We stayed two nights over the Thanksgiving holiday in Paso Robles. In our hotel room there was a book that featured some of the wineries in the area. It had a guide for newbies on how to act at a wine tasting. The server pours a little wine into the glass, you hold it by the stem, then lift it to the light to judge its color (bright is best), swirl it in the glass, and notice its “legs” (the stringy lines it leaves on the glass). You sniff it and try to identify what you smell and compare those smells to familiar flavors and then take a sip, rolling it over your tongue while noting all the tastes. Finally you spit it out into the little bucket on the counter and wait for the taste in your mouth to subside (the longer it takes, the better) while noting those lingering tastes.
Flavors like cinnamon, citrus, rose petals, vanilla, oak, cloves, and apples were listed. But not rotten grapes. Did we miss something? Is there such a thing as being Tongue Deaf? Apparently, since the wines we tasted at two very different wineries mostly tasted that way to us. As for the sniffs before tasting, I completely missed the secret odors.
I wonder if the tasting room servers are simply filling all the bottles with the same cheap stuff and chuckling to themselves while watching the rubes go into ecstasy as the tastings get up into the $125 per bottle range.
It’s pretty obvious to me that I haven’t developed the essential discernment to make a distinction between shiraz, chardonnay, merlot, or cabernet sauvignon. Yet I can surely spot the ersatz flavor of Ripple or Mogen David and other swill that merely poses as wine. There’s a California wine maker whose rock-bottom-priced Charles Shaw (“Two-Buck Chuck”) gained a tremendous following as he pooh-poohed the whole tasting culture and its pie-in-the-sky hoity-toitiness, enraging the high-end vintners. Perhaps he too suffers from tongue deafness.
When we got home, I tried the sniff test on some red wine that had been opened a week ago and was left out on the kitchen counter. I was pleased to discover that I could discern the following: distant skunk, damp dishrag, and a subtle hint of wet dog. So maybe there’s hope for me yet.