This weekend finally gave us an opportunity to get together for a wine tasting class with our neighbors. About a year ago our neighbor discovered a cool series from The Great Courses called an Everyday Guide to Wine. It’s hosted by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, Master of Wine. A Master of Wine is a much higher certification then simply being a Sommelier. In order to be classified as a Master of Wine the applicant must go through an exam consisting of three parts; theory, practical and a research paper. The practical portion of this certification is what impresses me the most. In order to pass, the applicant must go through three separate 12-wine blind tastings. Each tasting lasts for over two hours, during which the applicant must be able to assess wine for their for variety, origin, winemaker, quality and style. This is mind boggling to me, probably because I have a difficult time being able to recognize the flavor notes represented, or wherever I’m drinking a Merlot or Syrah. I just know if I like it or not. This series consists of 24 classes that are each 30 minutes long. We know ahead of time what wines to purchase for the upcoming class, which in this case was Australian wines.
Austrialian wines are not at all on my radar. I know they are responsible for making some good Sauvignon Blancs and one of the most highly regarded Syrahs comes from Penfold’s in Australia. But that’s about the extent of my knowledge. For this class we were instructed to get three bottles of white: a Riesling from the Eden or Clare Valley, a Semillon from the Hunter or Barossa Valley, and an oaked Chardonnay from any region. Also needed were three bottles of red: a Shiraz from Western Australia, a Rhone Valley style Syrah, and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawara. Our other neighbors joined in for this particular lesson so each couple had to bring two bottles of wine. Of course we also bring cheese and crackers for a little palate cleansing between tastings.
This lesson had us compare the whites first, so we look at their color in the glass and then smell to see how aromatic the wines are or if we can pick up any particular scents. Next we taste the wines to compare their flavors and the host, Jennifer Simonetta-Bryan, explains the texture and flavors we should be experiencing based on the wine the region typically creates. One of the interesting side notes from last night’s lecture was what the presence of so much Eucalyptus tress in Australia does to the flavor of their wines. Because of this, iff you have a good tongue (I do not), you might pick up hints of Eucalyptus or mint from Australian wine. I enjoyed all of the white wines that were represented last night, even the oaked Chardonnay.
During the second half of the lesson we compared the three different red wines. Both my husband and I are not big Cabernet Sauvignon fans but the Australian Cab was pretty low on tannins, so I actually found it rather pleasant. But my favorite by far of the reds, was the Rhone style Syrah. My husband and I love Rhone style wines, which originated in the Rhone Valley of France. The bottle Mike chose for last night did not disappoint.
I’m not a wine expert buy any means, I can’t taste a glass of wine and necessarily pick out hints of “leather, dark forest fruits, and crushed asphalt”. In fact, if you tell me what I should be tasting I’m probably not going to have a clue what you are talking about. Hey some people just have more advance palates then others. But I do know what I like and am particularly good at knowing what food would pair nicely with a wine. The reason we love these lessons is the exposure it’s given us to so many different varietals of wine. Now when we go to a restaurant and look at the wine menu we know more easily which wine to pick. We have enough knowledge to know that a cheaper bottle of wine from one country might be better then a more expensive bottle from a different country. Or that a certain unusual varietal is great wine and we aren’t intimidated to go ahead and purchase it. We also know the wines that we don’t like or even wines that we love except when come from a certain region. For example, we are huge Pinot Noir fans, but we don’t care for Pinots that come from the Santa Barbara area in California or most Pinots from the state of Washington. But we know that if a Pinot comes from the Russian River in California, it’s going to be good in our opinion. Some wine lists are huge at restaurants so it’s really nice to have the knowledge from these courses to help us navigate any wine menu.
But to be perfectly honest the best part about these lessons is the great time we have with our friends.
It always takes us more then an hour to get through one 30-minute lesson. We press pause on the lecture a dozen times and compare notes about what we are tasting. We tell stories about something we are reminded of when we taste a wine. Once the lesson is over we share dinner together and finish every last drop of the wine we brought. For me that is what wine is really about, it’s not an avenue for getting drunk, it’s an art that creates moments and memories you reflect back on later. Sometimes when I think back on an amazing bottle of wine we shared, I often wonder if the bottle of wine was really that great or was it the memory of a particularly special night that made the wine seem that special? The truth is it’s probably a little bit of both.