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Wine - A New Experience in Every Bottle

Updated on August 22, 2011

Had I known how much I’d learn from taking wine classes, I would have enrolled much sooner.

In earlier years, I’d been perplexed by the analysis and information wine buffs got from a small sample of wine. I was firmly of the “yuk” or “yum” school. I knew what I liked and knew what I didn’t. It was that simple.

I was amazed at the way wine buffs tipped the glass of wine on an angle and studied it, and then plunged their noses inside the glass emerging to make some erudite comment. And, all of this was before even taking a sip!

They had (or appeared to have) a wealth of information and I had so little. I was sure they had been active participants in wine classes and I had not.

After taking their first sip of wine, these wine buffs would hold it in their mouth for a second or two before swallowing. After tasting, they would think about it for a moment and then comment.

“Aah, it has passion fruit notes” one wine buff would say in a lilting tone. Another would comment thoughtfully “this wine has - a taste of berries; wild berries and - a little mint”.

I had always been amazed by these comments. I couldn’t separate the flavors. And, I am ashamed to admit, I thought these comments were more than a little pretentious and at times they bored me!

I will have to eat humble pie. Now that I have joined the graduate ranks of wine classes I too can make some semi-intelligent comments about the wine I am looking at, sniffing and drinking. What’s more I like the new found knowledge gained now that I've participated in the said wine classes.  Now that I have some knowledge, I can comment on the bouquet of the wine and how it feels on the palate.

Grapes growing New Zealand
Grapes growing New Zealand

Quite frankly, before taking wine classes, I had been looking in all the wrong places. It's hardly surprising because when I stop and think about it, when smelling something, there are so many possible aromas and they all seemed a jumble to me.  Although I could identify the aromas in many things, in such a complex product like wine they blended into one another making it impossible for me to separate them.

Likewise, when tasting something, there are a multitude of flavors to pick from that if I wanted to make an informed comments, I was a gibbering mess, wracking my brains for something to pin my taste experience.

But my wine classes have helped with all of this information. The wine classes have given me some information and experiences. They gave me some tools which narrowed down the choice and pointed my nose and my palate in a direction.

I was given a list to tick. After smelling and tasting the wine, I was able to scan the list of possible aromas and flavors for a like substance and select those I thought appropriate. It was still rather like standing in a candy store being overwhelmed by all the choices but over time and with my trusty list, I'm now able to pick out some aromas; some flavors. It’s such a revelation and one I am enjoying.

I have also discovered that wine varietals have particular characteristics. Each wine variety has scents and flavors characteristic of that wine. For example, a Shiraz is likely to have scents of spices (like cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg), mint, eucalypt, dark cherry and chocolate.

A Pinot Noir might have scents of herbs, spice, strawberry, red cherry, beetroot etc.

Knowing this information before you even smell the wine is a great start. If you wanted to be a "noter" and had no real idea, you could even fling around one of these identifying characteristics and you'd probably be right.

The flavors one might discern when tasting a Shiraz are: fruit cake, fruit cordial, blackberry, peppery, meaty etc.

The flavors one might find when tasting a Pinot Noir are: strawberry, red and black cherry, earthy, cow yard (!), the smell of damp forest floor etc. The latter two flavors sound most off putting don’t they?  But nonetheless Pinot Noir is one of my favorite wine varieties.

More soon....

During my wine classes we tasted ten wines each night. That meant that we were able to taste ten white wines in one sitting, ten red wines, sparkling/champagne selection (vintage and non vintage) etc.

It was fascinating to be able to taste ten whites and compare the different varietals in a narrow timeframe.

In previous wine tasting experiences, typically when at a cellar door, they offered the wines produced by that vineyard. Most likely that meant tasting two or three whites and a few reds like pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and then maybe a desert wine.

But, during wine classes we tasted all white one night and all red varieties another which gave the opportunity for much closer examination of the different characteristics. Sometimes we were encouraged to go back to an earlier wine to compare.

One night we tasted an Australian champenoise. We all liked this non vintage wine and resolved to purchase it for a special occasion. Then, we sampled a vintage champenoise from the same vineyard. It was outstanding and a class above the non-vintage. Suddenly the first wine was relegated to second place and we all preferred drinking and perhaps buying the vintage champenoise. It was twice the price!

Previously I knew what I liked and that was typically – champagne and sparkling wine; Pinot Noirs (especially New Zealand Pinot Noirs), Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio), and blended red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and more latterly those blended with some Durif grapes. But, I am still experimenting to determine which Durif wines I like.

Actually, I am still experimenting across the board. This is one of those topics; those interests where I think I will be learning for the rest of my life. Thanks to the information shared in my wine classes I will be back for new, different wines and will continue to expand my wine repertoire.

As New Zealand is my home and I am living temporarily in Australia, I have access to some superb wines from both countries. New Zealand, particularly Central Otago, Martinborough and Waipara produces some stunning Pinot Noirs. Our Pinot Noir and our Sauvignon Blanc’s are sold the world over.

Australia has some extremely talented wine makers and they make stunning reds of many varieties. Tasmania produces some excellent Pinot Noirs, the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninusula, Hunter Valley, Coonawarra, and Western Australia’s Margaret River produces some wonderful Cabernet Sauvignons.

I’m in an excellent part of the world to sample some of the “new world” wines. We are experimenting here (as are other places in the world) and it is exciting. I can approach buying and tasting wine with a little more knowledge now that I know where to look.

The new knowledge is excellent but I don’t want to become one of those pretentious wine buffs so I have asked my friends to snap me back into reality if I begin to exhibit those boreish behaviors. But, to be able to identify the flavors is exciting.

Taking these wine classes, has heightened my awareness of how the wine looks, its bouquet, its taste and the impact it has on my palate. I was excited to discover that I could be trained in these aspects. Now that’s always exciting to this ever-lasting student.

This article and the photographs are copyright Travelespresso.  Ask before using them please.


And finally......

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