500 Wines Easily – The Art of Tasting – Sight

You gotta love tasting notes: 


“In the glass, a cuprite-like glow creates the backdrop where a delicate bouquet of young roses and violet spring flowers wrapped in thunderous raspberry sauce inspire a vision of an evening wind in the high Tuscan hills creeping in through a window adjacent to a Victorian kitchen’s spice cabinet. Syringaldehyde notes round out the experience while Saharan-like tannins enrapture the palate and broad waves of tartness bathe the oral cavity in an overwhelming and long-lasting alcoholic harmony. Drink from December 2021 through March 2046.”


Ok, you caught me, I made up that tasting note but I’m actually going to use this example as the basis for the posts over the next few weeks – The Art of Tasting and how to get the most out of our weekly lineup of free wines on the back table of the shop. If you read through the BS of the tasting note above, you might have sorted out a couple of key components. Cuprite (a semi-precious red stone) refers to the color of the wine. By mentioning the raspberries, flowers, and spices, I commented on the fruit and nonfruit aromas of the wine. The mention of spices and the fifty-point work “syringaldehyde” refer to flavors produced from the use of oak. The tannins and acidity nod to the structure of the wine and then, of course, I touched on the finish and aging potential. So, in a couple sentences, I covered the most important aspects of the wine from sight to swallow while stopping for a moment for a sniff and a swig. 


The true point of all of this is to stress that just by slowing down and thinking about each aspect of the wine in your glass for a second or two can not only reveal some pretty interesting observations but it can also help you to build a framework into which you’ll be able to better classify all the wines that you taste.  To put it another way, if you’re tasting 500 wines a year, why not approach each wine methodically and objectively to get the most out of the experience. Keeping this in mind, let me walk you through my process and over the next few weeks we’ll cover a bit about the what a wine’s aroma and structure can tell us about a wine but first we’ll talk about a couple of things we can take away from just inspecting a glass of wine.




Asking yourself a couple questions when looking at a glass of wine can reveal a plethora of information about the wine: how it was made, how it was stored, approximately how old it is, how strong it is etc. I typically try to notice the following things when seeing a wine for the first time: What color is it? Is the color consistent all the way edge of the glass or does it seem to have a rim of a different color or does the color seem to diminish closer to the edge? Is the wine cloudy? Are there bubbles? Should there be bubbles? How big are the bubbles? How many bubbles are there? Do the legs form slowly or quickly on the sides of the glass? Is there Sediment? Is it cloudy?


Let’s say that you just opened a bottle of wine, poured a glass, and found the wine to be a bit on the murky side. 20 years ago, this might have been a cause of concern as the filtering or fining of a wine was widely practiced as it was largely considered to be The recourse done in the winery to ensure that the bottle would be shelf-stable. Nowadays, techniques in vinification have advanced to the point that choosing not to filter the wines, while it is still somewhat risky, is not seen as risky as it was in the past. As you can imagine, with the booming interest in natural wines, unfined and unfiltered wines are becoming more commonplace. Personally, I am neither here nor there on the process, I just like well-made wines that resemble a delicious beverage more than a petri dish bacterial experiment.


I consider the wines of Clos Saron as some of the most interesting and well-made natural wines on the market. Over his time as the winemaker at Renaissance Winery in the Sierra Foothills, Gideon Bienstock, gradually chipped away at the industrial processes of making wines and years later, under his own label Clos Saron, he produces hauntingly good wines with very little human intervention. His 2006 Old Man’s Reserve Syrah $71.99 is unfined and unfiltered, offering up a murky glass of unmitigated spice, minerality, bright fruit, high-noted acidity. The unfiltered aspect of the wine adds depth and weight to the palate which, for me as a lover of good Syrah, is a very welcomed attribute. Additionally, this wine gives away another couple very important clues about its structure and stature. First, the rim of the wine lacks a bluish tone which is typical of low acid Syrahs and because of this, you can assume the wine is highly ageable.  Second, the wine shows a bit of a rusty color which is typical of older wines. All wines want to become brown, both whites and reds, and this wine, at 12 years of age, is starting to fade a touch in it’s color. Definitely a welcomed characteristic. 


Besides some slight turbidity, the color of the wine can tell you many things about the contents in your glass. In fact, if you don’t know the varietal of the wine in your glass, you can sometimes guess the contents just by a glance at it’s hue. Nebbiolo is one of the grapes that produces identifiable wines by sight alone. Wines made from Nebbiolo are typically clearer and more transparent than those made by Pinot Noir or Gamay and they often have a brownish/rusty tint to them. Without going into too many details, the coloring agents in a wine exist in the skins of the grape and the color of the wine has very little to do, on their own, with a wine’s structure (although the phenolic compounds that produce the color in wine do latch on to the polyphenols that produce tannins). If you have a general idea of what color a Pinot Noir should have it can give you all sorts of hints as to the winemaking if it doesn’t line up with what you expect. For example, ever try a Pinot Noir from a well-known cool vintage and it resembles the color of Cabernet in the glass instead of the transparent red you expected? You can ask yourself whether or not you truly have a 100% Pinot Noir in your glass. Syrah anyone?


We have on our shelf a Borgogno Barolo Reserva 1998, $133.99 which is drinking beautifully at the moment and offers the lovely siena-tinged red hue which is so indicative of wines from the Nebbiolo grape. This Barolo exudes all the characteristics one would expect from a wine of this age – dried rose, a touch of balsamic, tar, and surprisingly still fresh red fruit notes. This would be (and was) a great reward for a Summer well-done amid these dropping temperatures of Autumn. 


Whites also, or perhaps even more than reds, give away hints about their age and winemaking through their color. Pinot Grigio is a perfect example of this as there are a few different techniques for making it. The range of color that this particular grape can exude ranges from bright yellowish-green which is more common in the bright mass-produced styles of the wine from the Veneto, to a wine with a slightly more golden tint which reflects greater extraction and perhaps aging in foudres typical of the French Pinot Gris style, and finally, the Orange or Ramato style of Pinot Grigio which appears amber in the glass. It would be fun to do a Pinot Grigio flight with all the various styles of Pinot Grigio, let me know if you’d be interested and a group of us could line in up but in the meantime, here is a Pinot Grigio did in the classic Ramato style from one perhaps my favorite American proponent of the style Forlorn Hope, Dragone Ramato, 2016 29.99. This wine is pure savory goodness and incredibly versatile with food. This is in my opinion a must-try at the shop. 


That wraps up our first installment of the tasting series. Next week we’ll cover the aromas of the wine.
Thanks for reading and we hope to see you around the shop soon,

D. Hultgren