Being able to identify multiple sensations from a glass of wine is the first step toward appreciation; being able to use proper terminology raises us to a new height of consciousness and gives us the tools to communicate effectively with other wine lovers and professionals.
Simply saying, for example, "I like this wine" tells us very little about one's experience. True, there are folks who subscribe to the minimalist position that simple enjoyment of wine is all that is necessary for its appreciation. But I look at the statement "I like this wine" as the beginning of a wonderful road into understanding why.
This road leads to enrichment not only for the individual but also for the winemaker, retailers and fellow wine lovers. I have found great pleasure and enlightenment sharing ideas with the thousands of palates, professional and nonprofessional, with whom I have tasted over the years.
Let's first look at the basic building block of wine appreciation: like and dislike.
No one should have to tell you whether you like or dislike a product. Rarely have I heard the statement "Well, I sort of like this wine."
As a wine sits on the palate for any length of time, this polarization becomes clear. Once you become more tuned into the art of wine appreciation, you'll know precisely why you like or dislike a product. Your natural taste prejudices will come into play the longer you associate yourself with wine.
For example, I like white wine with good, strong acidity, regardless of whether the wine is dry or sweet. I also am not a big fan of wines dominant in oak flavors. For the lack of a more specific term, I would say, then, that I do not "like" softer, less acidic wines or wines with high oak introduction. Yes, I have drunk them on occasion, at banquets and so forth, but I would never purchase them for myself.
When I started out in the wine business, I would turn to a professional to walk me through what it was I liked or disliked about a wine. I remember quite clearly telling a well-educated wine buyer for a large chain of retail stores that I felt a certain zinfandel smelled like an old roll-top desk. She laughed and explained to me that what I was appreciating, for good or bad, was oak.
She brought me over to four other wines with similar bouquets, and all were very off-putting to me. Touching her nose with her finger, she told me, in no uncertain terms, to log this sensation into my head as "excessive oak," and that every time I came across this sensation, associate it with oak tolerances.
More on wine appreciation next week.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part-time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.