Secrets only the Wine Snobs Know
I recently got a chance to attend a wine tasting proficiency seminar at Iowa State University. Hey, who wouldn’t love to drink wine all day and get credit for it? The proficiency training was a special one-day conference that was an active, hands-on learning experience moderated by Erin Norton, Education and Outreach Coordinator with the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute. The class consisted of about 20 people, mostly employed or in training from nearby wineries.
One of the first things we learned was how to taste wine all day and remain sober. There is a special technique you may have seen before that entails taking a sip, swishing the wine around like mouthwash to completely coat your tongue, drawing air with closed lips to vaporize aromatic compounds, holding the wine for 5 seconds, then expectorate into a spittoon. I found learning to spit wine without spraying or dribbling it is an art in itself.
Soon we explored how to describe taste and smell with the help of the handy aroma wheel. This is a tool that categorizes common wine aromas in a 3-tiered system listing good and not so good aromas. Once you have vocabulary to describe what your senses are perceiving, you can identify pleasant components as well as “faults.” This exercise also included lots of sniffing fragrant extracts such as pear, apricot, honey, lemon, and melon. This lovely short-lived exercise of all wine and roses turned sour quickly when we were invited to smell the more odious ethyl acetate (think nail polish), acetaldehyde (chemical), and hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg); just a few of the wine faults that can creep into wine gone bad.
By the end of the day, I was feeling rather bolstered in my wine knowledge. I couldn’t wait to go to the next tasting room to show off my technique and expound really awesome sounding insights just like a real wine snob. Seriously though, part of the experience of wine tasting is to discover how different wines can be depending on type of grape, where it is grown, how it is processed and all the characteristics that go into enjoying one of our favorite beverages.
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Mike Van Natta
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