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Off The Vine

Evaluating wine is a personal act

One of the biggest questions I get asked at the shop and at the university remains the same, &

How do I know how to evaluate wine? How do I get better at doing so when I do?&

OK, here are some basics to remember when faced with a glass of wine inches from your nose:

Sight &

Wine, regardless of color, should always be clear to the sight. A cloudy wine indicates all kinds of problems in the wine. The wine could have stability problems, reactivated fermentation or a host of other things going bad.

Clarity is a very big deal in the evaluation of wine, as it is when we judge the wine competitively. An unclear wine will rarely receive a medal because it is the fingerprint of something going wrong in the wine.

With today&

s fine winemaking techniques available, clarity is the accepted practice in all wines. Older red wines may have sediment in the glass but this is a far different phenomena than a hazy or unclear glass of vino.

Color &

The big problem hear is &


Wine, not unlike a piece of fruit (wine is liquid fruit) when cut or bitten into, will quickly brown with air time which is telling us (in simple terms) that the fruit is losing its freshness and stability in front of our eyes.

Older wines will have a tawny quality around the rim of the glass, which really is not considered a brown indication. Older, sweet white wines will also have an amber tint to them.

A dark or muddy brown in a wine is to be looked at as an indication that the wine is most probably gone or quickly going bad.

Smell &

The first indication when smelling a glass of wine is usually the best you will get on that glass. What hits the nose on the first hit of bouquet is, for the most part, the predominant quality of the wine.

Many wine folks try very hard to &


for the &

hidden truth&

in a glass of wine, which I find, overall, pretty funny. I&

ve seen people in the wine industry wax forever over the bouquet in a glass of wine when the truth of the matter was that the wine was never that interesting in the first place!

My advice to beginning and advanced wine tasters is to move on, get the overall impression of the wine in the nose and enjoy the wine. If you smell something not nicely wine related, say a chemical problem in the bouquet of the wine, don&

t drink the wine.

There are so many nice wines out there that there is no reason to drink a wine that is marginal in any sense.

Tasting &

There are as many ways to taste a wine as there are folks to tell you how to do it.

A good rule of thumb is the idea (works for me) that there are three stages of tasting: front palate, mid palate and end palate (or finish). The front palate is the immediate taste of the wine with all of its fruit and wood hitting the palate sensors. The mid palate is where you get the palate weight and allow the wine to sit for a while and integrate (balance) the acids and fruit with the wood. The end palate is where everything &


and all of the tastes come together for the finish, which should be long and elegant in a truly well made wine.

Many times, a wine will come on nicely on the front and mid palate then drop off to nothing in the finish, a strange and disappointing vanishing act which would otherwise be a pretty nice wine.

I find that the finish of a wine is the most important variable in a well-made wine. I just love the silk and warmth at the end of a beautifully balanced red wine.

It is important to remember that not everyone agrees on what is in a glass of wine. I have been in a room filled with &


where the tasting gets a little heated over the merits of a glass of wine. The clash of egos are really something to behold.

I have also attended tastings where the wine &


is so revered that the opinions of others are quietly dismissed or deferred to another time and place.

In the 35 years I have been professionally tasting wine I am beginning to see a more bold approach to wine tasting, selling of wine and wine evaluation. In the past, those many years ago, many of us sat at the foot of the master and heard and tried to emulate what was being said about the particular nuances in wine.

We tried to glean the &


about what was considered a &


or &


wine. Many of us apprenticed and worked at wineries or fine wine shops, hung with those winemakers we thought were the best in their field, took what we could get and moved on to apply this knowledge for ourselves in the business.

This seeking of the &


a hands on apprenticeship in wine, especially in the retail and wholesale level of the wine industry, seems to have quietly and sadly slipped away from the wine scene. Today, anyone with a laptop can get tasting results, chat rooms and up to date information on any wine he or she desires.

All in all, this might be the best thing for the good health of wine appreciation and the industry as a whole. It just, once again, proves to me what a fascinating and vast world of wine we live in.