In the appreciation of wine, first impressions are important. Be aware of them and let them sink in.
Color, for example, can help us determine the maturity of a wine. I heard someone say at a recent wine-tasting seminar that he loved the purple hue of a certain wine. I told him that young wines often will display this color and to log the experience as an example of new red wine.
Conversely, when I poured a white wine whose color was brown, many people were put off by the odd color — which, thankfully, is not associated with a clean white wine. It was obvious the off-color portended the smell and taste of a wine that was severely oxidized.
There are many other first impressions when we look at a glass of wine. One of the most obvious in a sparkling wine is the lack of bubbles in the glass. This is an elemental observation-judgment call; no bubbles mean that the sparkle, for whatever reason, has left the sparkler. As simple as this observation is, it shows us that understanding such first impressions is an important tool, regardless of what wine we are observing.
The second impression we associate with wine is smell, or as the wine professionals call it, bouquet. Smell gives us an ability to understand many things about the wine before we actually put the wine on our palate.
In the nose (we can interchange the term "nose" with "bouquet," if we wish), we find a plethora of wonderful impressions. It tells us of the use of oak, the intensity of fruit in general, the intensity of the varietal, concentrations of flavors, microbial problems and youthfulness of wine.
Many times, when being part of a professional, commercial wine judging, such as the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival, I will eliminate a wine from the competition simply from what I observe in the bouquet coming from the glass. There are a few reasons why commercial wine judges do this.
First, especially if one is judging more than 100 wines in a couple of days, the time it takes to evaluate wines is precious and there is no reason to taste a wine when the nose is off. It portends something wrong with the wine, and the judge should not consider it for further review as no medal would be given in any event.
Secondly, putting an obviously flawed wine on the palate can influence further wines being tasted. Sometimes it is difficult, physically or mentally, to keep bad taste sensations from becoming wound into the next wine. I have found that bouquet, what we get from the nose, to be my biggest asset in evaluation of wines.
Many times what hits my palate often confirms what my nose is telling me. This is true with wines both that are well made and those that are not. Next week we'll talk about what we can learn from the palate.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.