January 1st, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions

I want to do more wine tasting but I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong things. How do I get started?

First of all, relax. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff to learn, but with a little practice (a great thing to have to do when you’re talking about wines) you’ll feel comfortable with wine tasting. Beginners classes are a great way to start the process and I teach one each quarter at Bellingham Technical College. Visit wineries, go to festivals, and talk to wine shop personnel. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers about what you taste…only a general concensus. With that in mind, get together with friends that share an interest in wines and exchange ideas and opinions. Not only is it a fun social experience, it will also help expand your exposure to wines.

I can’t seem to differentiate specific flavors in wine. For example, just how does one determine that a wine tastes like cherries, blackberries, plums or a combination of all three?

In some respects, tasting wine is just like tasting beer or cola drinks; the more you drink it on a regular basis, the better you’ll become at detecting flavor differences. Don’t expect to instantly come up with all the subtle nuances in a glass of wine…it takes time. One good way to work on this is to purchase the same varietal from several different growing regions and taste them side by side. Group tastings are a perfect opportunity to experience this. Try samples in small quantities and then compare notes. You’ll find that others may taste different things. Then revisit the samples with the shared information. It’s easy, informative and will help you have a better understanding of wine tasting.

What’s a “varietal”?

A varietal is a specific type of wine made from a single, “purebred” grape. For example, Chardonnays, Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons are all varietals. A blend is simply a combination of two or more varietals.

Does a $20 bottle of wine really taste better than a $7 bottle?

Because wine tasting is subjective, this boils down to a matter of personal preference. I’ve tasted a few wines under $10 that will blow the doors off wines two or three times the price. I do feel that when I pay a higher price for a wine I expect it to taste better. If you seldom break the magic over-$10 a bottle barrier, splurge a bit and try something higher priced. You might really notice a difference in quality. Still afraid to take the plunge? Check for recommendations first because they can help point you in the right direction.

How come you don’t write any bad reviews about wines?

When people approach me about wine selections they usually ask, “What do you like to drink?” or “What do you recommend?” They never ask, “What’s a wine that I should totally avoid?” With that in mind, I usually try to steer people towards something that impressed me, hoping that they’ll feel the same way. If people try a particular wine and don’t like it, they won’t buy it anymore. And if sales decline the winemaker has a couple of options; change winemaking styles or get out of business. There are a lot of good wines being produced today. I just can’t see expending the time and space to say negative things about a particular wine. I’d rather alert people to some of the better choices available and give credit to those who are doing an outstanding job in an industry that is growing increasingly competitive.

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