You Can Taste What ?Friday, February 22, 2013 by: Vin Greco
Describing a fine Zinfandel, one reviewer identified “delicately complex flavors of smoky cherry, wild anise and white peppercorns.”
I can get the smoke and the cherry, even together.
But what’s the difference between a wild anise and a tame one?
And while I understand “peppery”, is the taste of a white peppercorn significantly different from that of a black or pink one?
Dealing with ‘taste’ can be intriguing.
For one, one person’s experience in tasting can be quite different from another’s.
It isn’t just a matter of preference or experience.
The number of taste receptors on a tongue and their concentration can vary from person to person, making perceptions different.
Then, of course, there’s smell.
Much of what we taste actually depends on what or how well we smell.
Put a clothespin on a nose and a blindfold on the eyes, and one might be hard-pressed to distinguish between the taste of an apple and an onion.
When people have stuffy noses or smoke, that can impact on taste, too.
All that said, when it comes to writing about wine, I would guess that those who make a living at it work hard to develop associations in order to convey the flavours a wine offers.
It requires a good memory, a good nose, and maybe more than a little imagination.
Fielding Viognier 2011, $25.95 is a terrific white wine on the upcoming March 2 release, though it isn’t available here in the Sault.
When I tried it recently, I thought it was one of the best Ontario whites I’ve tasted.
Vintages describes it as having “peach, nectarine, and golden russet apple” on the nose.
Not Gala, not Honey Crisp, not Delicious, but “Golden Russet”.
That’s getting pretty specific.
Someone has a better nose than me…
One good writer, Michael Vaughn of Vintage Assessments, is really reliable with his recommendations and his quality rankings; yet many of his descriptions of red wines are similar in that they contain references to plum and cherry in some form or other.
Tasting Guru Robert Parker Jr., however, describes one red as having “complex aromas of smoked duck, lead pencil shavings, jammy black fruits, truffles, melted asphalt and forest floor.”
That’s quite a departure from “dark plum and “black cherry”.
It’s enticing and certainly catches one’s imagination.
“Melted asphalt” - someone else might have been content with “tar”.
Matt Kramer, a respected author and columnist in the Wine Spectator, offers an alternative approach to evaluating wines, moving away from the imaginative descriptors to what he identifies as the six most important elements in assessing a wine: Complexity, Texture, Mid-palate Density, Proportion, Finesse, and Balance.
Kramer writes that ”the more times you can return to a glass of wine and find something different in it... the more complex the wine.”
It intrigues us and keeps us thinking.
For example, Italians call Amarone wines “Vini da Meditazione”, wines for meditation, and these wines are certainly complex.
Another complex wine is the Odoardi Savuto 2006, $13.95 from Calabria, Italy.
Finding a wine of this age at this price is a surprise, and this is made mostly from grapes specific to the region – Gaglioppo, Greco Nero, Nerello Capuccio, and Magliocco Cannino with 10% Sangiovese. It is rustic and compelling with lots happening in the glass.
With each sip, I try to figure out what it is I’m tasting.
There’s grip, and an elusive smoky sweet streak that reminds me of burnt sugar and raisin. It is quite a wine for the price, and the Great Northern Road store is well stocked.
Texture refers to the thickness and density of a wine. Kramer considers it quite important in white wines in determining quality and age-worthiness.
Texture is exactly what distinguishes the Fielding Viognier.
There is a silkiness and a lushness that makes it outstanding.
Mid-palate Density is perhaps your second impression of the wine.
Case in point is Jackson-Triggs Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2010, $24.95 at the Wine Rack stores. (it will be $5 off at the beginning of March)
Here is a beautifully made wine that is quite ”quiet” on entry, but in the mouth starts to open up and reveal much more flavour, all in harmony, and you realize that this is really a beautifully made wine.
I would rank it quite highly among Ontario Chardonnays. It also shines in the next category, “Proportion.
Basically, there’s a sense of harmony with a good wine.
From beginning, to middle, to end, it is integrated and flows.
This is often truer of older wines than wines in their youth, especially bigger wines that need time to smooth off the rough edges and for everything to come together.
Finesse for Kramer applies to ”how the flavors of a wine are delivered.”
The more finesse, the smoother the overall experience.
The better the finesse, the smoother, more ‘invisibly” the wine is “stitched” together.
Balance and Proportion.
Sometimes these terms may appear to be splitting hairs.
Balance often refers to the equilibrium between fruitiness and acidity.
Without enough acidity, a wine seems flabby, a “non-event’.
Too much acidity and it becomes too tart, diminishing whatever pleasure it might have had in the first place.
I found that the Grant Burge “Summers” Chardonnay, $19.95 on the general list fell into this category, with a dryness I associate more with a Pinot Grigio than a Chardonnay.
For my taste – and it is a matter of taste – I’ll go with the Jackson-Triggs.
Kramer also uses “balance” to refer to fruit density vs. alcohol level.
Many wines today, like big Australian Shirazes, are high in alcohol, and can taste “hot” if the fruit doesn’t carry through.
Consider Australia’s Lucky Country Shiraz 2010, $15.20 on the general list.
Well received, it has lots of rich dark fruit flavour, but at almost 15% alcohol brings some heat on the finish.
Pairing this with ribs would tame some of that.
Proportion seems to refer to everything being in measure, as in music.
Some wines finish “short”. You sip, taste, swallow, and they’re gone, as if they stepped off a cliff.
When we talk about a wine’s long finish, it likely has everything in proportion – bouquet, entry, taste, and finish.
Sometimes the distinction between Balance, and Proportion, and even Finesse can be blurred.
But when you put all these elements together, with Texture and Complexity and Density, you have a useful yardstick against which to measure a wine.
Or, you could just drink it and enjoy it!
For a drinking and enjoying, two simple wines from the Wine Rack were well received at a tasting Upstairs at Rome’s on the 21st.
Cape One Moscato is off dry, with good floral notes on the nose and balancing acidity on the finish to off-set a sweeter entry.
It actually worked well with a warm goat cheese salad – the fruit complementing the saltiness in the cheese, and the acidity in harmony with the light vinaigrette on the greens.
This would make a good summer sipper.
Zone 32 Malbec-Shiraz was paired with a chorizo-chickpea dish.
While it isn’t complex, it does have lots of good red fruit flavour.
Both these wines are 2 for $20, mix and match, along with 5 other international blends.
In Vintages on March 2, Alsace’s Jean Geiler has two wines, the Médaille Muscat d’Alsace 2011, $16.95 and the Médaille Pinot Blanc 2011, $14.95.
The former won gold in Paris and is very aromatic.
It would be an interesting contrast to the Moscato from the Wine Rack.
The Pinot Blanc has more heft, taking gold in a competition in Burgundy. It is silightly drier than the Muscat.
Still available is Geiler’s Chasselas Resrve Particulière, $13.95.
This would be quite light and soft in comparison, but an excellent sipping wine on its own.
In red, Niagara’s Vintage Ink Mark of Passion Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, $17.95, is part of the Vincor stable.
Winemaker Keith Brown is from Australia, and he has captured the Aussie style with this Ontario red.
It is good drinking, with persistent ripe flavours.
A sure bet is the Cave de Rasteau La Domelière 2010, $15.95.
Elaine has brought in plenty of this popular Rhone red which earned a 90 from the Wine Spectator with its plentiful dark fruit and licorice-accented finish.
There is also a good supply of Viña Chocalàn Reserva Syrah 2010, $14.95 from Chile.
This gold medal winner with its rich dark flavours and significant depth could be cellared for a few years.
Two southern Italian reds are well-priced at $13.95.
Enotria Cirò Rosso Classico 2010 is the classic Calabrian red made entirely from Gaglioppo.
It will be more medium-bodied, but invites comparison with the Odoardi Savuto from the same region.
Cauros & Minini Sachia Perricone 2101 is from Sicily. It brings us the unusual Perricone or Pignatello grape.
Tart red berry flavours tie in with good acidity.
Pair it with flavourful spiced or tomato dishes, but decant and let it breathe for an hour or so first.