March 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
After spending a week with sommeliers I realize I’ve been blindly tasting wine. I’ve enjoyed wine but I’ve never really employed my senses to understand what it is & what makes certain wines more special than others. This week I learned a lot more about evaluating wine by spending time with sommeliers as they did blind tastings. Blind tastings are a key aspect of how a sommelier becomes a sommelier. They help them hone their evaluation skills and are also the key component of the certification exam. To pass you are presented with 6 wines that you have to verbally evaluate. correctly identifying their characteristics (and in advanced levels the wines themselves) in 25 minutes. The scoring gets harder as you advance. 95% of people fail the Master Sommelier exam.
The first blind tasting I observed was at Frasca with Matt Mather and Grant Reynolds. Matt is going for his Master Sommelier certification soon and Grant is going for the Advanced level. Multiple times a week they practice tasting with each other with one person tasting & verbally describing the wines while the other follows along taking notes. It’s a process of identification and elimination that has its own cadence & language. Matt said the hardest part of it is that you have 2 minds competing with each other – the one that’s trying to evaluate things on face value and the one that might be forcing it a bit. You have to try to continue to force your mind, senses and palate to be objective and to look for the benchmarks that will reveal the wine.
I also paid a visit to the Boulder Wine Merchant this week to watch a blind tasting between their team and Frasca’s crew. Community is important for sommeliers. It’s how they learn from each other and stay on top of what they do. They had 3 different stations combining people with various levels from those looking to pass the sommelier exam to Brett as a Master Sommelier.
After watching these guys, I thought it would be fun to try it on my own, so Brett put together 2 whites and 2 reds for my husband and I to practice with. We are so lucky to have such a great wine shop in our neighborhood. Our level of knowledge of what different varietals should reveal is pretty low, but the exercise itself just gets to you focus in more on what it is you’re seeing, smelling and tasting in a way you can’t when you know what something is already. John correctly identified the Sancerre while I correctly identified the second white as from California, although I thought it was Chardonnay when it was viognier. (It smelled like vanilla oak to me).
Not only was this a lot of fun to do, but we learned a lot from the mistakes we made. After we revealed the wines, we read up on them and learned the cues we should be picking up from them. I’ll only caution that this can be pretty addictive if you like wine.
I think I might be hooked.