On tasting wine
On Monday night, I brought a bottle of 02 Clos Vougeot to a friend who loves food and drinks. Back up - what the fuck does that mean "O2 Clos Vougeot". Clos Vougeot is a wall-enclosed vineyard (a "clos") in "Côte de Nuits" aka the place they grow most of the great Pinot in Burgundy, France. Back up - in Burgundy all whites = Chardonnay (okay a little Aligoté too) and all red = Pinot (unless it is Gamay, mmmm good Beaujolais). It is the largest single vineyard designated to a "Grand Cru"; In Burgundy you can be a regional wine (i.e. Bourgogne Rouge), a village wine (i.e. Meursault), a Premier Cru or a Grand Cru defined purely by land that was planted long ago by monks and since divided into tiny tiny parcels thanks to French inheritance law.
Clos Vougeot was once the flagship of the Cistercians. Then the French Revolution happened and it is now owned by a lot of humans. Some make very good wine, some make okay wine, but they are all designated Grand Cru thanks to their land. Welcome to the confusion of finding great Burgundy. We were drinking a Jadot, which is a very dependable producer. Okay so, Pinot Noir! Cotes de Nuits! Grand Cru! From the 2002 vintage, regarded as a very good "pure and precise" year and 12 years old!
My friend tasted the wine and we started talking about what it tasted like beyond "holy shit so delicious". "It's like super fruity", he said. I laughed. I laughed! I am such a jerk. When I think of red wines that are super fruity, I'm all like $18 Australian Shiraz! $29 Chilean Cab blend! $14 American Zinfandel probably spelled Sinfandel! When I think "fruity" I think wines bursting with primary fruit and like purple drank juice flavour. Juicy blackberry, red jam, ripe blueberries that kind of thing.
So hear I was, laughing at someone else, being like, no you're wrong, you idiot! But then I tasted it again and you know, it was really fruity? But not that fresh fruit hit on the front palate that I associate with the term "fruity", but instead this powerful dried fruit with almost port like intensity and persistance on the finish.
Since then I've been thinking a lot about that moment. How fucking hard it is for people who aren't in the industry to talk about wine and what they're tasting. The vast majority of "wine professionals" don't have better palates than anyone else - I certainly don't. They have just have a whole fuck load of experience drinking all of the things and learning how to categorize what they're tasting. They speak in ways that make is easy to communicate with other people using the same rubric. I want to talk a lot more about this! As I think learning how "professionals" taste is such a powerful tool for regular folk to start learning more about wine.
To begin: a simple concept of tasting that I find super helpful.
Wines can have primary, secondary and tertiary notes, which relate to their age and how they are made.
Primary notes are the fresh fruit flavours in the wine. Is the wine full of floral notes, citrus fruit, stone fruit, tropical fruit, red fruit or black fruit? If most of the flavours you're tasting fall into this "primary" category the wine you're having is young and most likely meant to be drunk young to enjoy all this vibrant deliciousness.
Secondary notes are characteristics that relate to winemaking. Think oak! Oxygen treatment! Yeast selection! Secondary flavours are things like biscuits, bread, dough (yeasty things) + vanilla, toast, cocunut, smoke, charred wood (oaky things). If a wine has tons of these notes in its youth, it is likely meant for ageing or if you want to drink it now you should open it a couple hours ahead or drink it with food. If a wine has tons of these notes and it is old, it may be a bit too old and have lost all of its primary fruit. How sad!
Tertiary notes are characterists that relate to ageing, as my corny WSET notes put it "the flavours of time". (really, guys? "the flavours of time?")
These are things like nut flavours, dried fruit and all sorts of deliciously complex savoury things (think leather, good moldy forest floor, mushroom, game, tobacco, soy). Basically talking about this category makes you sound like a pretentious dick, but it is actually so useful in describing what an older wine tastes like.
Does that make sense? Think about these categories the next time you're having a glass of wine or even better two different glasses of wine and tell me what you think.