Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Always Go With Your First Instinct

I’m still a little frustrated with myself from last Saturday. Saturday had been my third class and second exam in this “intense” Vinification course – and by “intense” I mean a year’s worth of material crammed into 4 Saturdays. Let me tell you, hauling my butt to an all-day class on a sunny Saturday takes will-power. Fortunately, I get to sample anywhere from 15-20 wines throughout the day, so that kind of softens the blow (note: I’ve had to learn the art of spitting… although some of the nicer wines we try do get to go down the hatch!).

So Saturday’s class started with our exam – first the written component, followed by the taste test. While I was still writing my heart away on the written section, the teacher came around to pour one glass of wine… our taste tests on exams are always blinded (so the bottle label is hidden). It was a white wine. My first thought was, “This is clearly a Chardonnay”… not a pale white, but not overly golden either. My next thought was, “putting a Chardonnay in a blind taste testing would be too easy, right?” (As a side note, I never took psychology in school, but somehow always feel the need to psychoanalyze my teachers, and to what level they want to trick us on tests.)

Once I completed the written exam, I was able to give my full attention to the tasting. In my other classes, I have to analyze all wines in the same manner:
Appearance – colour and intensity
Aroma – primary aromas (usually coming from the grape – fruity or floral?); secondary aromas (resulting from the winemaking process – oak barrels, type of fermentation, etc); and finally any tertiary aromas (stemming from further bottle aging)
Taste – do they mimic the aromas, anything else?
Texture – mouthfeel, is this wine balanced (acids, tannins, sugars)?
Finish – what’s the final flavour, and how long does it last (longer finishing wines are usually better quality wines) – what's the final impression?

This particular class on vinification, though is only concerned with demonstrating knowledge about the winemaking process – so only colours, aromas, flavours, etc that indicate how the wine was made matters here.

Back to our white wine.

After careful consideration of the colour, aromas and flavour of the wine, paired with an adequate analysis of what my teacher was thinking when he put this test together, I determined that this wine was a late harvest Riesling… no oak fermenting, no aging “sur lie” (leaving the wine to sit on its skin and pulp for a period of time to impart more flavour and aromas in the resulting wine), fermented in stainless steel vats, and then put through a second fermentation process called Malolactic Fermentation (aka malo or MLF) to soften the harsher malic acids by converting them into lactic (milk!) acids. For the record, I actually memorized the chemical formula for this conversion (because I’m a geek when I want to be):


In any event, I was WRONG. Well, actually, I was right about the malolactic fermentation, but I was wrong, wrong, wrong about the wine. Can you guess what is was? It was a Chardonnay. Of course it was! A Chardonnay from California, no doubt… only my favourite wine region these days.

I can still make up my overall mark in the final exam this coming Saturday. I can't complain though - I’ve learned a lot about how wines are tasted, how they are made and from what regions of the world. But my most valuable lesson to date is to always go with my first instinct!

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