Hello Prince Albert! How do you keep track of all the wines you’ve tried in your wine journey? Furthermore, how can you objectively keep track of the quality of said wines without injecting too much personal bias?
The simplest answer to the first question is a wine journal. Take notes on the wines you taste and keep track of the likes and dislikes of that specific wine. Soon, you will have a list of wines suited to your style. The second question can be trickier to approach without proper training or tasting techniques but there are many resources out there to guide you on your path including magazines, online reviews, stats/technical sheets and in-store help from liquor store staff.
If you’ve read this column a few times, you’ve probably noticed that I use a rating system to give a quick indication of the quality level of the wines I taste. I learned this objective quality-assessment technique from my studies with WSET (Wine Spirits Education Trust) and I highly recommend that anyone looking to advance their knowledge of wine and even those who want to get more enjoyment from their wine experience consider taking a course or two through WSET.
To break down the assessment, the wine is broken into several categories which are individually rated and then compiled for a final score. You’ll notice I don’t employ numbers to rate my wines but instead focus on the approachable scale of Poor to Outstanding.
Poor is obviously the lowest ranking and indicates a wine that is not drinkable. Average is wine that I consider mediocre, it is still drinkable (you won’t necessarily get sick) but the enjoyment is low. Good shows a wine that is mostly enjoyable but missing some finesse. Very good is on the edge of greatness with an enjoyable taste and a bump in intensity, balance, length and often complexity. Finally, we have Outstanding which is a wine with intensity, concentration, complexity, balance and developing flavors. This wine is cellar-worthy and will get better as it ages.
The method in which we end up with these ratings is all based on four categories: Intensity (lots of rich flavor), Finish/Length (how flavorful and long is the finish?), Complexity (layers of flavor and depth) and finally Balance (do the body, acidity, tannins and overall flavors work together?). The fifth point is awarded when the person tasting the wine enjoys the overall experience. If a wine delivers on a given category, it gets a point for that category. In total, a wine can get a maximum of 5 points (Outstanding) and the lowest score possible is 0 points (Poor).
One of the simplest and best pieces of advice I received regarding grading and tasting wines is to let the wine speak for itself. Try not to add personal information which might sway the results and taint the objectivity of the scoring. For example, you might have a Chardonnay to taste and think to yourself, “I don’t really enjoy Chardonnay, I probably won’t like this one.”. In reality, we need to let our tastebuds and minds sort out and gather the wine information, analyze it and then compile it for a final grade. In the end, you might not like that Chard but you can objectively state why instead of saying, “I just didn’t like it!”.
One of the more challenging portions of judging a wine is the ability to detect balance. Great wines can be unbalanced and delicious at the same time but technically speaking, balanced wines receive higher scores on average. What is balance? To understand the concept of a balanced wine, we need to look at the different components of the wine and how they add or detract from each other to make up the whole. In other words, a wine is only as good as its individual parts like acidity, body, tannins, mouthfeel, finish, intensity and overall concentration of flavors based on its relation to the other components.
A wine with high acidity might be extremely refreshing and bracing but it can quickly lead to a lopsided experience where all you can taste is the sourness. A wine with high acidity needs some intense fruit flavor or perhaps a sweet character to create the much-needed balance like a Riesling from Mosel, Germany or a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France.
Both wines this week hit the Very Good rating since they were both delicious, full of flavor and beautifully balanced. I highly recommend both! Here are my wine picks of the week!
Clean Slate Riesling 2020: (Mosel, Germany). Medium-dry white, pale straw color with a hint of green. The nose is crisp and clean with bright notes of mandarin, pear, green apple, peach blossom, limestone slate and zesty lemon. To the taste, the buzz of high acidity hits the palate and waters the mouth with fresh citrus zest. Once adjusted to the acidity, flavors of concentrated ripe pear, tangy apple, peach, green apple skins, green grapes and limestone rock come through. There is an excellent intensity of flavors with medium-minus body and a quick finish full of buzzing acidity and further hints of stone fruit and citrus. Since this wine cleanses the palate so well, look to pair it with a wide array of foods including sushi/sashimi, salmon and spinach puffs, roasted chicken with dressing, Vietnamese foods or ham and scalloped potatoes. Not complex but delicious and intense! Very good! $21, 11% ABV
Albert Bichot Coteaux Bourguignons 2019: (AOC Coteaux Bourguignons, France). Dry red, medium ruby color with slight discoloration at edges. The aroma from this wine is less intense than other reds but the scents are delicate and pleasing with freshly baked dinner rolls, spiced berries, red cherry, toast, nutmeg and earthy pepper. This Burgundian red is smooth and silky on the tongue supported by surprisingly high acidity (medium-plus) and a medium body weight. The first sip is full of concentrated, but gentle red forest fruits (wild strawberry, red cherry) followed by a backbone of earthy spice. The texture of the wine glides on the palate with the soft but cleansing acidity while a long finish of earth, sweet cocoa, oak spice, toast, tingly pepper and black tea leaves follows. Medium tannins provide a grippy mouthfeel. This wine tastes simple at first but subtle layers appear after diving deeper and allowing the wine to breathe. The concentration and simplicity of the red fruits is enticing. This wine is an amazing deal right now! Very good! $24 (Regular $39), 13% ABV
Cheers and thanks for reading!