Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wine Tasting Class #1

I finally began my first wine tasting class through Algonquin College's Sommelier Program. What a mix of emotions I had this first night! Listening to our prof Paul Carrière's current job as a product consultant at the LCBO, as well as other professions he's seen his students end up in, had me very excited. The complexity of the courses and the knowledge required, in everything from geography to physics and chemistry and everything in between, to finish the entire program had me nervous. Not to mention the fact that I could barely pick out the aromas, tastes and sensations from the wine – made me wonder if I was even cut out for this type of thing. Luckily, most of the others were in the same boat, from what I could tell anyway. But hey, that's why I am there, to learn!

After we introduced ourselves and ran through the overall plan for the class, our first homework assignment was issued. I would have to say that this was probably one of the best assignments I've had in my entire life. For the next couple of weeks, we must smell as many things as we can, especially things we wouldn't normally smell (flowers, spices, dill pickles, black licorice, leather, cedar, pine needles in the woods after it rains, tar, asparagus), and take a few minutes to concentrate on what's going on with each scent. We must focus on the texture of things we eat and drink (is it gritty, sharp, etc.). And we must pay attention to the taste of things, the colour of things, really take life in as a whole. These aromas and flavours tend to repeat themselves in wine, so of course it totally makes sense to do this exercise. How else would your brain associate anything you get in a wine if you've never put the initial scent in your cranial storage case?

I'm writing this post now one week later and I must say, it's kind of weird, I haven't stopped smelling just about everything since.

I wasn't expecting to actually dive right into the tasting on our first night, so I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that would not be the case.

A traditional tasting room should follow a pretty simple structure:
  • Wine tasting background must be white
  • Have a spittoon or sink handy
  • Room must be filled with natural light or at least be really well lit (so much for enjoying the wine over candlelight!)
  • The temperature of the room must not be overly warm or cold. Between 16 and 19 degrees celcius is perfect.
  • Keep aromas in the room to a minimum.
  • Have water available.
  • Room must be quiet.
  • And of course, have the proper stemware or glasses available. In the class we use ISO tasting glasses as they enhance the taste and texture of the wine. They are the vessel that encompasses everything. If you are the type of person that sticks to one particular kind of wine, Riedel of course, offers different glasses for specific grapes.
We went through a list of six wines, each offering our findings through smell, texture and taste.
The formula we used was as follows
Sight: Pale, Medium or Dark Red/Yellow. For Reds Brick/Purple Hue. The outer rim (watery edge) in reds expands with age. After that is the hue, followed by the core colour (center). Tip your glass to view.
Aromas: List a minimum of three (take 3 short smells rather than a long one)
Weight: Light, Medium or Full Bodied
Acid: Light Medium High (Prickly on the tongue and the back of your mouth – the more acid, the more you feel.)
Tannins: Light Medium High for Reds (Gives you a drying sensation on your tongue and the center of your cheeks, like your mouth is trying to create saliva.)
Taste: List a minimum of three (aged in stainless steel = more citrus)
Finish: Short, Medium or Long (concentrate on how long the flavours linger in your mouth; 15 seconds is short, 15 to 20 or 25 is a medium finish and more than that would be long)

The First Tasting
Note that these descriptions are a compilation of our entire class' feedback. I personally only offered a few (hence my need to learn).
  1. Mount Nelson 2008 Sauvignon Blanc CSPC 694752 $17.95
    Sight: Pale yellow (borderline watery)
    Aromas: Fruit, green apple, minerals – flinty, wet pavement, apricots, citrus, sweet, lime rind, diesel fuel
    Weight: Light to medium bodied, prickly (effervescent)
    Acid: Medium to high acidity (Sauvignon Blanc's are naturally high in acidity). Prolonged sense of salvation.
    Taste: Citrus, mineral, melon (cantaloupe), herbaceous (grassy)
    Finish: Medium to long
    Suggested Food Pairing: Best with tomato sauce, the high acidity acts as a car wash to your mouth, cleans the palate. PEI Mussels Provencal.
    Side notes: Sauvignon Blancs, Rieslings and sparkling wines are great appetizer wines. They also promote hunger. Malolactic fermentation is a process where a harsher acid is combined with a softer acid, which makes the wine softer and will give you aromas and tastes of butter. Malic acid often tastes of green apples, and lactic acid is richer and more buttery. Oak will give you flavours of vanilla, toffee, spice.

  2. Malivoire 2008 Chardonnay CSPC 573147 $19.95
    Sight: Light to medium (combination of stainless steel aging and barrel aging)
    Aromas: Not fruity, bland, soft, initial not of citrus, butterscotch, vanilla, banana bread or over ripe bananas, crème brûlée, clove, spice, cinnamon, macintosh apple, tropical fruit (mango, pineapple)
    Weight: Medium bodied, smooth, creamy, buttery
    Acid: Light to Medium
    Taste: Apricot, pear, apple, vanilla, butterscotch
    Finish: Short to medium
    Suggested Food Pairing: Walnut bread with dried olives, pear chutney and torched gorgonzola.

  3. Dr Fisher 2003 Riesling Spatlese CSPC 146340 $17.95
    Sight: Pale to medium yellow
    Aromas: Gas/diesel, caramel, primer, burnt rubber, parafin wax, flowers, honey wax, peach, odd aromas hit you first (primary), then the normal ones come out (secondary)
    Weight: Light to medium bodied
    Acid: Light acidity with some residual sugar
    Taste: Creamy, fruity, sweet, caramel, honey, marmalade, apricot, Macintosh apple
    Finish: Short to medium
    Suggested Food Pairing: Maple roasted quail with German style potato salad and lemon thyme sauce.
    Side notes: Riesling is one of the most versatile varietal. Makes from bone dry to more sweet luscious wines and everything in between. Also used for ice wine.

  4. Lake Chalice 2008 Pinot Noir CSPC 163964 $19.95
    Sight: Pale to medium red (can read through it), with a watery edge and a purple and brick hue to it.
    Aromas: Hickory, smoke, sweet spice, clove, bacon (smoked or cured meat), char-burnt ash, tobacco
    Weight: Light to medium bodied
    Acid: Very high
    Tannins: n/a
    Taste: Metal (minerality of the acidity), iron, sour cherry, cranberry, earthy, smoky
    Finish: Short
    Suggested Food Pairing: Cured chorizo sausage with salami rillettes
    Side notes: Any red should be decanted.

  5. Two Hands Gnarly Dudes 2008 Shiraz CSPC 660043 $24.95
    Sight: Dark red with purple hue, minute watery edge
    Aromas: Dark cherry, smoke, earthy, baker's chocolate (bitter), eucalyptus, black licorice, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry
    Weight: Medium to full bodied
    Acid: High (lots of acidity)
    Tannins: Low to medium
    Taste: Smoke, jamy red fruit, chocolate, licorice, vanilla, black pepper, plum
    Finish: Medium to long
    Suggested Food Pairing: Red deer shanks, pasta, hearty tomato and bean sauce.

  6. Cline Ancient Vines 2008 Zinfandel CSPC 719211 $17.95
    Sight: Medium to dark red (garnet) with purple and brick hues and a watery rim
    Aromas: Fruity, raspberry rhubarb pie, sweet spice, pepper, herbacious, jamy red fruit
    Weight: Medium to full bodied
    Acid: High, a lot of acidity
    Tannins: Light to medium
    Taste: Cedar, pepper, herbacious, sweet tobacco leaf, bitter chocolate, jamy rhubarb, strawberry rhubarb pie, tilled earth
    Finish: Short to medium length
    Suggested Food Pairing: Zinfandels are perfect with stuffings and tourtières as it adds more spice.
I will post my learnings at the end of each class so you can follow along. I'm sure between now and the last post there will be some dramatic changes. I'm very excited at the possibility of having this knowledge. It truly does bring a whole new perspective, not only to wine tasting, but also to appreciating all the beautiful things life offers us through each of our 5 senses.


Heather said...

Rachelle! I am so glad you're sharing your experience with this class :) I tried to register but it was full :( Now I can follow along so I thank you for that. I loved the wine courses I took and I am sure you will love it more and more as it goes along. Have fun!

Psychgrad said...

Neat -- I've looked at some of Algonquin's Sommelier classes. Looks like an intensive program. Looking forward to reading about your experiences. Like the sounds of the first assignment too!

Anonymous said...

hey! lurker here!

For me - It started out as just a lark - but before I knew it, I had my sommelier certificate in 1996.

I see that they are still teaching "classic examples" in the first few classes. What fun!

Enjoy your time in class, you are going to meet a lot of excellent people, and gain a new found appreciation for wine...

~ Nancy in Ottawa

Holly Bruns said...

Oh this is great Rachelle. I look forward to following you working your way through the course. I've been reading some of your older posts and discovered The Chelsea Smoke House - Thanks for that.