Tasting Advice

Hello All! I am hoping to gain some insight on a few questions I have in regards to tasting/aspects of tasting. I recently took the Certified Sommelier exam for the first time and did quite well on all of the segments, other than the tasting. Though I thought I called the wines accurately to the best of my abilities, I misjudged the structure of some of the wines (acid, tannin, and alcohol to be specific). I was hoping to get some clarification on determining said factors before I sit for the next exam. My understanding of evaluating those factors is as follows:

-ACID: salivation (higher acid = quicker/more intense salivation)

-TANNIN: intensity of the mouth drying sensation (whether your gums immediate dry to an almost uncomfortable level or more round/mellow drying sensation)

-ALCOHOL: how far down your throat/chest you can feel heat or burn 

If anyone has any better clarification or practicing techniques to help me better understand or familiarize myself with these aspects, that would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

  • When you think about acid and tannins you need to consider how persistent they are instead of how quickly it hits your palate.  Ex: If a wine is high in acid you will probably have to swallow multiple times before you even put your answer on the paper.  With tannins I think of intensity and persistance.

    With alcohol, it's not about how far down you feel the heat but the intensity of the heat when you breath in after swallowing.  It really helped me to think of the alcohol portion as a scale; most wines range from 10%-15% + right so if moderate minus is your 10% and high is your 15%+ where do most wines these days fall on that scale?  14% or so, so you're looking at moderate plus alcohol.  

    All of these things are indicators of different grapes/climates so you need to be able to connect the dots with your initial and final calls.  If you are calling overripe fruit, high alcohol, oak but then end up with Pinot Noir you aren't applying theory to your reasoning.  Remember, everything in the exams are an extension of theory.  I hope this helps!  Good luck on your next exam!

  • I think Brooke had some good points to consider... but take it a step further with Theory. You need to treat everywine like a Sudoku Puzzle. No past puzzle has any part on the current one, and you'll literally pick that specific puzzle apart with no bearing on what happened on the one before. Wine Tasting should be the same way. You need to break yourself of using memory and experience and try to indiscriminately gather evidence.

    The scale I use for Alcohol is as follows; (remember some rieslings can dip into the 7.5% abv and that's testable

    8-10% = low

    10-11.5 = Mod -

    11.5-13 = Mod

    13-14 = mod +

    14.5+ = High

    Acidity : Salivation is a part of it. but what causes it? Ok sure, the pH in your mouth lowers, acidic environment is raised and then when your teeth feel they're having the enamel threatened, It carpet bombs your mouth with saliva (kind of like before you throw up, your mouth waters... to protect your gnashers) 

    Tannin : Polyphenols that react with proteins... yeah sure... but think more about the cause and where that ties in.

    Nebbiolo will traditionally see very long macerations... 2 things happen with that. You will extract a ton of phenolic material (tannin) AND your anthocyanins will begin to rebind with the grape skins (loss of color). Nebbiolo is a grape that typically packs a punch with tannin AND has a very low concentration of color... hmm interesting! Couple that with the lack of Oak (traditionally speaking), the fact that its one of the few Red Grapes with monoterpenes... The ravaging yeasts that will disassemble molecules for a food source and leave interesting bits in the wine... let's go a step further. Acetic acid (VA) is the byproduct of acetobacter and oxygen. in large Botti, there's not a lot of topping up occuring, right? Excess oxygen, from a starved must... you have nail polish remover. (I gave the extremely nutshell version of this) But now you see the relationship of Volatile Acidity and it's presence in Nebbiolo. (smell like nail polish remover/ pickle juice, etc.)

    The point is, there should be multiple reasons why a wine is something. Structure is critically important, but it's what you do with that information that makes you unstoppable. When I mentor a candidate I stress how they need to know everything about all of the testable wines... start there and it'll fall into place. Wow this is more than I wanted to write... ALSO, Brooke, not to be confrontational... but Overripe Fruit, high Alcohol and oak still leaves Pinot Noir as a strong possibility. (Kosta browne can spike in the 15's for Alcohol)

  • In the beginning start by establishing extremes. Blind Riesling vs Viognier, Shiraz vs Burgundy, Nebbiolo vs Oregon Pinot Noir

    Work on figuring out how those massive structural differences affect YOU. Advice from others is essential but a great taster will also build their own personal paradigms/techniques. 

    Do comparatives way more than blind 6 drills and take your time

  • Thank you to all who took the time to thoroughly explain things and assist me with this. Your feedback has been more than I could ask for and I’m looking forward to practicing some more with the new knowledge I’ve gained! Much appreciated again