Wine Flights Add Dimension to Tasting

4 Nov

            Week 2 of my ISG Sommelier class provided a great opportunity to taste and thoughtfully compare examples of two of my favorite grapes: cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir.  As these grapes are among my favorites, we drink a lot of these wines.  We’ve sought out major cab and pinot producing areas  to learn, tour and taste: the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, the Barossa Valley in Australia, the Central Otago area of New Zealand, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  France is not my husband’s favorite place, but I’m scheming to make it to Bordeaux and Burgundy sometime soon.  I’m a travel nut to begin with.  But I really love integrating my love of wine with my travel experiences.  I find that seeing a place, absorbing its landscapes and smells, and meeting the people that live there and make wine adds a layer of understanding and appreciation that I find hard to glean any other way.  I simply wouldn’t trade the opportunity to visit wineries and talk to winemakers.

            But I learned this week that visiting wineries and enjoying wines doesn’t present the entire picture.  When I taste wines in isolation, I focus on that wine, its appearance, smells and tastes.  I assess if I like it and whether I would enjoy experiencing it again.  At least subconsciously, that involves comparing it to my memories of other wines – which, if I am honest, is not a very accurate process given that I have not kept a wine journal and memory is fallible.

            A crop of wine tasting bars have emerged in Houston in the last few years, introducing the concept of “flights” to mainstream consumers.  Wine flights are a great way to experience new wines because they provide an opportunity for side by side comparison, which takes a potentially faulty memory out of the equation.  A limitation to this approach, in my experience, however, is that in the absence of a special tasting event, the goal of bars and restaurants is for customers to enjoy consuming rather than learning from their experience.   The wines are typically served in order of their relative power on the palate, and only passing mention is made of regional origin or maker.   The variety presented may or may not invite a meaningful opportunity to experience different methods of vinification, differences in style or climate or varying regional characteristics.

            I really enjoyed the experience of tasting, evaluating and sharing flights of 6 cabs and 6 pinots in my class this week.  I’ve known for a long time that the average Bordeaux is more subtle, earthier and elegant than the average California cab and that the average New World pinot is more fruit forward and less earthy than the average red Burgundy.  But tasting them blindly, side by side…..dissecting each detail with the help of a tasting sheet and discussing my experience with an expert really helped me begin to understand the concepts of terroir and regional styles of vinification in a whole new way.  I still want to travel and visit wineries, and I will continue enjoying Houston’s tasting bars.  But now I also want to include the practice of actively comparing regional examples of grape varieties to my repertoire of regular tasting practices.


One Response to “Wine Flights Add Dimension to Tasting”

  1. Lisa Eirene November 4, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    What I love most about doing wine flights is that it’s pre-selected by the Sommelier and often wines I would never try on my own. I also love seeing the differences each wine I try.

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