Friday, April 8, 2011

Taking the "Snob" out of Sensory Evaluation: Part 1

As a die hard wine enthusiast, it bums me out that wine lovers get the bad rep of being "snobby".

Yes, sometimes the world of wine and the people in it are deserving of the title, "snobby". There are many wine snobs that think you to be less than normal if you don't have the gran crus of Beaujolais or the clones of Zinfandel memorized. There are also many wine-o's that won't touch wine that is priced under $50 with a 10 foot pole. (By the way, I don't fall into those categories!!)

I believe some of the poo-poo attitude towards knowledgeable wine consumers is due to the way we "wine taste".

After all, how many times have you seen a wine snob stick his/her slightly upturned nose into a wine glass and take a big whiff like they actually are smelling something discernible? Oh, and how annoying is it when they swirl the glass around and watch it like they were watching the lion exhibit at the zoo! And then what about the comments about the wine's 'legs'? That's just weird. But, the worst is when the snob takes a sip and then has the AUDACITY to actually swish the wine around like it was mouthwash. It's enough to make your stomach turn, right?

Well, I hate to break it to ya, folks, but this is actually the proper way to taste wine. The technical term for this method of tasting and analyzing every aspect of a wine is called SENSORY EVALUATION.

The goal of this post is to walk you through each step of sensory evaluation, and hopefully I will 'de-snob' the method as we go along.

Let's begin! Actually, before we begin, here are two little nuggets that I've learned:

#1: Don't over think.

#2: Always go with your gut and first impression.

Okay, now let's begin. Yay!

To complete the process, we will walk through what I call the 4 S's of Sensory Evaluation: See, Smell, Sip/Swish, Summarize. **Note: I was originally going to do this as one post, but due to length and content importance, I need to cut it in two!**

So, without further ado, the first 2 S's of sensory evaluation: SEE & SMELL.

SEE: Although sight is the most frequently used human sense, it tells us the least about wine.

What CAN the sight of the wine tell us?

Look first at the COLOR, as it can tell us several things:

First of all, color is an indication of the wine's AGE. A young red wine will have blue-ish tints, while an older red will appear brick red and orange.

A young white will have pale yellow or even green-ish tones. A more aged white wine will be rich, deep golden in color.

As you learn more about different wines and their characteristics, color is also be an indication of VARIETAL (have I mentioned varietal just means grape? So Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, etc... are all varietals).

For instance, the average wine snob will know that Pinot Noir is very light red, opposed to Sryah or Malbec, which can be almost inky in color. Pinot Grigio is almost clear, and Chardonnay can be golden.

If you feel overwhelmed, don't worry, we will get you there soon! :)

Along with SEE comes another S of Sensory Evaluation: SWIRL.

The wine snobs have got it right- you should swirl the wine glass (try not to splash!!) After you swirl, watch the way the wine runs down the sides of the glass. These are the 'legs', but I truly hate calling them that.

Does the wine run down the glass quickly? Slowly? In thick or thin stripes? Does it coat the glass with a wall of wine? All these are an indication of how viscous the wine is- or rather how much alcohol/body it has. Wine that runs down the glass slow like molasses most likely has a fairly high alcohol content, while fast, thin stripes indicate lower alcohol.

Lastly, look for any thing IN this glass. Bubbles? Chunks of stuff? Cork? This doesn't happen too often, but just check. If you DO find something, call me :)

Onto the next S:

SMELL: This is the most important step of tasting wine. So, go ahead, take a big whiff! Then, think about what you smell.

Need help?

Try to pick out a F.E.W. characteristics:

F= Fruit

Citrus Fruit--> lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange

Berry Fruit--> strawberry, blueberry, blackberry

Tropical Fruit --> pineapple, mango, papaya

Stone Fruit --> peach, plum, nectarine

And NON-FRUIT items:

Flowers --> honeysuckle, roses

Grass & weeds

Vegetables --> mushrooms, bell pepper, olives (my sister's favorite)

Spices --> cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, pepper

E= Earth




Dirt (dry, moist, damp, wet)

W= Wood **Note: Sometimes you do actually smell oaky wood, but the following descriptions are a result of the winemaker storing the wine in wood barrels.**




Cigar box

You may be thinking- "can you really smell all those things? I just smell alcohol!". That's the best part of wine- how complex and interesting it is.

You CAN smell these things- and more!! In fact, the average human can be trained to smell and identify 1,000 smells. Unless you're my mother- she can smell about 10,000, and within .0005 seconds

Anyway.s, most wines will generally fall into one of those broad categories, hence why people say "that is a fruit-forward wine", or "that is an earthy wine".

All of these characteristics are good indications of the varietal: Pinot Grigio smells like lemon, Nebbiolo smells like tar & roses, and Sauvignon Blanc smells like 'gooseberries'. You'll learn all that, too!

Once again, can I remind you-- go with your first impression! You can indentify a multitude of smells and tastes that I didn't even list. For instance, I think that some wines smell like dirty socks. And to me, they do, and you can't argue with me- there is no wrong answer! That's encouraging, isn't it?

Those, my fellow wine-o's are the first 2 S's of Sensory Evaluation.

Check back Monday (Jared and I are re-doing one of our bathrooms this weekend and so I won't be blogging). The post will cover the last 2 S's: SIP & SUMMARIZE!!

Thanks for reading, and drink some wine this weekend- I know I will!