blindly tasting wine vs blind tasting

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.

I’ll take sommelier homework any day

March 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

As with any certification, you have to take courses and pass exams to become a true sommelier. In this case, they’re not easy. There’s lots of homework involved.

In preparation for my stage at Frasca, I’ve been doing my homework. It’s been a tough, unpleasant task, but somehow I’ve suffered through it. Maybe it’s all of that delicious wine I’ve been tasting.

For homework, I paid a visit to the Boulder Wine Merchant, owned by another Boulder Master Sommelier, Brett Zimmerman. Gili, one of his knowledgeable associates put together a case of classic wines for me to try. I started with 6 classic whites (chardonnay, sauv blanc, chenin blanc, riesling, viognier & pinot grigio) & 6 classic reds (gamay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon/merlot, sangiovese, syrah & zinfandel). All of these were wines most typical of those varietals.  She also printed out the certified sommelier tasting exam sheets so as I was tasting I could think about how you would have to evaluate the wine if you were blind tasting it on the sommelier exam.

Not only was that exercise a lot of fun, it gave me a whole new set of dimensions with which to evaluate wine. As you taste these wines side by side you can really start to distinguish their differences. It’s a fun thing to do with friends. I have not ventured into blind tasting quite yet but I’ll get into that more this week.

In addition to tasting homework, I’ve also done a lot of reading. Bobby Stuckey, Master Sommelier from Frasca, suggested I read Secrets of a Sommeliers. From his perspective it gives good insight into how sommeliers think. It was definitely an interesting read and I came away with how the idea of a sommelier is being crafted in the United States compared with the stodgy stereotypes.

The Court of Master Sommeliers also recommends reading the Wine Bible and Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. I found these to be really helpful as you’re tasting different wines to learn about their nuances. They are packed with info.

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