Tasting Exercise: Barrel Presence

My goal while learning about different wines is to become proficient in all of the aspects of tasting.  There are a plethora of tasting exercises that can be completed to help accomplish this goal.  This week I will be focusing on learning about barrel presence in wine.

* Pour a Chardonnay with no oak (AOP Chablis from a producer known to utilize stainless steel or older oak) versus a Chardonnay with oak (Premier or Grand Cru Puligny-Montrachet from a producer known to utilize oak).

* Taste side by side, knowing which one is which.  Describe any notes that remind you of smells related to oak in wine: cinnamon, vanilla, cedar, coconut, dill, etc.)

*Blind taste the two wines in a “Lazy Susan” fashion five times.  Repeat five days in a row.

* Repeat the same exercise with other grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Syrah, etc.

Tasting Exercise: Earth Presence

My goal while learning about different wines is to become proficient in all of the aspects of tasting.  There are a plethora of tasting exercises that can be completed to help accomplish this goal.  This week I will be focusing on learning about earth presence in wine.


* Pour a Chardonnay from Australia, California, Chablis and Puligny-Montrachet. Blind smell and taste them in a “Lazy Susan” fashion- in different order each time, trying to pick out which ones have “earth” notes.

* Repeat this exercise with wines in a different order five times in a day.

* Repeat the entire exercise for five days straight, at different times of the day.

*Start to try to define earth: chalk, slate, clay, schist, potting soil, dusty road, gravel.  Make notes.  Certain earth will start to define wine regions within countries with certain grape varieties.

Repeat with other grape varieties:

* Rieslings from Clare Valley, Washington State, Mosel and Alsace.

* Pinot Noirs from Oregon, Central Otago/Santa Barbara, Voinay and Gevrey-Chamberlin.

* Syrah from Australia, Washington State/Sonoma Valley, Cornas and Crozes-Hermitage.

* Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, Chile, Coonawarra and Paullac.

* Extend to other grapes as you get more comfortable.


Tasting Exercise: Rim Variation

My goal while learning about different wines is to become proficient in all of the aspects of tasting.  There are a plethora of tasting exercises that can be completed to help accomplish this goal.  This week I will be focusing on learning about rim variation.  (Photos from Wine Folly, the same website I found the fun wine posters.)

* Pour one ounce of the same red wine (try a purple tinted wine produced from Syrah or Malbec) from two different vintages: one from within the last four years and one at least ten years old.

* The older wine should show a range of fading colors from core to rim.

* Pour one ounce of a red wine naturally tawny hued in youth (Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, certain Grenache, certain Pinot Noirs) beside one ounce of a red wine naturally purple hued at least ten years old.

* The aged wine should show difference in color from the core to the rim whereas the naturally tawny should be the same color all the way through.

Cinzano Gran Cuvee Rosé


Rosé Gran Cuvee




On Bottle/Website:

* Blend of Durello, Garganega, Trebbiano and Pinot Noir grapes

* Distinctive natural pink color

My Notes:

* Appearance: clear, bright, pink, low concentration

* Nose: clean, weak intensity, red berries

* Palate:  confirms nose

I tasted this wine with spicy Chinese food to see if the sparkling wine would cut through the spiciness.  Unfortunately, the food was not spicy enough to fully test the theory.  I have not tasted many rosés, so it is possibly that this type of wine is simply not for me.  Or maybe the food pairing did not bring out the best in this particular wine.  Whatever the case may be, this wine is not one that I have a desire to purchase again.

Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Willamette Valley

Pinot Noir




On Bottle/Website:

* Cherry, raspberry, leather, dried orange peel

* Brown sugar, sweet fruit cake, spice, clove

* Medium bodied

* Chewy tannins

* Nicely balanced acidity

* Pairs with herb crusted chicken or pork loin

My Notes:

Appearance: clear, day bright, medium low intensity, ruby, pinkish rim variation, medium plus viscosity

Nose: sound/clean, medium plus intensity, aroma/youthful, red cherry, black cherry, baked/jammy fruits, strawberry, blueberry, vanilla, baking spices

Palate: dry, medium bodied, cherry, strawberry, spiced, medium tannins, medium plus alcohol, medium plus acidity, medium complexity, medium length

Tasting Exercise: Body

I read a wonderful article in Food and Wine Magazine last Autumn about different tasting procedures you can go through to help yourself understand the different properties of wine tasting. I found the exercises to be extremely insightful and it was easier for me to remember these properties after physically testing them myself.  I wanted to save these exercises and the wines used and recommended to be able to go through them with friends in the future. I think this would make a fun little educational wine gathering!


Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson defines body as “the sense of weight or richness or heaviness, or even the feeling of viscosity that a wine leaves in your mouth.”

I have often used the analogy of comparing the body of wine to the difference in thickness with milk.  Skim milk is thinner and doesn’t have the richness of 2% milk, and that thickness/richness of milk grows as it reaches whole milk.  A light bodied wine would be comparable to the skim milk while the fuller bodied wines are comparable to whole milk.

Typically, if a wine has a higher alcohol content it will have more body.  Often times wines from warmer climates, which produce grapes with more sugar (that eventually turns into alcohol), tend to have more body.  Other factors in determining the body of a wine include sugar, oak and the concentration.

Food Pairings

One of the most common wine and food pairing tips is to pair white meat with white wine and red meat with red wine.  This concept refers to one of the most commonly used approaches when pairing food and wine: choosing wine based on its body.


Tasting Exercise

Equipment:  4 glasses, 1/4 cup each of skim milk, 2% milk, whole milk and heavy cream

Begin with the skim milk and taste in the order of richness until the heavy cream.  Pay attention to the texture of each variation on your tongue and the sensation in your mouth.  The skim milk should dissipate quickly, which the cream will coat your tongue.


The following wines will help illustrate the concept of body.  A type of wine is listed, followed by a specific vintage and brand that would work well. Each are listed in order from least to most full-bodied.


* Northern Italian Pinot Grigio (2011 Tiefenbrunner)

* New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (2011 Kim Crawford Marlborough)

* White Burgundy (2010 Domaine Faiveley Bourgogne Blanc)

* Barrel-fermented Chardonnay (2010 Rodney Strong Sonoma County)


* Valpolicella (2011 Tedeschi Lucchine)

* California Pinot Noir (2010 Dutton Goldfield Azaya Ranch Vineyard)

* Chianti Classico (2009 La Maialina)

* Zinfandel (2010 Ridge East Bench)

The wines in parenthesis were not necessarily the wines I found and used when first doing this experiment. They are wines suggested in Food and Wine Magazine. I used the ones I could find locally and if I could not find the specific brand they recommended or didn’t have the budget for the one they recommended, I used one that fit their category. I did these exercises before starting this blog so I did not record each brand and vintage I used.

Montoya Pinot Noir


Pinot Noir


(Monterey County)


On Bottle:

* Raspberry and black cherry notes

* Full flavored

My notes:

Nose: Spicy

After 3 hour decant: Cherry

After 6 hour decant: Cherry and raspberry

Taste: Tannin mouthfeel

After 3 hour decant: much smoother

After 6 hour decant: mellow and watery

I preferred the nose after a 6 hour decant and the taste after a 3 hour decant. I found it to have a mild flavor, not full flavored as the bottle states.  The 3 hour decant left the tannins smooth and the mild fruit flavor became more prevalent.  This is the type of the wine that allows the food to take center stage when paired with a meal. For me, this wine would pair well with chicken or a pork chop dish. I enjoy a nice light bodied red, so pinot noirs are often my go to wine with a weekday meal.  I will definitely purchase this one again.

Riedel Wine Glasses

Financially, I am in no position to own a complete set of Riedel wine glasses.  But if I were given the opportunity to win the lottery and prove all of the doubts about money not buying happiness wrong, I would be enjoying fabulous wine every evening out of a proper Riedel wine glass.


Riedel wine glasses are shaped according to the characteristic of the wine.  Each glass is hand-crafted and made from crystal.  According to http://www.wineenthusist.com, the luxury Riedel Sommeliers collection is the benchmark against which all other wine glasses are measured.  “The upper bowls are blown into a mold customized to concentrate the wine’s aromas and direct the flow of the wine to the optimal areas of the mouth.”

I still remember the first time I tasted wine out of a Riedel wine glass.  I was hesitant to believe that a simple wine glass could make a significant difference in the taste of the wine, but I was proven wrong.

Within the next year, I would like to start a basic set and collect The Key to Wine Tasting Set.  It seems like the best investment for me, mostly because it is the most economical.


This set includes one chardonnay glass, one riesling/sauvignon blanc glass, one pinot noir glass, one cabernet sauvignon/merlot glass and one shiraz/syrah glass.  Clearly I would be buying this set simply for myself, so it feels a bit selfish because I would never pull any of these out with guests because I would only have one glass for each type of wine.  So I’m not really sold yet.  Also, I like having a stem on my wine glasses, but the Riedel stemless glasses are much less expensive so I would have to compromise.

I love reading the descriptions online about how the shape of the glass aids the tasting process.  For example, the Riedel website states that the cabernet sauvignon/merlot glass is “perfect for young, full-bodied, complex red wines that are high in tannin.  This glass smoothes out the rough edges, emphasizing the fruit, allowing wines to achieve a balance that would normally take years of aging to acquire.  The generous size of the glass allows the bouquet to develop fully.  The shape directs the flow of wine onto the zone of the tongue which perceives sweetness, thus accentuating the fruit and de-emphasizing the bitter qualities of the tannin.”  Doesn’t that make you just want to go out and buy the glasses immediately to test it out?

Identifying Reds Based on Nose

One piece of advice Kevin Zraly gives in his book Complete Wine Course, is that the most effective way to comprehend your own preferences for styles of wine is to “memorize” the smell of individual grape varieties.  He shares that many people in his classes want to know what wine smells like, and he prefers not to use subjective words.

He breaks it down into an easier concept for me to understand when he compares it to describing what food smells like.  When you ask someone to describe what steak and onions smell like, it is difficult to come up with anything other than “steak and onions.”

His advice is to try and take three major varieties and keep smelling them and smelling them until you can identify the difference.  Now, as I reread this for the post, I am wondering if I misinterpreted his advice.  He suggested using pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon for reds.  Now I assumed he meant wines, but maybe he was actually suggesting that you smell the grapes.  In any case, my research involved wines. I kept smelling these three types of wine.


Thankfully, I have wonderful friends, one of whom helped me in this endeavor.  Not only helped me, cooked a fabulous dinner of chicken parmesan and white bean salad to enjoy during the process!  We had a good time testing the different wines and I even had her quiz me in the end.

I’m not sure if it would be considered cheating or not, but I used the looks of the wine to guide my decisions.  I’m not confident that I would have been successful without this guidance.

The pinot noir was see through in the glass and had a touch of sweetness in the smell, giving out notes of cherry and currant.  The merlot was translucent around the edges when held up to white paper and the I classified the smells for this purpose of testing as astringent, oaky and hints of asparagus.  The cabernet sauvignon was opaque and had notes of pine and rhubarb that helped me identify it.  Now I’m sure some of my descriptions of the smells were off, but to me those descriptors were what made it possible for me to identify the wines based on looks and smell alone.

Host Wine Aerator

For the past few years, I have been using the Vinturi wine aerator with my dry reds.  When I recently came across the Host adjustable wine aerator, which allows you to decant any wine from zero to six hours instantly, I was intrigued.


When I was first introduced to the wine aerator, I was skeptical.  Was it possible for this little contraption to put enough oxygen into the wine to make a significant difference in taste?  So I tried one of my favorite wines side by side through the aerator and was amazed at the difference.

When I first saw this aerator, with the ability to decant the wine by the hour, I was again skeptical.  So I decided to test it with a pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon.  I poured three glasses of each type of wine:  one control, one at three hours and one at six hours.

The product description states, “The acrylic strainer filters out unwanted sediment while the flow meter regulates the pour for dependable aeration levels every time.”  To change the decant time, you simply twist the steel band to show the amount of time you prefer.

With the pinot noir, the control smelled spicy and peppery.  Run through the aerator at a three hour decant, there was a clear cherry nose.  At the six hour mark, I could catch the cherry notes yet, but also raspberry.  I had never tested the effectiveness of the aerator on the nose of wine before and was quite surprised at the significant difference it made.

There was a definitive change in the taste of the wine, as well.  The tannins were much smoother as the level of aeration increased.  At the six hour mark, the pinot noir felt too mellow and watery for me.  My preference would be a three hour decant on this wine. (But strangely enough, I preferred the six hour decant when it came to the smell of the wine.)

With the merlot, the control had vanilla and cherry notes.  Although I picked up the same smells throughout the three tastings, the fruit aromas became more prevalent the longer it was decanted.

I could detect oaky flavor when tasting the merlot, but maybe my olfactory bulb isn’t sophisticated enough yet to have picked up on that when swirling and sniffing the wine.  The longer the wine was decanted, the smoother it tasted.  My preference was the six hour decant with this wine.

The control of the cabernet sauvignon produced a nose filled with spice, currants and blackberries, in my opinion.  The three hour decant still had a prevalent spice to it, but the bouquet had seemed to mellow.  In the six hour decant, I picked up mostly currant and cherry aromas.

The taste of the control was full of tannins and when I coated my tongue with the wine, I perceived a great deal of bitterness.  As the wine was decanted, it was smoother, but I still didn’t care for this particular cabernet sauvignon. I always thought I had enjoyed cabs, but didn’t drink them often because I can usually never find someone to split a bottle with me.  I will have to do more investigating to see if it was simply this particular vintage and label or if I have been mistaken on my perception of cabernet sauvignons!

I will have to continue playing with this aerator to find the perfect decant levels for different wines, as I only used three and six in this experiment.  As far as I can tell, the less body in the wine, the less decanting it needed to fit my preferences.  I will have to do more research on that, as I have never officially decanted.  I have always simply used the Vinturi aerator, and I’m not sure how that would translate to hours decanted.  I always simply knew that I preferred the taste after it had been run through the aerator.  This is where the research gets fun!  Maybe next time I will take one wine and try it at every hour mark to differentiate and see what fits my preferences and if my theory holds up.