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How We Taste and Rate Wines

First and foremost, we drink wines we like to drink.  We can really be heretics when it comes to wine and food, as we still drink wines we like to drink and tend not to get trapped in the pairings.  In our opinion, while there are wines that do tend to go better with certain foods, a lot of wines go fine with a lot of different foods.  So we drink what we like to drink, wherever that might be.  We don’t ignore it, we just don’t let it rule what we open

We also don’t have educated enough palates to describe a wine with the immeasureable breadth and variety of many wine reviewers.  Would that we did.  We understand and can relate to red fruits, black fruits, tar, earth, smoke, wood, even shoe leather conjures a definite impression  – in my mind at least.  Slightly sweet overripe rinds of lemon tinged with elderberry means nothing to us.  Likewise, wild blueberries mixed with a somewhat herbal note reminiscent of hibiscus tea does not paint a mental picture, well – at least the wild blueberries do.  Perhaps if they had stopped there.  There are times we pull some unusual, distinct flavors out of a wine, and we are always trying.  We search for aromas and flavors to identify and describe the wine.  It’s a great part of the fun of tasting wine.  I, for one, am in awe of people who can do this.  I suspect it’s due to the amount of practice, although we’ve had our fair share of that as well.  I will say that we just had a 2005 Volnay that provided a wonderful opportunity in identifying aromas.  The first day was all red fruit, but the second provided me the unmistakable aroma of model airplane glue.  This was a blast from my childhood.  So I can relate to people who can pull specific references out of a wine’s nose or taste profile.  I wish I could do it more often.

This last bottle of Volnay was also a lesson in aeration.  It was much better the first day.  So exposure to air can be good and bad.  A topic for another day.

So how would we describe a wine? Aromas of red or black fruits, herbal, smokey, tar etc would be probable (possibly some airplane glue).  Flavors will likely follow along the same lines.  In whites definitely grapefruit, pineapple, peach and pear are things I have experienced.  We’ll talk about acid, and certainly tannins.  Color is something to be noticed as well.  One of our favorite aspects of wine is length, or basically how long does the flavor or sense f the wine stay with you after you have swallowed it.  Some wines can have lengths lasting many minutes , plus.  I (Neil) was just at a tasting of Pride Mountain wines where the host claimed one of the wines had a twenty minute length.  I didn’t get to prove that as we went through six wines during the tasting – but it clearly was long.

The acid and tannin might give clues as to if the wine is ready to drink, past its prime or needs more time.  We’ll do some experimenting with decanting to see how some react to an hour or two of oxidation.

All of these things will be an attempt to describe the wine in general terms, so someone could attempt to wrest an impression for themselves of how they might like the wine.  When we get to talking about value, which is really going to be our grading scale, this is going to get a bit more personal.  We will be grading wines on how we perceive them as the total package, including price point.  Of course everyone will disagree somewhat, which is another of the great things about wine – it’s different for everyone.

So what you’ll see in a tasting note might look like this:

Wine:  2010 Domaine de Cause La Lande Cavagnac                                                  

Winery Location:  Cahors AOC, Southwest France

Tasted By:   Neil & Cheri                             Date:    May 2014

Tasting Notes:    –
living up to its reputation, the wine is dark, inky purple in the glass and totally opaque.  It looks substantial.  The nose if full of blackberry and anise, with a tiny touch of menthol as well.  On the palate the wine presents some pretty stiff tannins.  There is dark fruit and oak in the medium+ bodied juice, and it carries a very long finish.  This could use some time, although it did go great with the steak we were having that night.  I suggest decanting for a while.

Price Point –   about $20

Would We Buy It?  – it is a very good wine, and a bit different.  When the tannins soften a bit more it will be that much better, but you can decant it now for an hour or two and get the same effect.  We might pick up a few more at this price.  If you want to try something a little off the beaten path and like big reds it is definitely worth a shot.

So the Black Wine of Cahors makes and appearance and shows well.  We’ll be looking for some other examples to see how quality and style compare between producers.  Should be fun.

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When we make these value judgments, the price of the wine is of course key, but so also is our tolerance for price.  We are fortunate enough to be able to spend $40 on a bottle of wine for the cellar occasionally.  We are also finishing up putting two kids through college, so it kind of stops there.  Maybe a bit more for a really special and/or sentimental bottle.  An example of this would be the 2001 Louis Martini Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet we tried at a wine tasting (from the “special” bottle they sometimes have under the table).  We loved it and bought a bottle to put away for our 25th anniversary.  That anniversary day was a gift in late fall New England, 75 degrees and bright sun at an inn on Cap Cod.  We took our Monte Rosso and spent two wonderful hours on a secluded bench in the sunshine draining the bottle.  It remains my favorite wine ever.  I bought two more bottles and put them down for future occasions at $70 each.  This is not my usual comfort range.  But these are ‘special’.  In fact I will buy more.  It is hard to find, so if you run across any please let me know, as I want ALL OF IT!

Anyway, we generally classify wine prices as follows, more or less:

$0-$10 – Everyday

$10-$20 – once, or maybe twice a week (yes, we drink a lot of wine)

$20-$40 – once every couple of weeks or once a month.  With good company or a special occasion

$40-$80 – special stuff, anniversary, birthday, lottery win etc.

$80+ – we really just don’t go there

So when we give our “Would we buy it?” rating it is in this context.  If we like it and it’s under $10 it’s probably a good everyday wine.  If it’s great and it’s $50, it’s a special occasion wine and we’ll probably add a bottle to our cellar.  We’ll let you know when we actually buy something as well.

In the end all that matters is that you like the wine you buy and drink.  That’s what you really need to focus on.

A votre santé.