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General questions asked by Novices

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I thought I'd start a new thread for people new to wines. So that "experienced" winos who think such questions might be beneath them can avoid this thread from the start. That being said...

Zin,

You mentioned that while reviewers, other's in the industry (e.g. sommelier's) and "experienced" wine enthusiasts will describe wines with terms like "buttery & oaky", "...hints of mocha", "hints of pineapple and dark fruits" you don't actually taste any of that. Do you actually smell those aromas? And if you do yet don't taste them....why use those descriptions in the first place or at all?

Also, when people say "fine tannins" what does that mean? Does it mean the taste of tanins is mild and not overpowering?

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  1. Find a nice, relatively young bottle of Pommard. This will have chunky tannins. From the same vintage, compare it with a nice bottle of Volnay. This will have fine, feminine tannins. Both are Burgundy.

    8 Replies
    1. re: SteveTimko

      Better yet, a bottle of Volnay side-by-side with a bottle of Nuits St.-Georges . . . .

      1. re: SteveTimko

        Thanks Steve. So any bottle from the Pommard and Volnay appellations from the same vintage. Do you have any specific recommendations? Bottles you've tried?

        1. re: BDD888

          It's more likely driven by what you have available. Go to a good wine store and ask for their recommendations. You want it fairly young so the tannins have resolved. But too young and it may not be drinkable.
          The Nuit St.-Georges will substitute for the Pommard, but the Pommard will be cheaper. ;-)

          1. re: SteveTimko

            Yes, the Pommard will be cheaper, but since Pommard and Volnay lie next door to one another, the differences will be far more subtle . . . I would tell *my* beginning students wishing to learn about Burgundy -- when comparing two different communal appellations -- to pick a more obvious difference, such as one from the Côte de Nuits (e.g.: Nuits-St.-Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin, Vosne-Romanée, etc.) with one from the Côte de Beaune (e.g.: Volnay or Savigny-les-Beaune is where I'd start).

            After the "Nuits vs. Beaune" distinctions are understood, THEN I'd shift to a comparison of two different communes within one sub-region (e.g.: Gevrey-Chambertin compared with a Nuits-St.-Georges, or a Volnay compared side-by-side with a Pommard).

            Just two different approaches . . .

            Cheers,
            Jason

          2. re: BDD888

            Tollot-Beaut has both Pommard and Volnay in that region. Not sure if you can get that producer where you are.

            1. re: ChefJune

              Thanks ST and ChefJune. I was thinking of looking for Domaine-Jessiaume as I know they produce both Volnay & Pommard Bourgs. Will also look for "Tollot-Beaut". Should be able to find one of them in Toronto. If not then in LA (in Sept). Or see if the sales people can give me a good recommendation. Just wanted to have some producers I can fall back on.

              Of the Volnay & Pommards by Tollot-Beaut...which are Volnay & Pommard. Can't seem to Google their Domaine website. And the shop that I've found with Tollot-Beaut doesn't mention which is Volnay or Pommard. Domaine Jessiaume makes it easier to spot as they say so on their labels.

              Are you familiar with Olivier Laflaive?

              1. re: BDD888

                There are TWO "Leflaive" labels. The first, Domaine Leflaive, is one of the finest producers of white Burgundies there is. Few, if any, are better. (Maison) Olivier Leflaive is a négociant label produced from grapes/wines grown outside of the domaine itself.

                1. re: zin1953

                  Thanks Jason. DIdn't know OL was a négociant. And I'll try your recommendations. I think sampling more obviously different communes would be better for novices like me. Than to go with one producer and just buy their Volnay and Pommard (e.g. Domaine Jessiaume) where the differences would likely be less obvious.

        2. I use a little tid-bit form my youth, to describe "tannins." When I was a kid, we'd ride our bikes to a local grocery, that had ice cream in tiny little cardboard cups w/ covers. Each was served with a wooden "spoon," and if you licked that wooden spoon, you immediately understood tannins. Now, there are some differences, with regard to wines, but the feeling on the tongue and in the mouth are very, very similar. The difference is that the tannins from those wooden spoons was from the wood, while the tannins in wines are from other elements, like the skins, the pips and more. Still, tannins, though a backbone to many wines, offer some similar sensations and stimuli.

          As far as "general questions asked by novices," the main one, that I encounter is: "which wine will I like best?"

          Well, that depends, and will elicit additional questions, such as "which wines have you enjoyed to date?" "Are you experiencing this wine with food, and if so, what are the dishes?"

          As for what one smells, or picks up in a wine, it will depend on their "library" of sensory experiences. If one has never tasted, or remembers black current, or blueberries, then they will likely not find those elements. Same for many other descriptors. If one has cataloged many flavors and aromas, then they may well find such.

          While many laugh at anything Kendall-Jackson, they have a wonderful "Sensory Garden," that will help educate them, on common wine elements. I highly recommend a stop, and about an hour in that garden.

          Enjoy,

          Hunt

          4 Replies
          1. re: Bill Hunt

            I don't laugh at KJ, though I have a healthy aversion to the Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay after having to drink it with pretty much everything for the better part of 18 months worth of road trips.

            1. re: wattacetti

              That was why I issues the caveat. I have been victimized by K-J Vintner's Reserve, but have to admit that the K-J tasting room does many things right, and is not to be missed.

              Hunt

            2. re: Bill Hunt

              Wow now that is a helpful bit of info. So much wine talk is off putting geek-speak to novices. Tasting notes are not helpful in the least because there seems to be no objective criteria. I remember watching Mr Rodgers explaining Modern Art to kids one day by describing a Mondrian as "This is a painting about lines and color" All of a sudden a light went on and i understood that I have been trying too hard to see something that may not be there. So much wine talk sounds like Modern art talk and feels like a deliberate way to keep novices out. Keeping the Bible in Latin so so speak

              1. re: budnball

                Thank you for the kind words.

                From a great tennis coach decades ago, I have tried to learn to present things in terms that the listener (or reader, or student) can relate to.

                I am blessed with a vast "library" of taste experiences, and have a good memory of most of those (wife wishes that I could do half so well with my "to do" list). While I could throw out a bunch of scientific terms, most would be meaningless, and thus useless to the listener. However, if I can relate to something in their past (like Faulkner with his references to smells from one's past), there is usually a connect. If I can find that, then I have done what I set out to do - relate some aspect of a wine to something that they can relate to.

                Few really want the scientific explanation (though I like that part too), when some relationship to their past, or to everyday life is made, they instantly relate.

                Also, different folk have different "libraries" of smells and tastes, and that is why in a group of wine lovers, you will often hear "blackberries" from one, and then "dew berries" form another, then just "berries" from someone else, while yet another might wax poetic about those freshly picked blackberries on a Summer day, when they were in the patch, and hit a bush with fully ripe, succulent berries, and then promptly ate them all, rather than take them home so that mom could do a cobbler for that evening's dessert. Heck, I can even describe the pail that I was supposed to fill that day, and it was probably five decades ago!

                If the listener wants a list of the phenols, I can do that, but most want something from their life experiences. That is then where I aim.

                Hunt

                PS - Like the Mondrian reference. I have three prints and that covers it well!!!!!!

            3. You know my name is really Jason, not Zin, right?

              >>> You mentioned that while reviewers, other's in the industry (e.g. sommelier's) and "experienced" wine enthusiasts will describe wines with terms like "buttery & oaky", "...hints of mocha", "hints of pineapple and dark fruits" you don't actually taste any of that. Do you actually smell those aromas? And if you do yet don't taste them....why use those descriptions in the first place or at all? <<<

              Not exactly what I said . . .

              >>> Try to describe a taste. You cannot . . . and yet it's something that wine writers, critics, winemakers, and wine drinkers attempt to do daily. (Try to describe "chocolate" to someone who has never tasted it before, and you'll see what I mean.)

              Certain wine may be frequently cited as being filled with "cherries" or "plums" or being "buttery"; as having "tobacco" or "cedar" or "pencil lead"; as being "earthy" or "chalky" or like "wet slate." But obviously there are no cherries, plums, or butter, etc. truly present in the wine . . . NOR is there REALLY the smell of cherries, plums or butter, etc. in the wine. There is something there that is ***reminiscent*** of those characteristics, AND those characteristics are not detected in a vacuum. In other words, you can smell a ripe cherry or plum, smell a stick of butter, and those components will never be in a wine. But if you add, for example, a bit of cherry Jell-o into a glass of red wine, or a bit of diced plum and let it macerate in the red wine . . . if you add diacetyl to a white . . . . a) those will smell DIFFERENT than if you smell the ripe fresh fruit; and b) they will make it EASIER for you to detect those specific components in a wine later on . . . . <<<

              To elaborate . . .

              The human olfactory sense can detect over 10,000 different components. Not as many as a bloodhound, to be sure, but certainly one heck of a lot more than what the human sense of taste can detect (five).

              FIRST, try to describe the way chocolate tastes to someone who have never tasted it, and the conversation might go something like . . .

              Chocolate Lover: "It's good."
              Never Tasted Chocolate" "OK, but that doesn't really help me."
              CL: "It's rich."
              NTC: "Ditto."
              CL: "It's sweet."
              NTC: "Like honey."
              CL: "Uh, not exactly. It's bitter."
              NTC: "It's sweet and bitter? And these aren't exactly flavors . . ."
              CL: "It's got vanilla in it."
              NTC: "Chocolate tastes like vanilla?"
              CL: "Well, a little. It's creamy."
              NTC: "So it's honey and vanilla and cream, mixed together?"

              I think you get the point.

              SECOND, you do not smell/taste in a vacuum. In other words, you do not smell the "butter" in a California Chardonnay and ONLY smell butter . . . you are also smelling (and tasting) ALL of the other aromatics (and flavors) at the same time. And you know there is no REAL butter in the wine, but rather something that seems to suggest, to be reminiscent of, butter . . . and THAT is actually diacetyl, a potential by-product of malolactic fermentation and what they add to margarine to make it seem more like butter.

              And when you smell, say, fresh cherries in a bowl, they smell differently than, say, a cherry jam, or a cherry pie (where you are also smelling the crust, butter/shortening, spices, and so on). Thus, my reference to adding some cherry Jello powder to a glass of wine, etc., etc. above.

              So the way that we, as human beings, describe an aroma or taste is to use, in a sense, similes -- but instead of saying, "There is something present in this wine that reminds me of cherry," we say, "It's got cherries . . . ."

              Cheers,
              Jason

              1. I think it is also important to understand that the descriptive terms are just "reminiscent of"....most of the time. The wine really never DOES taste like butter, cherries, barnyard, etc. It is the combination of smell and taste that precede the descriptive term. It is more of a "common memory" invocation...if you don't know what a "black currant" might smell and taste like- then you might have another term that better describes it FOR YOU. But, It is interesting that many wines have common sensory triggers that most of us relate to- "grass, vegetal, barnyard, red berry, stone, mineral, mint, cedar, dirt, flinty, funky, gamey, jammy, etc. We have never actually eaten "grass" but understand what the entire *sensation* of "grass" is like.

                46 Replies
                1. re: sedimental

                  it is also important to understand that the descriptive terms are just "reminiscent of"....most of the time

                  ====================

                  But sometimes it really does taste like vanilla, blackberry, and earth. My "bottle", the one that made me understand that wine can really taste like the way they are described and that it's not just make believe or very active imaginations running wild was the 2001 Latour which I drank on release. I didn't even know what Chateau Latour was back then. Literally, I just stumbled on the wine at K&D Wines in Manhattan. I still remember asking the merchant which bottle was better, the 2001 Ch. Latour or the Louis Latour. The merchant recommended the Ch. Latour. I asked why. The merchant was very kind and told me it was a better made wine when she very well could have said, "Because it's Chateau Latour you f****** idiot!"

                  But even back at that infant stage of wine drinking (me, not the wine) I could clearly detect vanilla, blackberry, earth and remember it vividly to this day. No doubt I missed many other qualities and subtleties. But sometimes, I think a wine is so great that the greatness can be appreciated even by those with minimal experience.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    And -- as great as that bottle of Château Latour might have been -- there were NO blackberries, NO vanilla, NO dirt in the wine . . . it was 100 percent GRAPES! And what you tasted were qualities and characteristics in the wine that *reminded* you, however vividly, of blackberry, vanilla, and earth.

                    Cheers,
                    Jason

                    1. re: zin1953

                      And -- as great as that bottle of Château Latour might have been -- there were NO blackberries, NO vanilla, NO dirt in the wine . . . it was 100 percent GRAPES
                      ======================
                      Yes. Truly amazing stuff that wine. I was only making the point that sometimes it can really taste like those things and that little imagination is needed. Sometimes, it does take a bit of imagination and stretching and searching. At least for my pre-adolescent wine palate.

                      Kind of like the first time I brought home a 15 year old sauterne. There was a clear, unmistakable flavor of mint and I kept marveling over it again and again. My dad was unimpressed and shrugged because he thought they actually put mint in it...

                      1. re: zin1953

                        Jason,

                        I may have related this before but........ a few years ago my daughter, who's 'in the biz', took a two day "sensory perception in wine" course at the CIA in Napa. Most of the time was spent discussing the "reminiscent of" elements of this. But part of the second day was spent discussing graphic examples of molecular chain component "matches" between wine and some of the sensory reminiscent food items commonly identified in wine. The instructor showed overlays of molecular structures that were almost identical within a cherry's juice (for example) and a wine that was 'reminiscent of'' cherries.

                        I also remembering commenting on the eucalyptus element in a Napa Cab and being shown that the vineyard it came from was immediately adjacent to a large stand of eucalyptus trees. The winemaker explained that osmosis gave the grapes that characteristic.

                        So.............. I fully understand that there are no cherries in wine or that a grape vine is not a eucalyptus tree, but it would seem that there is more too it, in some cases, than just "reminiscence".

                        Your thoughts would be appreciated.

                        1. re: Midlife

                          May I jump into this conversation on molecular elements of sensory perception?

                          François Chartier (a local boy who happened to have consulted for Ferran Adrià) has come out with a the first two in a planned series of publications under the Molecules et Papilles banner and discusses the molecular elements of sensory perception as it pertains to wine and wine pairings.

                          Much better in the original French, but the first book at least has been translated into English as "Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food With Wine". it's worth the read but don't call it molecular oenology.

                          1. re: Midlife

                            Wow, that is really interesting about the eucalyptus. Being a gardener, I wouldn't have thought of any type of "taste transfer" between adjacent crops. Maybe because the eucalyptus (oil, chemistry) is so powerful. It is a good thing that doesn't happen with "organic fertilizer" (i.e. shit)..... and grapes :)

                            1. re: sedimental

                              Though that would be an interesting (if untrue) means of explaining Pinot noir "barnyard" aromas.

                              1. re: wattacetti

                                That's Brett . . . ;^)

                              2. re: sedimental

                                Some, who should be in the know, say it ain't so. However, I have found just that relationship in many vineyards.

                                However, I have never found "roses" in my Diamond Creek, and Al had those bushes planted all around at least three of his vineyards, Red Rock Terrace, Gravelly Meadow and Volcanic Hill.

                                I find the same as Midlife's daughter, but some will argue against such happening. I just taste, and enjoy wines, and am anything but a scientist, so what do I know?

                                Hunt

                              3. re: Midlife

                                Yes, some molecular components can indeed be similar -- as in the case of cherry -- or even identical: green olives, Cabernet Sauvignon, and asparagus all share the same molecule, the difference is one of concentration.

                                >>> The winemaker explained that osmosis gave the grapes that characteristic. <<<

                                Story No. 1: Heitz Martha's Vineyard is the most famous "eucalyptus-mint" Cabernet Sauvignon in California history. It is/was surrounded on three sides by eucalyptus trees. In the 1980s, the winery then known as Johnson-Turnbull (now simply Turnbull) was famous for being "the poor man's Martha's" because of its definitive eucalyptus character. At JT, one end of their vineyard was next to a eucalyptus wind break.

                                At JT, the winemaker used to segregate the Cabernet grapes harvested from first 10 rows of vines (those closest to the eucalyptus trees) from the grapes that came off rows 11-20, which in turn were kept separate from grapes picked off the rest of the vineyard. Each of the three "batches" were crushed, fermented and, initially ages separately.

                                The eucalyptus notes in the first 10 rows rendered the wine truly undrinkable. The second was, in some years, a little too intense perhaps, but otherwise it was fine. The rest of the vineyard has ZERO eucalyptus character at all.

                                Story No. 2: (and I originally heard it as a "story") A friend of mine used to be the winemaker at Beringer back in the 1970s. He invited David Heitz to come over for lunch in the Rhine House. He served two decanters of red wine, one with a red napkin tied around the neck, the other with a blue one. They were talking about this and that, whatever, when finally David couldn't take it any longer and asked what the wines were . . .

                                David was told that one was "his" 1968 (the 1968 Heitz Cellars Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley), and the other was the 1968 Beringer. David couldn't tell them apart.

                                Now if you know anything about California wine history, Beringer was moribund -- a dinosaur, making truly awful wine back then. There was no way that a $15 Heitz Martha's should be confused with a $3.50 Beringer . . . so after I heard this story, I asked my friend about it, on my next visit to Napa Valley . . . .

                                (OK, this was in 1973, so I cannot guarantee the exact quote, but . . . )

                                JBL: "I heard you served David Heitz two bottles of Cab -- one Martha's, one yours -- and he couldn't tell 'em apart. I ***also*** heard you had put eucalyptus leaves in the barrel to soak. You really do that?"

                                Winemaker: "Oh. That. You know, I don't want to talk about. That story is so overblown and exaggerated, you know? Let's drop it."

                                JBL: "OK, sure."

                                Winemaker: "But it was three, and it WAS Martha's." (Insert big grin here.)

                                Cheers,
                                Jason

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  My question has been whether the molecular similarities are, indeed, the reason the wine tastes and/or smells like the fruit. Sounds like you believe it is. The eucalyptus osmosis is a lot more of a 'direct' causality in my analytical mind.

                                  The winery in MY eucalyptus story, BTW, was Frank Family.

                                  1. re: Midlife

                                    I have only had their Chards, and do not know the trees near those vineyards. Gotta' find their Cab and see for myself.

                                    If you have the occasion, try the Milat Oakville Cab, and see what you find. Lots of eucalyptus trees around that one. [Grin] Also, since Silver Oak broke off the sourcing, that is a missing element from the Napa offering.

                                    Hunt

                                    1. re: Midlife

                                      In terms of the molecular underpinnings of flavor, sometimes the identical molecule that causes the flavor in the wine is the same molecule that creates the flavor in the actual thing. Vanilla in wine, for example: Molecularly, vanillin from oak barrels is the same as vanillin in vanilla extract. In fact, most vanilla extract is lignin (wood)-derived. Or the molecule in the wine is the same as the "fake/synthesized" flavor molecule: fake "buttery" movie popcorn, "butter-flavored" pancake syrup and buttery chardonnay all get their butteriness from diacetyl. The identical molecule that causes a particular fruit to have a flavor can occur in the wine. But this certainly isn't always the case. Fermentation and aging techniques create or aromas or flavors that have no known connection to the same flavor in its "real form." The aromas and smells in a wine can be quite close to the "real thing" -- or close enough to detect a distinct similarity. But it does take a little time spent wine-tasting to train your nose to detect subtleties. And also a bit of time to learn to articulate what you're sensing. Once you're hooked, you may be on the gerbil wheel of wine appreciation the rest of your life.

                                  2. re: Midlife

                                    Ah, the eucalyptus element!

                                    I have found that, as well, and in many vineyards, there ARE eucalyptus trees nearby. Many argue that they cannot contribute anything to the grapes in the vineyard, but I find their influence, where some "scientists" insist there is no relationship.

                                    I always think back to the Silver Oak Napa. Once, they sourced a lot of the grapes for that wine from the Milat brothers. In about 1999, they ceased to do so, and the "eucalyptus" notes ceased. The Milat brothers have many such trees along the boundaries of their Cab vineyard, and their Cab still exhibits those notes.

                                    Glad that you made mention of that particular characteristic, as it hits home with me.

                                    As always, sage and useful comments, and I had never read of those experiences from your daughter, so thanks for sharing.

                                    Hunt

                                    1. re: Midlife

                                      Osmosis sounds farfetched. More likely is that some airborne eucalyptus oil drifted onto the grape skins.

                                      1. re: Akitist

                                        Agreed. That is also what *most* winemakers I know think . . . .

                                        1. re: Akitist

                                          Yes, it's airborne oil from the eucalyptus tree that settles on the grapes. That's what causes the eucalyptus taste in the wine. Usually those plots of grapes are fermented completely separately from the rest of the grapes -- because the eucalyptus flavor can be overwhelming. Sometimes that wine is completely discarded or blended into a larger batch in very small quantities.

                                    2. re: Porthos

                                      I guess that was what I was really asking. How much of a "hint" or the descriptions are only meant to be or as it's been described here as "reminiscent of" only. Are they meant to be as clear as it was for you (Porthos) with that bottle of CH Latour. I suppose it' can be both. Though, reading reviews and ads from vineyards they make it seem like you shouldn't miss the aromas and flavours they list. That the aromas/flavours are more "hints" you should be able to detect more than be reminders.

                                      1. re: BDD888

                                        Being much earlier in the wine drinking game than some of the more seasoned professionals here, I understand your frustration because I remember it clearly. You read the descriptions of the wine and you're expecting a big glass of dessert (chocolate, blackberries, vanilla, etc). Instead you get wine. And the 3-4 years prior to my "moment" I couldn't taste any of the fruit, or chocolate, or vanilla, or spices that were being used to describe wine. That particular bottle of wine was an epiphany because it actually tasted blatantly like the flavors described and were not just "reminiscent of".

                                        Even now, about 8 years later, some wines I can clearly taste some of the flavors the experts use (eg. "mint" in a sauternes or the 1995 Mouton). Some I can faintly pick up after much swirling and waiting. And some, for the life of me, I can't pick up the descriptors used no matter how many times I taste or how long I wait. I still can't pick up "nori" from my 2005 La Crau and I've been eating nori for at least 2 decades now. I don't get "asian spices" from my 2007 Le Vieux Donjon either...it doesn't smell like any asian spices I cook with be it star anise, corriander, five spice, etc.

                                        In my limited experience, it can be very obvious or very faint and "reminiscent of". And I guess that is as much a difference in experience and the taster as it is a difference between a good wine and a stellar wine.

                                        1. re: Porthos

                                          . . . and I can honestly say that I cannot recall a single experience of ever picking up "mint" from a Sauternes. C'est la vie . . . .

                                          1. re: zin1953

                                            Right. So does that mean there are no such notes in a Sauternes? Or that it "reminds" us of different things?

                                            And far be it for a novice like me to argue with someone as experienced as you. If there weren't tasting notes of 1995, 1997, and 2007 Chateau d'Yquem from other professionals and people in the trade also mentioning "mint", I'd feel pretty stupid right about now. How is this relevent? The Sauternes I was referring to was my experience with the 1995 d'Yquem.

                                            http://www.redcarpetwine.com/News-Yqu...

                                            http://www.wineaccess.com/wine/produc...

                                            1. re: Porthos

                                              No argument at all . . . it's just that I'm trying to imagine "mint," and I cannot. Then again, I haven't had the 2007, and given all of the aged bottles of Château d'Yquem I have been privileged to try over the years, nothing has even come close. I suspect that a) it's a characteristic that is associated with "youth," and should disappear with bottle age and the wine reaching maturity; and b) it's -- obviously -- a characteristic that I would use a different descriptor for.

                                              >>> So does that mean there are no such notes in a sauterne? Or that it "reminds" us of different things? <<<

                                              Your question is an intriguing one. As I have ALWAYS said, wine is SUBjective, not OBjective . . . we perceive what we perceive, and can never be *exactly* sure that the aromas and flavors one individual "gets" in a wine are the same that another individual. So -- unless a GSC of Château d'Yquem shows the same/similar molecular aromatic compounds are shared by both mint and Sauvignon Blanc (I cannot imagine it would come from the Sémilion, the Botrytis, or the oak) -- then there is "something" in the wine that reminds you of "mint" and reminds me of something else . . . .

                                              Cheers,
                                              Jason

                                            2. re: zin1953

                                              Mint is not a characteristic that I have ever picked up in a Sauternes, but that does not mean that some tasters would be wrong, or that there are no possible productions of the wines, that do not exhibit such.

                                              Though I drink a lot of Sauternes, I have not even come close to sampling all, and especially all vintages of even a few producers.

                                              Hunt

                                          2. re: BDD888

                                            You also have to factor in that winery tasting notes are intended to make you want to buy the wine. Reviews, as well, would be much less helpful if they were vague than when they conjure up specific aroma and flavor images, even obscure ones. And............ I always tell people it's not that big a deal if you don't pick up the same things, as long as you enjoy the wine.

                                            1. re: BDD888

                                              The clarity will be heavily dependent on YOUR memory, and the "library" of odors and tastes that you have cataloged and stored there.

                                              It will always be personal.

                                              Enjoy,

                                              Hunt

                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                Speaking of memory libraries...why do you think we're seeing a lot more "lychee", "nori", and "asian spices" as descriptors when you would be hard pressed to find it used once 5-10 years ago? Is it because critics are finally getting around to trying lychee, nori, and asian spices? Or is it something less intrinsic to wine, like appealing to the emerging Asian market?

                                                1. re: Porthos

                                                  I would say that it's because many general wine drinkers are sampling such foods, and then can apply them to the wines that they taste.

                                                  When dining out of the US, I often want to experiment with flavors, for just that reason - fill up the library more. Being from Mississippi, I have to say that I started with only the basics, and had to explore the world to gain more experiences.

                                                  Spending a great deal of time in Hawai`i, and dining on all sorts of different ingredients has helped, as has travels to some different spots around the globe.

                                                  Can I ever experience it all? Nah, as I am too old now. Still, younger folk can pick up some great examples of tastes that are not US/Euro mainstream.

                                                  I envy them.

                                                  Hunt

                                                  1. re: Porthos

                                                    As an aside, I will share something that I gleaned at a tasting session many years ago. Cannot attribute this correctly, and wish that I could, but the "teacher," shared a tid-bit. The general subject was wine descriptors, and the feeling that one needed to go with the wine-porn presses' general sentiments of going overboard with those descriptors. His comment was, "tell the room that you taste starfruit in the wine. No one has EVER tasted starfruit, and they will all be wow'ed by such a descriptor." Since then, "starfruit" has been an inside joke to my wife and to me.

                                                    When in certain company, and members go on, and on, about the 30 min. mark, one of us will exclaim, "Starfruit! I taste starfruit." The other will moan a bit, but we get the joke.

                                                    While I take my wines very seriously, I do not do the same for myself.

                                                    After the first reference to lychee, I rushed to an Asian grocery, and bought a half-dozen different preps of lychee, just to see what I had missed in my poor Mississippi life. OMG - I now knew what others were talking about. Yeah, lychee!

                                                    Now, I am just hoping that I never find durian in any wine...

                                                    Hunt

                                                    1. re: Porthos

                                                      One can only use descriptors that make sense to the one who is using them. If an individual has never tasted a lychee, than how would Wine A be reminiscent of, or smell/taste like lychee?

                                                      Now, although I've personally used descriptors like "lychee" or "Asian spice" since the 1970s, I can honestly say that I have never used "nori" as a descriptor. But in reading your post, I can honestly say ***Yes! That's a great term to use.*** and it will now be a part of my wine vocabulary . . . thanks.

                                                      Cheers,
                                                      Jason

                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                        This might go back to the reminiscent thing again but when you use the descriptor Asian spice which Asian spice do you mean? Five spice? Star anise? Coriander? Cumin? Or if it's a combination, what Asian dish are you thinking of when you say Asian spice?

                                                        I'm trying to figure out what I should be looking for as peaches, apricot, nectarine is so precise but Asian spice is so vague to me.

                                                        1. re: Porthos

                                                          Asian spices: so think of aromatic combinations commonly found in pan-Asian cuisine or foods found in Asia.

                                                          Clove, cinnamon, anise, ginger, orange (citrus), pepper, cardamom, cumin etc. Lychee is an obvious one though for me I had been eating that fruit many years before having my first taste of Gewürztraminer.

                                                          I guess the barnyard that we've been talking about relative to Pinot noir could also be described as "durian".

                                                          1. re: wattacetti

                                                            <I guess the barnyard that we've been talking about relative to Pinot noir could also be described as "durian".>

                                                            Then you've never smelled durian, wattacetti! Not even the most TCI wine smells that awful.

                                                            1. re: ChefJune

                                                              I've had the opportunity to be stuck in traffic on an summer evening in Taipei with the scooter essentially a couple of metres from a giant mountain of durian. You know those times when you say to yourself "just breathe through your mouth"? It stops working after a couple of minutes.

                                                          2. re: Porthos

                                                            Exactly! And in the 1970s, "Asian spice" WAS relatively vague . . . What I will say to you now is that it's Five Spice -- star anise or coriander or cumin would be described as star anise, coriander or cumin, respectively.

                                                            But -- see? -- I would tell you that "peach," or "apricot" or "nectarine" isn't as precise as one COULD be . . . Melba peach? white peach? etc. Shifting fruits for a moment, while it is a very commonly used descriptor for Chardonnay, "apple" is incredibly imprecise. "Apple" could mean anything from a crisp, tart Granny Smith or Pippin, to a rounder, softer Golden Delicious, to a sweet Red Delicious or a more flavorful Winesap . . . and so on. The problems are that a) it's often very difficult to be so precise when all one gets, for example, is a "hit" of that quality, rather than a "blast" of it; and b) it's impossible to be more specific if one has never tasted all those (and more) varieties of apples . . . or cherries . . . or peaches, apricots, or nectaries. ;^)

                                                            Cheers,
                                                            Jason

                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                              Jason, what's a "melba" oeach? Peach Melba is a dessert with peaches, ice cream and raspberries, but I don't believe there's a variety of peach called Melba.

                                                              1. re: ChefJune

                                                                This is why I shouldn't post before coffee . . . or maybe desert. I actually was thinking "Georgia" . . . .

                                                  2. re: Porthos

                                                    "But sometimes it really does taste like vanilla, blackberry, and earth. My "bottle", the one that made me understand that wine can really taste like the way they are described and that it's not just make believe or very active imaginations running wild was the 2001 Latour which I drank on release"

                                                    Many people can point to a particular bottle of wine, that was the tipping point - where everything became clear. Like you, and others, I had one such bottle. While I had dabbled in wines and "wine-like products," I never got it. My wife had attempted to drag me along, but her "tasting clubs" seemed a bit of a joke, at least to me. Then one night, our great friend, and dinner companion ordered a wonderful Pomerol for diner. Though I had my requisite Margarita in front of me, I accepted a glass of that wine. I tasted it, and found nothing to quite fall in love over. However, as we talked, I went back to the glass. The wine had changed! It had gone from berries to chocolate. I began spending much more time with that glass. It kept changing, and revealing all sorts of tastes. The server wanted to pour more, and I allowed her to do that. Suddenly, I was back to berries, but with some of those later elements. I played with that glass all night, and the wine kept offering me a new facet. By then, the mains had come, and the wine really lit up with my grilled beef tenderloin. Later, I was astonished when it went so well with my milk chocolate dessert w/ raspberry compote. I was hooked, and the rest is history. Thirty-five years later, I am still as enthusiastic, as I was that night.

                                                    When I am trying to introduce new-comers to wines, I try to find that bottle that will be the catharsis for them, as the Pomerol was for me. Sometimes I can find that, but sometimes I cannot.

                                                    Hunt

                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      Bill-

                                                      Did that Pomerol happen to be one that some would consider one of the best in the appellation? I ask not because I want to know the name but because I'm wondering if "that bottle" for most people is one from a great producer, or if "that bottle" can be from more humble origins. Not to say it can't, or that a first growth is automatically going to be "that bottle", but I'm curious to see if most people's "that bottle" is usually one of great stature.

                                                      1. re: Porthos

                                                        It was a Château Le Pin, and from 1970, IIRC -mostly Merlot, with a bit of Cab Franc.

                                                        Though I loved her dearly for many reasons, it was at that point that I became "grasshopper" to Dr. Jodi.

                                                        My wife still insists that she created Dr. Jodi's "monster," and we now have about 8K btls. of wine, just because of her, but HEY!, they are good wines.

                                                        She also introduced me to Vintage Port, but that is another story.

                                                        Hunt

                                                        PS -though we were dining at a US 5-diamond, and 5-star resort's restaurant (with equal awards), other than the main being a grilled beef tenderloin, I have to admit that the rest of a very lovely meal passed into the the cobwebs of my feeble memory. The wine, however, will always remain.

                                                        Hunt

                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                          Great story! Thank you for sharing.

                                                          Anyone else care to add which "bottle" became the tipping point?

                                                          1. re: Porthos

                                                            Probably a different thread, but there are many such "tipping points," depending upon the type of wine . . . for example, what got me "into" wine, period, was a taste of 1937 Schloss Schönborn Erbacher Marcobrunn Trockenbeerenauslese. Damn sight better than Manischevitz! One sip of that and I was bowled over -- and when I found out how much it cost, I remember saying, "There's something to this 'wine thing'."

                                                            That was when I was 10, and I started reading and tasting everything I could -- began working in a wine store at 16, and the rest, as they say . . . .

                                                            But what "clicked" for me, the "turning point," is different for each type of wine -- as I went on to discover that *this* type of wine was great, and so was **this** one, and ***this one***, etc., etc. So, what got me into California Cabernet, for example, was a 1964 Beaulieu Vineyards Private Reserve; what got me into Bordeaux was a 1967 Cos d'Estournel (back then, it wasn't "Château Cos d'Estrounel); Sauternes, a 1928 Châeau Climens; Chianti, a 1958 Ruffino Reserva Ducale d'Oro Chianti Classico; and so on and so on . . . .

                                                            Cheers,
                                                            Jason

                                                            EDIT: I realized, in reading wattacetti's post below that I misspoke above and have edited my post to reflect that. Two Bordeaux opened my eyes to that appellation, within a couple of weeks of each other and I don't remember which one I had first -- the 1967 Cos d'Estournel and the 1967 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou. I had originally posted "1953 Cos d'Estournel" above, and that was the wine that turned me on to AGED Bordeaux. (These 1967s were relatively new releases in 1970 when I tasted them for the first time.)

                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                              See edit to my post above.

                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                But what "clicked" for me, the "turning point," is different for each type of wine -- as I went on to discover that *this* type of wine was great,
                                                                ======================
                                                                Good point.

                                                                A 1999 Humbert Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru at a restaurant wowed me onto burgundies and made me realize that a burgundy could be more powerful than a top growth bordeaux. How could 1 grape so light in color offer so much flavor and aroma? Amazing.

                                                                My aged bordeaux moment was a 1991 Palmer when I realized I've been drinking all my wines waaaaaay too young...but I still can't help it.

                                                                A Cos d'Estournel (I think 2001, not sure) made me understand what people meant when they say "masculine" style.

                                                                My white burgundy moment was a 2005 Bernard Morey Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru when I realized white wines could also have flavor (other than my lychee moment with a Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer).

                                                              2. re: Porthos

                                                                1980 Pichon-Lalande was the lightbulb moment.

                                                                The 1990 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese was where I understood whites. The 1999 Au Bon Climat Knox Alexander was when I realized that I really like Pinot noir.

                                                                1. re: wattacetti

                                                                  Proof positive, ladies and gentlemen . . . .

                                                                  Porthos: I ask not because I want to know the name but because I'm wondering if "that bottle" for most people is one from a great producer, or if "that bottle" can be from more humble origins.

                                                                  Wattacetti: 1980 Pichon-Lalande was the lightbulb moment.

                                                                  Great estate, not necessarily great vintage, yet absolutely capable of putting the lightbulb on for you!

                                                                  1. re: zin1953

                                                                    Very true. Up to then I was picking relatively blindly but still based on "do I like this" or "blech". Pichon-Lalande really was the first time I understood nuances.

                                                    2. Here is my Novice question.
                                                      Why do French wines taste better with food but not so much on their own when California wines seem ready for drinking without food and someimes get in the way of some meals.
                                                      I know this is a subjective thing but just my observation.

                                                      12 Replies
                                                      1. re: budnball

                                                        I think this may be more to do with your wine and food pairing and not necessarily the origins of the wine(s).

                                                        I can name several French wines (Trevaillon immediately comes to mind) that I think tastes horrible with food (also without but that's just me) and I find many California wines pair very well with food. But it depends on what one is eating.

                                                        Example: oysters. Raw, I'd be going for Chablis or Entre deux mers or Albariño rather than a California Chardonnay or SB. Cooked, I'd drop the Albariño but the Californian options become options though dependent on the recipe for the oysters.

                                                        1. re: budnball

                                                          I may draw the wrath of the French wine Gods with this comment but I tend to find the "earthiness" and sometimes "barnyardyness" common to a lot of French wines to be off-putting without food to balance them out on my palate. California wines are, I think, generally more fruit-forward and 'balanced' to the "American palate" and are more easily drunk without food if that's what you're used to. Of course.............. this is not a blanket comment about all of either area's wines.

                                                          1. re: Midlife

                                                            Interesting: those two elements would be what I would consider more for French Pinots (essentially Bourgogne) vs Cali PN (lack of barnyard). I can't recall who, but I have heard someone describe some of the wines of Bourgogne as being akin to a "hairy armpit"

                                                            1. re: wattacetti

                                                              I think that was Monty Python . . .

                                                              >>> . . . . and a prize winning "Cuiver Reserve Chateau Bottled Nuit San Wagga Wagga", which has a bouquet like an aborigine's armpit. <<<

                                                              Cheers,
                                                              Jason

                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                You know, I have had SB's, that DID remind me of boxwood hedges, or cat wee-wee, but I've never found anything with the essence of an "aborigine's armpit," though maybe I would just not know?

                                                                Hunt

                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                  http://www.rapidlyrics.com/song/Monty...

                                                            2. re: Midlife

                                                              I am with you. Give me many mushroom dishes, and I immediately go to Burgundy for the wines, with certain OR PN's second.

                                                              Though I love my big, jammy Cal-PN's (Jason hates me for this, but will get over it, when I take him to Stella! and pick up the tab), I would not go to them, until many more from the top of my list were not available.

                                                              Hunt

                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                A date I am still looking forward to . . . I may even have to bring a CA Pinot Noir that is NOT jammy (rather than Burgundy) just for contrast. ;^)

                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                  I hope you do that, Jason. While I do find most Cali Pinots Jammy, there's at least a couple that are not. ;)

                                                                  1. re: ChefJune

                                                                    "Jammy" is exactly why I *don't* like a majority of California Pinots. Great wines, but in a style I (generally) would prefer not drink.

                                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                                      I also prefer jam on my toast, and not in my wine glass. ;)

                                                            3. re: budnball

                                                              Short answer - because the FR wines are balanced for food, while many domestic (US) wines are balanced for drinking, with less regard to food.

                                                              It could be the acid, the alcohol, the tannis, or something else.

                                                              When doing whites with food, my first stop is France, though I also enjoy many US Chard, but less so with food.

                                                              With reds, I find a bit less of a difference, until we start defining the food. Give me smoky duck confit and I think a Rhône Syrah first, though some domestic reds could work well.

                                                              Hunt

                                                            4. Going back to the top, here are some observations, regarding what I find in a wine.

                                                              First, there is the swirl and sniff. That can evoke many memories of similar smells.

                                                              Next, there is the taste, and again, probably some other stimuli, that I might, or might not be able to relate to.

                                                              Last, there is the retro-nasal. Once one has swallowed the wine, if one then breaths out slowly, different stimuli can often be found, and very often in waves, or layers.

                                                              To me, all three are very important, when enjoying a wine.

                                                              There can be similarities in each, or there can be big differences. Each is important to me.

                                                              Hunt

                                                              1. To me, I always like to use 'white' wines in the 'introduction process'. Its less tannic and more 'drinkable & acceptable' as well as possessing more easily recognizable components. German Riesling with its floral and citrus nose and late harvest Gewurztraminer with its easily recognizable sweet ' lychee' aroma and taste are fine teaching examples!

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: Charles Yu

                                                                  I do agree that whites are often a good introduction to wine.

                                                                  It is also nice that Riesling is normally a food-friendly wine.

                                                                  The big push-back is often that many find it "sweet," and have been told that "sweet" wines are not cool. Same for "pink" wines, which can be very "cool."

                                                                  Hunt

                                                                  PS - the often "petrol" element in many Rieslings can be off-putting to some, and is something that I try to avoid, until many lessons later.

                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                    Agree! But a young Riesling Kabinett ( or even Spatlese ) sans petro-aroma, can be so drinkable and approachable, especially to lady novice!
                                                                    My 'first baptism' to wine was actually a half bottle of 1971 Schloss Vollrads Riesling Auslese drank in London! At that time I was so green, I wasn't aware I bought such a jewel of a wine! After so many years, I can still remember the taste and smell sensation!

                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                      Funny. I am very early in my wine learning and had a Riesling with a definite petrol aroma a few days ago. While it wasn't something deliciously great (it didn't really make me dislike it either), I definitely felt like I accumulated some wine-points for being able to identify the aroma.

                                                                      As a sidenote, the pretol aroma was not as obvious to me until I compared it side-by-side with a (bad) chardonnay. All of a sudden the Riesling smelt like a gas station.