Editor’s note: WAG’s own Wine & Dine columnist, Doug Paulding, has been in love with fine food and drink ever since he waitered at a French restaurant on Nantucket as a 19-year-old. He later joined a wine-tasting group and participated in the Sommelier Society of America’s wine course. At the now-defunct Hemingway’s Restaurant in Killington, Vermont, where he did wine/beverage service part-time and also skied, he was introduced to Santé magazine and began reviewing wines and spirits for that publication. In addition to his fine work for WAG, Doug writes a wine blog at dougpaulding.com.
So we were delighted when we learned he had a new “Wine Tasting Journal” (Peter Pauper Press, White Plains, $7.95. 192 pages) not only for oenophiles but for those of us who don’t know a Pinot Noir from a Pinot Grigio.
Wine is as complex as perfume. We may not become experts like Doug but we’ll have fun developing our taste buds. In this excerpt, Doug gets us started:
I have arranged this wine tasting journal as a simple diary for the wines you get to experience.
Each page is organized clearly and methodically. The hope is that, with little time dedicated, you can start to see patterns develop of where you are in the wine taster continuum — that is, which grapes you prefer, what winemaking styles you prefer and which regions and grapes of the world will likely hold your attention. Improving your knowledge of wine is not just to increase your chances for finding attractive wines in the future. It’s also fun. This journal will help you to find a compatible and wonderful wine for any occasion.
I enjoy carefully made and regionally inspired peasant food; unadorned, well-crafted and honest clothing that drapes naturally; and attractive jewelry without the bling. So, let’s bring this concept to wine tasting and simplify.
The first question is, Why describe at all? When you go into a wine store or a restaurant, the merchant or sommelier may approach you to assist. If you can tell them wines you have enjoyed or descriptives you look for, they will have a far better chance of showing you something you are almost certain to like. And as you fine-tune your palate over time by not just drinking, but by tasting with an analytical approach, better wines will find their way to you. Notable wine opportunities in my life increased in proportion to my growing tasting skills and circle of wine friends. I used to dine regularly in a beautiful restaurant in my hometown. The French owner, Joseph, would often bring me a taste of something to get my opinion. And if an expensive wine was served and refused at a table, he would bring me a taste to confirm either its soundness or its flaws. Another friend was given a case of Cognac from pre-World War II. He brought out a bottle for us to taste and discuss — a memorable treat. And still another friend opened a La Tâche, one of the truly exceptional wines of the world from Burgundy’s exemplary Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. We discussed the intricacies of this special wine, including the nuance and depth of flavors, and then we basked in the bouquet. It remains one of the most divine and unforgettable moments in my wine world.
A really good place to start the process of wine appreciation is opening a bottle with a friend who has a more refined palate. Open, pour, taste, discuss. There are short courses offered up everywhere that will educate and improve your knowledge and palate. Visits to wineries, either local or while on trips, and tasting a variety of their wines will help you experience different grapes, wine styles and blends. Wine stores often have winery representatives pouring tastes of their wines who would love to discuss their region or winery with you. And restaurants everywhere have wine and food pairing dinners with the winemaker or a winery expert guiding you through the process.
Many of the bigger cities host large regional wine tastings, often for a very reasonable fee. These tastings are often exclusively for the media in the afternoon and are opened up to the public in the evening. They will have several producers and representatives from a particular wine region. Most significant newspapers have a respectable wine columnist who can give inspired advice. There are also many organizations offering multi-week wine education courses, with professional certification as a goal. You need not be in the industry to sign up for one of these courses. Join or start a wine tasting group, similar to a book club, where each week or month one person learns about a wine region, provides wines from the region and leads the tasting. In this industry, the guided and self-guided education possibilities are endless. And, of course, everyone with an interest should begin to develop a personal wine library for learning or for reference. “Exploring Wine” from the Culinary Institute of America is an excellent reference textbook. I use it often. Kevin Zraly’s “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course” and Marnie Old’s “Wine: A Tasting Course” can be read systematically cover to cover or randomly opened anywhere to improve your knowledge.
Today is the most exciting time in history to be exploring the world of wine. Winemakers are highly trained and often university educated and come to their profession with a vast world of knowledge. They will often work in other wineries or other countries or continents before they settle in somewhere. The internet allows for knowledge and information sharing worldwide. Agronomists, winemakers and the public are demanding better made and more natural wines. Organic, biodynamic and earth-friendly are relatively new terms in the wine world. In the vineyard, introducing natural predators and insects to keep damaging creatures away makes for a cleaner and safer wine. And the internet allows for a dialogue possibly with the winemaker or winery. If you have a noteworthy wine experience, those responsible for crafting the wine might love to hear from you. An earnest email could get you additional information, attractive pricing for direct sales and maybe an invitation to the winery. There’s no better time than now.