How I Taste and Rate Wine

My friend Cat from a•pair•i•tif recently asked me if I would be willing to contribute to a series she is doing on how wine bloggers taste and rate wines.  I’ll put the post up here and cross-post it at Cat’s wine blog, where you’ll be able to see some thoughts from other wine bloggers on the topic as well in the coming weeks.

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Let’s get rid of the easy one first: I don’t rate wines on my blog. The only place (I think, at this time) you’ll find “scores” from me is on WineQ where they ask you to to input a star rating from 1 to 5 stars. I honestly never found scores for wine particularly helpful. Theoretically, I understand the purpose in the marketplace and yada yada yada, but nonetheless, it truly does not help me in the least to see a giant “91″ plastered on a shelf-talker for a wine. Because I don’t necessarily know anything about the palate of the person who rated it, I have no idea if they have similar tastes to mine or not. I prefer to seek out people who seem to like the wines I do, and take their recommendations. For example, Dr. Debs over on Good Wine Under $20 and I seem to like a lot of the same wines. I trust her opinion and would easily buy a bottle (and I have bought bottles) that she’s written complimentary things about. I also like to find retailers whose tastes seem to run like mine and I will often take their suggestions for bottles I might like. I think I annoy Jill of Domaine547 because I tend to refuse to actually use her website and instead make her send me emails with recommendations.

Finding someone whose palate I jive with is more important to me than a score a wine received, and in writing my blog, I’m hoping people get from my descriptions and recommendations of various wines a sense of my palate and whether or not they like similar wines to the ones I do. I think that perhaps, over time, as consumers have wider access to the internet through various devices like iPhones and Blackberries, that maybe people will look for information on a wine they are considering as they are considering it, rather than relying entirely on a point system. Unless of course you like the wines your retailer recommends, then great, you’ve got an excellent way to find new wines to try that might be to your liking.

As far as tasting wine…well, I’d venture to guess that a good 75% or more of my tasting is done either at my kitchen table or on my couch. We have wine with dinner nearly every night, and my ritual is to pour the glasses, take the pictures, and take an initial sniff and sip before I have any food. I’ll taste a bit more as I eat, to see if I’ve made a good match with our dinner. My note taking occurs later, after I’ve finished dinner and moved over to my computer on my couch.

Me in my natural habitat.

Me in my natural habitat.

And yes, I mean my couch, we each have our own 🙂 I sit with my glass that has now been open for a good hour and start taking notes on the nose. This can last for a good hour or more depending on how complex the nose is. That’s where my comments about Matt being through his 2nd glass before I’ve even touched my first come from! Next I taste the wine. I do that gross sounding slurping thing to aerate the wine even further in my mouth. But I also sip the wine and drink it like a normal person drinking a glass of wine. Not everyone aerates wine ;) , and I want to be sure it still tastes good, has a good mouthfeel, and finishes nicely if you are just sitting around sipping at the glass.

The rest of my tasting is done at wineries, restaurants, and organized tastings. The restaurant tastings tend to follow the method I use at home, usually minus the pictures and computer. At wineries, I have my trusty note pad, I ask lots of questions, and generally get annoyed when the staff tries to tell me what I should be tasting in the wine. Sorry folks, but really, that ticks me off. I spit everything in tasting rooms. Whoops, there’s another pet peeve…please keep spit buckets handy, I hate having to look around to find one, or worse yet, discovering there isn’t one at all and I have to ask for a 2nd wine glass to spit into! Gross! At large tastings, I become a juggler, with my notepad, tasting glass, water bottle, and spit cup. My trusty notebook suffers the most at these tastings as it becomes tie-dyed with various spills of wine. I taste quickly and move on to the next table. Generally, I only like to go to these during trade hours, otherwise they are far too crowded and people wear perfume. (Seriously, what is up with that?? How can you taste wine when you smell like a cheap….ok, we’ll censor that expression since this is a family friendly blog ;) )
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So there you have it. How I taste and rate (or rather don’t rate) wines! Thanks to Cat for posing the question to me! Seems especially relevant at this time as we seem to be embroiled in another dicussion in the wine blog world about the place and function of blogs, ethics, and many other navel-gazing topics.

Grand New Zealand Tasting

So on the first day of the Wine Blogger Conference, not only did we have the Kick Ranch Tasting, the “speed dating” tasting, and the Dry Creek Growers tasting, we also were treated to a grand tasting of New Zealand wines sponosred by the New Zealand Wine Growers Association.  This is actually the 2nd time I’ve had the pleasure of tasting the wines of the New Zealand Wine Growers Association, the first time was at the DC International Wine and Food Festival.

The New Zealand folks brought over 100 wines for us to taste, ranging from the typical Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs, to Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.  I think this was one of the more popular tastings at the Conference, as you could pour everything yourself, meander around at your leisure, and you were able to relax and mingle with the conference participants in an open format.  Now, with over 100 wines, and only an hour to taste, I honestly didn’t get through very many. But I really enjoyed the one I did!

2008 Crossroads Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc: Grapefruit, gooseberry, all citrus, tart, not bracing. Very nice.

2008 Vavasour Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc: Jalapeno, gooseberries, bracing, tart, really tart.

2008 Care Campbell Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc: Grapefruit, lemon sherbet, green pepper, asparagus, tart.

2008 Mount Grey Estate Waipara Pinot Gris: Pear, tinned pear, banana, lemon, cooked pear, nice acidity.

2007 Staete Landt Marlborough Pinot Gris: Honeysuckle, pear, peach, crisp, nice acidity. Excellent.

2007 Seifried Gewurztraminer: Oak, pear, peppers, flowers, pear, peach, almond. Very nice.

2008 Spy Valley Gewurztraminer: Really expressive nose, lychee, flowers, pears, honesuckle, crisp, tart, pear. Extremely well done.

2008 Omaka Springs Sauvignon Blanc: Light nose, gooseberry, citrus, pepper, slight lemon, tart, very nice.

I didn’t get anywhere near the reds, sadly. I wish I had the time to, as I don’t think I’ve ever had a red wine from New Zealand. I heard lots of good feedback from other folks on the quality of the Pinot Noirs. However, having just come off an all Zinfandel tasting, I was really feeling the white wines and the Sauvignon Blancs (as we all know, I love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) really hit the spot.