One of the most interesting aspects of working in wine is the process of tasting. Each week, we sit down with purveyors, winemakers, and importers to try a series of wines, sometimes it is 3 wines and sometimes it is 30. This may sound like all we do is sit around and drink all day, but these tastings are used for some very specific purposes.
There are over 4,200 wineries in California. Consider for a moment that California makes up 60% of American market share for wine, but worldwide America is fourth in production level. Italy dominates the volume of wine produced; they make more than double the U.S. each year. Between the two of us there are nearly 20 years of wine tasting. but we have yet to scratch the surface of the wine world even though we have tried thousands of wines.
In the time we have been tasting, there is rarely an occasion when we try wines more than once. Taking in new vintages and constantly learning and exploring new regions (Switzerland!) and grapes (Kékfrankos!) to keep our guests in the know. Absorbing as much information about the world of wine is what drives our passion in this business; it is an endless pursuit of education.
The most complex question is do we like the wine or more importantly, will the consumer like it? There are plenty of wines that have knocked our socks off, but we didn’t pick them up. Sometimes, it is simply that it doesn’t fit our program, but price is also a factor. We always want to make sure the price is appropriate for the wine that is in front of us. Our integrity lies in the wine that we sell. There is nothing in our stores that we haven’t tasted and deemed appropriate.
So, here is how this tasting thing goes. The moment the wine hits the glass, we are looking at color. Is the wine clear or is there sediment? This would indicate filtration levels. Is it pale or more golden? This helps with type of grape as well as age. Next, we swirl and take a sniff. The nose of a wine is one of the most important factors as our brain relies on our schnoz for much of the flavors we receive. There is a deduction of any noticeable flaws: wet cardboard (cork taint), acetone, oxidation, sulfur. Then we take in the different aromas the wine gives.
Katie thinks of the smells as colors, for example is it red like raspberries and cherries or black like plums and leather. As buyers, we are making sure that the wine smells like it is supposed to; Merlot should have notes of coffee and cherry with a slight herbaceous lift.
Then we taste. Our goal here is again, to note the quality, flavor profile including acid, tannin, and alcohol levels. Also, we always spit the wine out. If we were to consume everything we tasted, you would often find us on the floor! Each wine we taste, we make a record of what we tried and often use secret code for what we like. At VinoTeca we use hearts, the more you get the more we like it and if they are filled in then it’s a winner! Sarah uses the heart and a star approach. Stars are for the winners, while hearts express true love.
Katie sat down with Jenny Lemay, Sommelier at Aria in Buckhead, to discuss tasting for work. Her goals for tasting are first and foremost quality. How does the product represent itself? She states, “each wine has a unique fingerprint – does it speak to typicity or where it’s from, but also does it show the winemaker’s touch? And how does that all come together?”
The next question is application, how it fits into the program. “Even when you fall in love with a wine you have to say, ‘Do we need this?’ I may love Sancerre, but I don’t need six of them.”
Another factor is availability. Yes, we all want those unicorn wines, the ones we only get once a year and sell out immediately, but consistency is what diners prefer at their favorite spots. With the current state of the supply chain this is extremely relevant. Lemay notes, “it is hard to keep interest when certain wines are hard to keep in stock. It’s painful when a guest falls in love with something and you have to say, ‘Hopefully we’ll have more next year.’”
This phenomenon will, hopefully, be short lived, but every part of the industry is affected from cardboard and glass shortage (Spain is in crisis) to a transportation logjam internationally. The trickle-down effect is real and has compounding consequences.
Yes, our jobs are fun and we do get to experience a world that is exciting and interesting but we are also business women who are creating a collection we want to pass on to our guests. It is a pretty awesome job! As Jenny concluded “ we sacrifice ourselves daily as membranes through which to filter out a huge lot of boring and mediocre juice so you can have the best.” We do all of it for you!
Sarah’s Wine Pick
2017 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Domaine de Thalabert Crozes Hermitage, Côtes du Rhône, France
What can I say, I love Syrah. Especially when it’s from France, or California. There are a few things I always look for when selecting a syrah for 3 Parks. I typically gravitate to concentrated flavors of blackberry, blueberry, and cassis. Cracked black pepper is always present with savory and smoky flavors that syrah is known for, reminiscent of bacon fat or cured meats. Whether it’s full-bodied like Domaine de Thalabert, or a bit more of a restrained style like Pax North Coast Syrah, the wines always identify appropriately and taste varietally correct. Available at 3 Parks Wine Shop for $49.99.