From the first time I had a painfully negative wine tasting experience many years ago with my cousin Suz, I have been on a quest to find out all the nuances, subtle and bold, characteristic to each grape variety.
We stroll into a quaint little tasting room and wine accessory boutique on a droll rainy day, husbands and bored children in tow. Hey, after letting them all drool for several hours over the hunting gear at Cabela's, we deserved our 15 minutes of entertainment! We naively sip the blush, and are immediately slapped in the face by something familiar. Suz just makes a polite nose crinkle - I however, trying hard not to spew the fetid swill everywhere, choke it down and as politely as I could gasp "tastes like CAT PEE!!" in Suz's ear. If you haven't immediately thought of her response already, she mumbles "And when have you drank cat pee??" Groan. I did set myself up for that one. Well, now the tasting room attendant is on to us, but seems to care less. My husband innocently wanders up to check on our progress, (I think they have duct taped the children's hands together to avoid buying what they broke) so, knowing he will occasionally drink a blush wine I hand him the rest of my sip. God knows I won't be finishing it! As I recall, he was very tactful and reserved in his response. I got a "you are sooo going to hear about this later" look usually reserved for the kids, wondering why I was trying to kill him. He retreated - possibly in fear that I might try poisoning him further to hasten the process.
I am still trying to do a dance around the full cat box and explain myself, and doing a very bad job of it. I have never tasted cat pee of course, but if I had, this is certainly what my 'half bead off level' imagination would think it tasted like.
"I don't know! You taste what you smell, and smell what you taste!"
I think the attendant has totally had enough of us by now, we select a safe red wine to take home and enjoy with dinner and exit.
Haunted by the lingering memory of my close encounter of the feline kind, I had to find out WHAT that awful variety was and vow never to let it pass my lips again. I later came across the BEST article on "bad" wine flavors:
Now, these smells we spend quite a lot of money to eradicate from our daily life (cat box, BO, wet dog, skunk, etc.) that can be found in a wine's bouquet (smell) are actually appreciated by some connoisseurs. I would hope that margin is a very small one. Not looking forward to Bertie Bott's Beans newest jelly bean flavor to be feral feline urine. Yes, there are many, many flavors, and many more descriptive terms used to describe them. According to Linda Murphy in her article, it is demeaning to call it "cat pee", where boxwood or asparagus would be more respectful.
OK, lets play nice now. Boxwood I can settle on.
Getting to the point!
So, it goes like this; appreciating a wine's bouquet is a joint effort between your nose and your taste buds. When you smell that turkey roasting all day, and finally have absconded your first piece while the designated carver is not looking (carefully aware of the slicer blades) your appreciation of the juicy roasted flavor is so much more so because you were smelling it's richness before you popped that golden nugget into your mouth. If you are vegetarian, I sincerely apologize for my hedonistic analogy. Tofurky is no match - I will have to go with something akin to warm banana bread for you. Now, if you are gluten free - refer back to turkey. Those of you who are vegetarian AND gluten free, I am out of ideas. Use your imagination and work with me.
Getting back on track, I have never tasted cat pee. The wine's bouquet had elements of boxwood (remember, nice!) so when I took a sip that flavor came forward, and very strongly I might add!
All characteristics of a particular grape variety can range from subtle to 'slaps you in the face'. (I got that term from Jason @ Twin Brook when tasting a very young Merlot - it amused me!)
You taste what you smell
The smell of a wine is called it's bouquet, or even it's 'nose'. Swirling the wine in your glass agitates it, releasing it's bouquet - it took me awhile to swirl without slopping it out of the glass all over. Start with the foot of the glass on a flat surface (tail gates don't count) and depending on if you are right handed or left, make a circle with the bottom of the glass still flat on surface toward you (right handed best to go counter clockwise, and lefties go clockwise) trust me! All you ambidextrous people out there - stop showing off!
So, you now hold the rim of the glass up to your nose, take a BIG sniff, then sip. You will get the full effect of that vintage.
Dissecting the descriptions
Let's take our Consiglieri which is taking it's rightful place on the shelf as we speak. It is made from the Chambourcin grape. It is described as:
off-dry, rich ruby red Chianti-style wine; fruit forward berry flavors with a nice tannic finish.
off-dry: There is a little sugar added (1%) to enhance the flavors, but not sweeten the wine
ruby red: If rubies had a flavor, this would be it! Rich and deep.
fruit forward berry: The berry flavors are the first thing you taste. We do not add berry juice to the wine, the flavor comes from that particular variety of grape.
tannic finish: Tannins are acids found in grape skins, nut shells, and wood for a few examples. You will have tannins in red wine because the juice is fermented with the skins, that is what makes it red. What does 'tannic' taste like? It is the tartness that makes you pucker! It is astringent, leaving the roof of your mouth feeling "squeaky clean" after drinking a dry red wine. This is why red wine pairs with fatty foods - it breaks down the fat!
Wrapping things up
The next time you sip a wine, try to pick out the different flavors you detect. Berry, herbal, dark chocolate, vanilla, citrus, coconut - I have even had a patron who described a wine as hot clumps of wet grass that collect on the underside of the lawnmower. What he was really tasting was a combination of grassy along with a hint of diesel. That is good!
Now, not to scare you off of Sauvignon Blanc, I have since experienced a proper specimen with not a hint of cat pee. That other one I spoke of earlier was just a little overbearing and brutal.
I may not always know why I like a wine, just that it is good, I like it, and too much of it may lead to dancing!