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Men of Taste - Because Good Taste is Hard to Come By These Days
May 2002

Perhaps you think you have good taste. Chances are, since you've visited mainwine.com, that you do. But do you have Supertaste? That's another question altogether, which we gon't go into now. For the novice wine enthusiast, the perplexing plethora of terms used to describe a wine can be somewhat daunting. That's a shame, because there is no official dictionary of wine terms, although there are certainly more familiar agreed upon terms (See links, sidebar). Perhaps more important than the ability to describe a wine is the ability to taste it in the first place. And to enjoy it. And then to do it again.

nice legs John Here is a real "Leg Man">>>

According to modern science, there are three levels of ability to discern taste: Non-tasters (like Giri); Medium Tasters; and Supertasters (like Ian). Unless you're a Non-taster (and you're probably not a Supertaster, there are not that many of them), you could easily become what we will call a "Good Taster." All that means is you know how to pay attention to what you're consuming, you have a good memory for previous experiences with wine, you know what you like and you can approach the subject with a combination of intellectual rigor and hedonistic joy. Combine a Good Taster with a solid command of the English language, and you have one incomprehensible individual, whose experience of a wine comes across more like a geology survey ("...the earthy nose burrows into a concrete dustiness that finishes with a hint of flint...") than a pleasant libation. Our favorite wine notes come from people who choose a more associative approach, like:

"...this wine is like returning to the womb, swaddling one in rich warm berry hues that comfort like a mother's voice..."

If that were an actual tasting note, we'd probably recommend a therapist before another glass of wine, but you get the idea. The real point, in our opinion, is to enjoy some wine, and share the experience, as indicated in our taste-off below. Even a novice, however, should know the basics:

Give it a swirl. This helps aerate the wine a bit, it releases aromas by coating the side of the glass with a thin sheet of wine that evaporates quickly. From the grape to your nose, as it should be. You can also ascertain something about the wine's alcohol content and overall viscosity by examining the "legs" after swirling. Thicker legs means more alcohol. And don't forget color as an indicator of grape varietal, age, quality, etc. But for the most part, visual appreciation of wine is more or less meaningless. It's about DRINKING the liquid, yes?

Use a good glass. If you think the shape doesn't matter, you are seriously misinformed. The shape has a profound effect on the way the wine presents to the nose, as what you're experiencing, to a large extent, is the release of alcohol molecules, and different shapes concentrate the vapors differently. Different glasses will also present the wine to your palate in different ways, affecting taste and texture. As for thickness, very thin crystal is the best. Use large glasses so your pour doesn't exceed a quarter or a third of the glass - leaves room for swirling and for the more nasally <cough> gifted amongst us.

Give it a taste. In our opinion, convoluted bubbling inhalations of air will help you analyze a wine in depth, but will really only tell youspit how it tastes when you engage in convoluted bubblings. Just bring some wine into your mouth and give it a little taste. You can swish it around to release more aromas - a huge part of tasting depends on the nose. Try tasting anything when you have a cold. It's hard to really assess the "finish" if you spit (spitting's okay at Main Wine Club - see photo), but in this writer's opinion swallowing will slowly deteriorate your ability to taste if you sample more than several wines. (We're not really sure what the man pictured is doing. We think he may have lost an earring, or doesn't feel well.)

Take a break between every few tastes. Drink some water, nibble on some food. (Or, like Giri, put a lampshade on your head and swing from chandelier to chandelier shouting "I'm Spiderman! You'll never catch up with Spidey-baby!")

notes<<< Keeping notes is good. However, these men are actually placing racing bets.

Other considerations that impact the experience of a wine:

What you're eating - some wines are really ghastly until you try them with the cheese that makes them reveal their reason for existing. (Replace 'cheese' with pasta, fish, steak, lamb, bread, etc.; Different wines will certainly have affinities for different kinds of food. Exploring this is fun in itself.)

Breathing - many wines need considerable exposure to oxygen to become themselves, and are wretchedly boring until they "open up". Often, this can be an indication that the wine will get better with cellaring.

For fun, and to hopefully inspire some of the Main Wine Club regulars to submit some tasting notes, Giri and Ian had a friendly "taste-off" at our May tasting of wines from the south of France. This is especially amusing as Giri is an accomplished and knowledgeable wine drinker, while Ian retired several years ago, and now lives on Espresso and Dunhills (yup, he's a spitter).

The Taste-Off

Disclosure:
Ian is a former lush who never drinks, but has many years' experience in the food & wine industry, as well as being a member of the Screenwriters Guild, which firmly establishes him as a non-writer. Giri is an experienced, intelligent, and avid wine drinker, with a college education, approximately 1100 taste buds, and a day job, which officially establishes him as a, as a... prune-faced snob.

So, on to the notes...

Chateau La Roque "Cupa Numismae"- Pic Saint Loup, 2000

G: Some cedar and herbs on the bright, red fruit nose. Currants and blackberries on the palate; slight dustiness and "gravel" on the finish. Plenty of tannins and acid to go the long haul. Well-balanced, long finish. Very good stuff...

I: I agree on the tannin and dustiness, however I'm picking up much more of a smokiness than any solid berry qualities. Nicely balanced, but bring a fire extinguisher 'til 2004, when the fire should've settled down a bit.

Domaine St. Martin de la Garrigue "Bronzinelle"- Coteaux du Langedoc, 1999

I: It's always a bigger disappointment when a wine with such a long name is so short on everything else that matters. This one's a BIG BABY! All that Delicious Red™ Appleness, no guts. Pah!! Finishes like a Giorgio Brutini $24.99 shoe. (Sure Ian. But do you like it?)

G: Plenty of berry, malic acid on the palate. Herbs, cherries, and some earth on the nose. There's depth, balance, and well-integrated tannins. This will last. Give it time and/or air. I like it a lot. Ian knows NOTHING! I SAY NOTHING!

Comte Cathare "Syrache"- Corbieres, 1998

I: Chewy! Although nicely balanced and very palatable, the youthful leather this one possesses would be most suited for rinsing down a nice Tournedos Forrestier, extra cheese. Do not attempt this wine alone!

G: Bright and grenache-ey. Mint and cherries, followed by plenty of juicy acidity and red fruit. Medium finish. Very nice overall, would be better with some food.

Comte Cathare "Syrvedre"- Corbieres, 1998

G: This one shows both grapes well (as opposed to above). A little "garrigue"(c'mon Giri, I can't afford to actually go there...), some wet earth, raspberries and prunes on the nose. Clean and fresh on the palate, with a little grunginess creeping back in on the medium finish. Decent but no Syrache! Hah! (Giri, stop using words I have to look up!)

I: If raspberries could explode gently and collide with nicely-worn velvet... although it first presents a bit of smoke and earth, it really cuts loose with some grapes and berries later, and has a reasonably gentle finish with hints of flintiness.

Domaine de Fontsainte "Reserve la Demoiselle" - Corbieres, 1999

I: Yikes. This has the most subdued nose I've ever encountered. Unfortunately it follows with a simple astringency that makes you run for the cheese plate. Thank God, the Main Wine Club has one. Two thumbs down. (After running for the cheese-plate, I conceded to Giri, below)

G: You're such a New World BABY! Gentle nose, yes, but very pleasant. The palate is cool and soft, well-balanced. If you actually did try it with some cheese, you might change your mind. Pretty good.

The Wines
In Question...

Chateau La Roque "Cupa Numismae"-
Pic Saint Loup, 2000

la rogue

Domaine St. Martin de la Garrigue "Bronzinelle"- Coteaux du Langedoc

bronzinelle

Comte Cathare "Syrache"- Corbieres, 1998

syrache

Comte Cathare "Syrvedre"- Corbieres, 1998

syrvedre

Domaine de Fontsainte "Reserve la Demoiselle" - Corbieres, 1999

fontsainte


Related Links:

Wine Doctor Wine Glossary
Browseable alphabetically

Robin Garr's
Wine Lexicon

With Audio Files for Proper Pronunciation!

The Glossarist
An extensive list of more resources, in various languages.