Drinking Wine with Purpose…

Most of us are familiar with social context surrounding the consumption of wine. In most cases, wine is consumed with a group of people at a gathering of some sort, at dinner, or
perhaps as a relaxing way to begin a romantic rendevous…

Certainly, drinking wine is about improving the social experience, and allowing each individual the opportunity to travel to other places and experience richness they might not
otherwise know and without even needing to leave their home.

I could go off on a tangent as to how wine simply “makes things better”, but that’s not the focus of this article. In this article, I’m specifically examining how drinking wine can
impact a winemaker’s ability to craft wines that are both stylistic and received well by those who consume the wines.

Making wine and making it well, as with anything else, requires starting off with a clear goal of what it is you are setting out to do. What are you trying to make? Is it a Cabernet, or is it a Cabernet that can be described as a series of adjectives (related to taste and after-taste, aromatics, mouth feel, etc.)? Let me make another example…If I were a builder and you wanted me to build your house, would you get better results by requesting that I build you a Colonial or by requesting that I build you a Colonial and providing me with explicit blueprints for how that Colonial should look?

Simply put, the more information we have pertaining to the intended outcome, the closer we can come to arriving at that outcome. Of course, in winemaking there are some elements outside our control – particularly the elements of the grape that come directly from the terroir.

As a winemaker, even if someone were to come to you and say “I want you to make me a full-bodied, fruit forward, and soft tannin Shiraz”, you would be hard pressed to know what that would equate to if you had not developed a mental library of such characteristics. And how would you accomplish that? The answer is by the purposeful tasting of wine.

The American Wine Society (AWS) has developed a wine evaluation sheet for individuals to use at wine tasting events. It is a good sheet that helps a “taster” perform a thorough evaluation of one or more wines. The goal of the sheet is to provide guidance and metrics by which one wine can be compared to another for the purpose of competition. For a
winemaker looking to develop such a frame of reference, I personally believe he or she needs to gather much more information – much of which comes directly from tasting.

It can be argued that a good winemaker should spend at least a portion of his or her time approaching a glass of wine like a detective. Prior to tasting, information like Country of Origin, Province of Origin, Intended Style, Varietal Composition and Analytical measures like pH, TA, and Residual Sugar can all be recorded – setting a backdrop for the tasting to
follow. Many commercial wineries now post readings like TA, making it even easier to obtain that information.

The “tasting” that follows involves sight, smell, and taste. I believe this is where the “taster” and “winemaker” diverge. While both will access the overall appeal of the wine, the winemaker will process the characteristics to essentially reconstruct the winemaking process that may have led to the wine being tasted. In some cases, the general characteristic
is not enough for the winemaker. For example, to say something is “oaky” may be insufficient for the winemaker to translate into something of value. He or she will need to take that to the next level and describe the “oakiness” in more detail…Is the oak taste more char-like? Is the oak more “woody”? Is there vanillin present? The winemaker uses this
more detailed information to reverse engineer the wine – in this case the type of oak that should be used to recreate a similar wine.

My experience in this critical tasting suggests the tasting be done either alone or with fellow winemakers who have the same mindset for a critical dissection of the wine being tasted. That is not to say that the end consumer has no value to offer. On the contrary, they are likely to tell you they like or dislike a wine. The key is to uncover the specific characteristics of the wine that have led to that conclusion and the tasting level or sophistication of the end consumer, and to file that information away in your notes or mental library – if you still have room.

After tasting and listening, a winemaker should be constructing a frame of reference for wines of a given area, given type, given varietal, and what end consumers tend to like or dislike given their “level” or sophistication as wine consumers.

What remains for the winemaker, is to make sense of all this information and seek to connect the desired characteristics for the wine to be crafted with the cellar techniques that lend themselves to such characteristics.

That connection or bridge is quite comprehensive and falls outside the scope of this article. What I would suggest, for starters, is as follows; the next time you have a wine that you find exceptional, ask yourself what characteristics about the wine made it that way. Then, take one characteristic and begin to research what winemaking techniques might lend
themselves to such a characteristic. For instance, you might find you enjoy the smooth buttery mouth feel of a Chardonnay. Look to better understand what can make a Chardonnay smooth and buttery…

In closing, winemakers need to take sometime to critically evaluate wines to improve their ability to craft wines of a particular type or style. They also need to understand those characteristics in favor by those who would consume their wine. From time to time you will see that we at M&M make suggestions for wines to try based upon origin or variety. In
doing so, we are encouraging you develop a frame of reference. Once you have that frame of reference, you will then be ready to make the connection to winemaking techniques.
Do take some time to also just sit back and enjoy wine – though the bug to evaluate it will soon overcome you.



Nick Coppola
Juicegrape.com support