Tips for an enjoyable wine tasting experience for everyone

Whether you’re going to a wine festival, wine touring visiting one tasting room to the next or meeting up with fellow wine lovers, it’s important to keep your senses sharp in order to take in as much of each wine as possible. I’ve been tasting a lot of wine at a set amount of time lately, and I’ve discovered that your senses can get overwhelmed faster than you think. Here are some tips to help you combat sensory fatigue.

Ditch the perfume.

no-perfume

Image source: Blue Grouse Wines Instagram. Click here to visit their IG page.

My number one piece of advice. This includes anything scented: cologne, body sprays, scented lotion and even hair products. These scents interfere with not only your wine tasting experience, but others around you too, overpowering the subtleties of the tasty liquid in the glass. Do yourself and others a favour and do not wear or apply anything on that gives off a scent.

Spit.

wine spit bucket

Not your typical looking spit bucket.

It’s okay to spit the wine. Staying sober will allow you to appreciate even more wines appropriately. That is, while your senses are still sharp. After all, that’s why you’re attending the wine tasting right? To discover more tasty wines. It would be a shame to only properly discover 3 or 4 when it could’ve easily been 10 or 15!

Drink water.

drink-water

Whether or not you spit, stay hydrated. Water acts as a palate cleanser, too. We all know it’s particularly important to drink water when consuming alcohol, so please always have water when wine tasting.

Taste with a full stomach.

wine and food

Meatballs, olives, grapes, cheese and crackers. Just some food to try with a ‘big red’ tasting I did with friends.

Just like not drinking water, we all know what happens when you have alcohol without food in your system. You get drunk, fast. Being hungry is never pleasant, so even if you decide to taste and spit, you want the experience to be a good one. Don’t taste wine on an empty stomach.

If you’re at a wine festival or visiting tasting rooms and they offer food, eat. If you’re getting together with other winos, make sure there’s food.

Ask questions. 

Dunham Cellars

This lovely young lady at Dunham Cellars could spit out facts about the winery and Walla Walla like she owns it.

Wherever you’re tasting wines, ask questions. Whether it’s pertaining to the wine region, terroir, wine maker, characteristics of the wine, good food pairings, or thoughts on the wine, ask questions. When wine lovers unite, you learn so much simply by asking.

Got any tips or suggestions for a great wine tasting experience? I’d love to hear some – leave a comment below.

Wine Party

I put it on Facebook. Would anyone be interested in attending a wine party if I hosted? I got enough interest to have one and a couple weeks ago, 6 others and I tasted wines on a cool grey summer Vancouver afternoon at my place.

The focus of the day was varietal characteristics. Everyone emailed me what varietal they would be bringing (I requested no blends). We started off the party sniffing common aromas found in the wine we’d be tasting. I have a kit Le Nez Du Vin that has vials containing 54 of the most common scents you’d find in wines.

le nez du vin

Don’t know if you’ve ever come across blackcurrant? You can find the aroma in one of these vials.

The intention was to help guests with their descriptions when it came time to discussing smells and tastes. Most people enjoy wine, but pinpointing a wine’s characteristics and understanding what it is that makes a wine so-so or so fabulous! can be difficult. With understanding comes appreciation and with that comes even more enjoyment when you’re having a glass.

The blind tasting session was a hit!

How Guests Guessed

Fortunately, I had just enough ISO glasses for everyone to use. I got them to guess what the wine was through deduction. That’s how blind tasting works. You note the characteristics in what you see, smell and taste and you reason, well it’s this colour, so it could be this, this and this. But it can’t be this because I smell this, this, this and this, so that means it could be either this or this. I taste this, this, this and this. Eventually, through the process of elimination you come to a conclusion on what wine you think it is.

Wine Varietals Tasted

On the list of wines we tasted were: Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir from France), Zinfandel from California (we also pulled out another Zin I already had opened that was made with grapes fro a smaller to compare the two), Shiraz from Chile, Malbec from Argentina, Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile.

wine-party

After tasting our flight, we kept on talking wine, tasting and comparing.

Learning Points

Everyone had fun and took away at least one learning point that day. There were some general responses like learning about the typical characteristics of each wine and learning about which region produces the best wines for each varietal we tried. We tried a Shiraz from Chile and nobody guessed what it was. I have to admit, I never would’ve guessed it was a Shiraz either. It didn’t have the spiciness or black pepper. That’s when we started discussing what regions make what well, what they’re known for. That was the first time I tasted a Shiraz from Chile.

Some specific learning points:

  • it was neat to learn that Beaujoulais and Burgundy and Gamay and Pinot Noir are much the same grape [respectively].
  • it was fascinating that ‘old world’ wines would be earthier and ‘new world’ grapes more fruity.
  • wine really changes the taste of food (we tried wines with white cheddar, french bread, and chocolate)
  • the meaning of tannins (tannins is the coating you feel in your mouth, like when you drink black tea. It contributes to the structure of a wine)

Everyone also enjoyed that they got to taste different wines in one sitting in a relaxed environment. Hosting this was good for me. It got me talking about wine which is a good way for me to retain what I learn and I also learn more as I expose myself to more wines. So you want to learn more about wine? Have a wine party, and if you’re nearby, please invite me!

It’s the Willamette, damn it!

Will-Lam-It. Say it so it rhymes with “damn it” and that’s how Willamette is pronounced.

Heading into Duck Pond tasting room.

Heading into Duck Pond tasting room.

Our time in the Willamette Valley was way too short. Having heard of this area, but not really knowing much about it even after taking WSET 3 (this delicious area was only covered in one paragraph in the book), I wanted to learn more. And only being a 5 hour drive away from Vancouver (without the border wait), I knew I had to make the trip down.

As I mentioned in my last post, I wasn’t at all disappointed. We weren’t certain how many tasting rooms would be opened. Certainly though, we thought, it wouldn’t be so busy. Fortunately, most tasting rooms were open and I guess people can’t stay away because we encountered lots of ’em!

Since we allocated only one day to wine tasting, we decided to focus on Dundee because there was a good concentration of wineries and tasting rooms without having to drive too far from one to the next.

There are six sub-appellations in the Willamette and the others are: Chehalem Mountains, McMinnville, Eola-Amity, Yamhhill-Carlton, and Ribbon Ridge. The entire Willamette AVA has 15,180 acres of vineyards planted, 610 vineyards and 316 wineries.

Four Graces winery in the Willamette

Four Graces, one of my favourites, is named after the four daughters of the winery owners.

We visited Rex Hill, Duck Pond, Dobbes, Four Graces, and Argyle. My least favourite was Duck Pond — the wines were just okay, nothing to write home about. It was the second busiest of all the tasting rooms we went to as well (Argyle was busiest). This may be because Duck Pond is one of the largest producers in Oregon, third to be exact.

My favourites are Rex Hill, Dobbes and Four Graces. I really enjoyed the sparkling Pinot at Argyle and so did the bf. There may have been Chardonnay in it, I can’t remember. I recall feeling cramped in there more and wanted to get out asap.

I suppose I should take notes next time on my favourite wines; it would be good practice for me. Have you been to the Willamette Valley? Which wineries did you visit? And because I plan on returning, I’d love to know where you stayed. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

8 Things I Learned About Wine from Walla Walla

Walla Walla was fan-freaking-tastic! It took us a long time to get there (Google Maps said 7 hours, but with a slight detour to Seattle to eat at our favourite pizza place and being stuck on interstate 90 for at least an hour because apparently everyone on the west coast of Washington heads east on long weekends, it was a 10+ hour journey. It was one with beautiful scenery though and that made the long drive much more bearable.

Seattle to Walla Walla

The changing scenery from Seattle on our way to Walla Walla.

I really liked that there were numerous tasting rooms downtown, where you’d likely stay so you don’t have to go far or drive at least for a good portion of the day. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to check out the ones downtown, occupying ourselves instead in the east side, south side and a little bit in the west side over the two full days we had there. I loved that you can just pick an area and not have to drive too far, if at all (the east side is the most condensed). To get from one area to the next is not too far either.

Walla Walla wineries are interesting and the wines oh-so-tasty. Here are eight things I learned about the region.

1. Walla Walla was put on the wine world map by Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington state’s oldest winery.

2. Most wineries source their wines from vineyards in the larger surrounding area. Having really only experienced two regions — the Okanagan a few years ago and Niagara-on-the-Lake (NotL) earlier this summer — I was surprised that the majority of wineries we visited don’t have have their own vineyard.

Walla Walla Washington

Vines are here for show at Tamarack Cellars. Actually, they could be used since they’re Merlot grapes, we were told.

I’m going to take a moment to explain the difference between winery and vineyard as they may be used interchangeably by those who don’t know. A winery is where the grapes are fermented into wine (the actual facility) and a vineyard is where the grapes are grown. Mission Hill in the Okanagan, for example, grow their own grapes and make their wine from those grapes. They have complete control over their wine from start (grapes) to finish (wine). And to introduce a new term, Mission Hill therefore is an estate.

I’m used to visiting estates, where we get a tour of the vineyard followed by the winery and finally, sampling some of the wines. It’s a great way to see the difference in how a small winery (about 2000 cases or less if I remember correctly from what I learned in NotL) operates versus a medium (about 9000 cases) versus a large.

3. The Syrahs in Walla Walla are not just good, they’re amazing! We bought a 2005 Syrah from Morrison Lane. Every Syrah we tasted was a kickass one.

4. They also make fantastic Bordeaux style reds which is a blend of some and only the grapes grown in the Bordeaux region of France: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petite Verdot, Merlot and Carmenere.

5. People in the trade are passionate! You’re not going to come across a summer student just there to earn a few bucks (like the sort of experience at the Jackson Triggs tasting room in NotL. The girl serving us couldn’t tell us anything about the wines except what was already written on the labels. We quickly left). In Walla Walla, everyone we spoke with knew their shit.

This lovely young lady at Dunham Cellars could spit out facts about the winery and Walla Walla like she owns it.

This lovely young lady at Dunham Cellars could spit out facts about the winery and Walla Walla like she owns it.

6. The Walla Walla Valley extends into Oregon. A winery could be located in Washington and grapes grown in Oregon. As long as the vineyard is located in the Walla Walla Valley which is an American Viticulture Area (AVA), then the bottle can be labelled as Walla Walla Valley.

Walla Walla Valley Wine Region

Map courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

7. College Cellars has a two year wine program where students make the wine they put out in the market. After learning the basics the first year, in the second year, students get to decide how they want to make their wine. So tasty what students produce that one of their wines won Best Carménère at the 2012 San Francisco International Wine Competition. 

College Cellars

The knowledgeable woman showcasing the winning wine students made.

Most students at College Cellars have already had a career, being in their mid to late 30s; they enroll in the program after deciding to pursue their interest or passion. The College’s graduate career placement rate is 80%.

8. The average winery in Walla Walla makes about 2500 cases a year. Of the wineries we visited, the smallest, Kontos, produces about 900 cases a year while the largest, Tamarack, does about 25,000 cases a year. 

Two full days almost wasn’t enough time to explore Walla Walla’s wonderful wine. I definitely would not have minded another day or two.

Have you been to the Walla Walla region? Tell me what you learned if you have. If you haven’t, is this somewhere you would want to go?