Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tutored Tastings

I was at a tasting of some Spanish wines yesterday that featured a moderator and a panel of winemakers talking about their wines and those of a few others. Although the winemakers noted aspects of the production and viticulture of each of the wines, what they mainly described was the way that each wine tasted and smelled. “That’s because most wine writers can’t come up with adjectives of their own,” a wine writer next to me, darkly observed. (He’s one of the more cynical members of the profession – but a trenchant observer all the same.)

As the winemakers rhapsodized about the “stone fruits, the mineral notes, the apricot essence, the white flowers and the acacia,” they found in glass after glass, I began to feel weighed down by the sheer adjectival profusion- not to mention their inescapable repetitiveness. Indeed, one of the last winemakers to speak made the mocking complaint that the others before him had “taken all the descriptors” and that was pretty much how I felt. Of course, I also began to feel rather rebellious: the more white flowers I was told I to expect, the smaller I found their bouquet in my own glass.

Why, In wonder is this sort of thing an acceptable procedure in most ‘guided tastings’ for both amateurs and professionals alike? Do they really believe it's hard to come up with words of one's own? And if so, why not just pass out a vocabulary list beforehand and say, “Circle the ones that you think apply to each wine”?

One wine that I tasted and loved (but found no white flowers to speak of, anywhere around) was the 2008 Pazo de Senorans Albarino- a delightfully bright and refreshing Spanish white with a zippy acidity that seemed to simply bound out of the glass. At $16 a bottle, it’s one of my perennial favorites from this north western region of Spain and is imported by European Cellars (www.europeancellars.com)


  1. “Circle the ones that you think apply to each wine”?

    that's a good one!

  2. Lettie...would you email me at msolovy at luxdesignmag dot com? Thanks.

  3. What the hell does a "white flower" taste like? Or smell like, for that matter? I happen to have six kinds of white flowers blooming in my yard right now, and all smell different. Lettuce flowers are white, as as orange blossoms, magnolia flowers, some poppies, snow drops, etc etc etc.

    Sorry, you touched a nerve. I am a big fan of Albarino, however; will have to check out that particular company's version.

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  5. RePost-Ok I'll share my get rich quick idea. Instead of an "8 Ball" that you shake up and a random answer pops through to the top, we make 'grape shaped balls" that you shake and the lucky smell/taste note rises to the top. (This assumes you have seen one of those 8 ball things.)

  6. White flowers: I think there is a perfume named White Flowers -or is it a room freshner??
    Joe, I like your idea. Do you think we can team up?

  7. I am curious as to what most tasters would like to hear about the wines being presented. You mentioned production and viticulture, but is that helpful information to most people? I give structured tastings as part of my job, and am probably just as guilty of using too many descriptors, yet I really don't know what else to talk about, especially if it is at an 'amateur' tasting. Any suggestions?

  8. I think if the winemakers are present then it's important to hear a bit about the way the wine was made- note, I said 'a bit' - a little technical information goes a long way. But the same is true of descriptors: a few adjectives are enough And certainly when they are all the same!! But I'm curious -what do you incorporate into your presentations?