “RJ” is the most prolific wine taster I’ve come across!  The man is a wine tasting machine!  And what’s more amazing to me, is that he does this while maintaining his “day job” being an HR executive!

I first came across RJ via Cellar Tracker, where according to his blog he holds “the record for most tasting notes (currently over 21,000 and counting)”!   Likewise, I use Cellar Tracker to track and review wines.  He first came to my attention because as I would post my tasting notes, I would see his name pop up more than a few times because he’d reviewed the same wine.  At the time, I was less confident in my ability to taste and write reviews of wine.  Yet, I noticed that his scores and mine were comparable most of the time.  That gave me some confidence in my ability to taste and review wines.  That was well over a year ago. Since then I’ve made a few attempts to quickly summarize my tasting notes when tasting wines at various wine events.  It’s very challenging work. And I do mean work!  It requires much more discipline and organization than the uninitiated might think.

Nowadays, I find myself a bit conflicted between putting in the work necessary to capture meaningful tasting notes on more than a handful or so of wines, and simply enjoying an event.  For the time being, I suppose I’ve settled on a compromise, which is to blog about the most memorable wines.  The compromise comes in part because my wife and I attend wine events together, and it would be virtually impossible to both enjoy our time together at the event and put in work. But part of the compromise is also because I simply haven’t acquired all the skills necessary to taste, summarize and recount, as I said, more than 5-10 wines at this point.  It’s a work in process, and I’ll get better at it.  But I’ll never be an RJ!  And that’s OK.

There is a link to “RJ on Wine.com” on my blogroll.  Check it out sometime.

In Vino Veritas!

Riesling Week 2010 is upon us!

Looking to try something new? Well it’s the 6th Annual Riesling Week July 26th-August 1. Sure it’s just another marketing gimmick to pry hard earned dollars from our hands, but so is a Gatorade commercial! Think of it as an opportunity to try a new white wine (Please…step away from the Chard/Sauvignon Blanc, and no one will be hurt;-!). As part of Riesling week there are specials at restaurants in NY, Chicago, SF, Miami, and Vegas.

I say skip the restaurant, and go to your local wine shop and take the dive. Don’t know much about Riesling? Here’s a bit of 411.

Riesling in one of the three “noble” white grapes, along with Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. A noble grape is a term from way way back in the day to describe grapes considered to produce the highest quality wines. Rieslings are certainly that! They’re produced in a wide range of styles from dry to very sweet dessert wines. The best are made in Germany, and France, but you can find U.S. produced Rieslings from the Finger Lakes region of NY, and of course California. What I like about Reisling is that it’s an aromatic grape that typically produces wines with almost perfumed aromas of flowers, and stone fruits (apples, pears, peaches, and apricot), and it’s high in acidity. Because it’s high in acidity, that makes it a versatile wine for pairing with food. In fact, if I had to pick one white wine, and one red wine, and I had no clue about what would kind of food would be served, I’d go with a Riesling for the white, and a Pinot Noir for the red because they’re both high in acidity and go well with the widest range of foods. And if you like Thai, Vietnamese, or Chinese, Rieslings go especially well with most Asian cuisines.

Here’s food/wine pairing tip – Spicy foods likes sweet wines…

As for me, I’m going to pop and pour a 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Riesling Eroica I’ve stay away from far too long! Check back for my review later this week – click on the http:// cellartracker.com links under “Wine Reviews on Cellar Tracker, etc.. to see my review…

Happy Riesling Week!