It's the food, stupid

...or so I have to keep telling myself

wine tasting notes flavour wheel steve de long wine moment periodic table of wine grape varietiesPapers papers everywhere... I knew that conducting my first formal tasting note would be an idea I'd like to try from the moment it was first suggested back in May by my favourite wine wizard Steve De Long on his site.

Sure, I've “tasted” wine before – I started this blog based on the tasting notes I was taking. (Although lately those notes have been few – summer seems to be having an effect on me.) But I've never really taken tasting notes in a standardized and systematic way. And what I've also never had is a wine education. Not really.

I'm a wine enthusiast not an expert. I grew up around wineries where several members of my immediate family found regular employment. I can remember taking part in educational tastings and tours, celebrating my 21st birthday among vats in the cellar, and more recently attending food and wine matching seminars. I'm keen on it all but it does not an expert make. More practice and discipline are required for that. Focusing on a proper tasting note is a good start for me, or so I thought.

And now this week, weeks after Steve introduced his downloadable tasting note, I finally set out. I was spurred on by the realization that my use of the term "astringence" is anything but expert. I’ve used it incorrectly in several posts over the last year, but I should make that the subject of another piece another time.

So I uncorked the Belleruche rouge for which Steve supplies his notes and went away to work. (He has done notes for various wines and suggests that if you can find the wine he's tasted, it's worthwhile to follow along on his while you complete yours.) The whole thing was a great success. Well, almost the whole thing. Here's how it went:

I would write down my note, then uncover what Steve noted, and then taste again to reconsider. I was pretty much with him all the way (his medium-heavy is what I've been calling medium; I have difficulty timing length of finish, as he says it is tough for anyone unfamiliar with this measurement; I have trouble separating the ideas of "level" and "hardness" of tannins). I even confidently added a flavour note as outlandish as cream soda, which doesn't quite make it onto the official flavour wheel, pehaps because you could parse it down to vanilla plus some combination of berries that approximates grenadine. So yeah, I was really feeling it. I ended up totally enjoying this wine, which I had had many times before, never liking it nearly this much. It was fabulous.

rhone red wine mediterranean dinner pairing veal escalope pasta olives broccoliTasting session complete. Except the part of the form that Steve had left blank: food pairings. I was about to have dinner so I dove right in on this one. But the wine was unwilling. Suddenly its heady level of alcohol came screeching out. It seemed to lose its finesse at the dinner table, though my pairing of intensely flavoured veal, seared with sun-dried tomato and olive pasta was fairly well thought out for the occasion. I tried it again with dinner the next night, but nothing in the wine clicked with food like it did on its own during the tasting. And this was very disheartening but not surprising. I shy away from a lot of Rhône wines precisely because of this. Whether they are too alcoholic or don't have enough acidity to compete with the food I most often make, I can't say.

But what is important to say, and Steve mentions this, is that you got to get food into the tasting process. He says it keeps things on track and centred. I simply say it is the very reason I open up a bottle most nights. So while the experience was an eye-opener, I don't expect to do many more proper tasting notes which start in isolation and then bring on the food if at all. The tasting notes on Weingolb will continue to be rooted in the dining experience, with a focus on food pairings.


Steve said...

Hi Doktor,

Thanks for all the kind words. I agree about food pairings when it comes to Cotes du Rhone -- it doesn't alway work so well if the wine has a lowish acidity such as the 2003 Beleruche. 2003 was a very hot year and threw a lot of the wines out of whack with higher than usual alcohol and lower acidity. Also, it sometimes helps to have an ice bucket around in the summer even when serving reds as the alcohol gets way too pronounced at 80F+!

g58 said...


Ah yes, the quest for cool contines here in the hot hot Northeast.

Was looking for some white wine tasting notes you had done. I'd like to testdrive one of those too. Can you recommend one as approachable and easy-to-find as the Belleruche rouge?