Anatomy of a wine tasting
A week into a tour of Australia, and we are tasting dozens of wines every day. I am going to write up all the notes on JancisRobinson.com, but I thought it might be interesting to analyse the way different tasting formats work and discuss the most effective way of tasting.
Very often, professional wine tastings take place in very sterile atmospheres. They are conducted with little or no discussion as people work their way through each wine, taking just a few minutes per sample and trying to make as many notes as possible. This is anathema to the normal way wine should be experienced - yet it is, for most wine pros, the most effective and efficient way to create the most unbiased and focused appreciation of a wine.
Opposite to that model is the meal-based tasting, where wines are shared among a group over lunch or dinner. We are generally having two of these every day on this trip, and while they are undoubtedly the best way to enjoy wine, they are not so conducive to gathering an accurate record of the wines involved. Taking notes is tricky when there is a lack of space to write, conversations are ongoing and spittoons are scarce. I know, poor me.
We have also had some masterclass-style tastings, such as the one illustrated above at d'Arenberg in McLaren Vale. Here, a panel of winemakers (below) presented 12 wines between them, focused on Grenache. This gives each wine plenty of time to be tasted and compared, and allows for a discussion about their various qualities, covering winemaking, stylistic choices, price, trends and so on.
This was a really productive format for me, even though it was fairly formal. By contrast, we went on to a dinner tasting looking at alternative varieties straight afterwards, where taking notes was much harder and more rushed. The event was fantastic, featuring some delicious examples of Mencia, Nero d'Avola, Viognier, Montepulciano and others - but I have a much weaker impression of the detail of the wines.
Today we leave South Australia for the next part of the trip, taking in Tasmania and Victoria.