Wine Tasting Experts vs the Average Wine Consumer – Is there Hope for the Rest of Us?

There has been quite a bit of discussion surrounding (and bashing) wine experts. There is a feeling of hostility towards the experts, and I am sure there is a suspicion that these experts are being bought off by wineries, especially the more expensive ones.

I am neutral when it comes to this issue.  Maybe it is because I am new to the wine industry and a touch naive. Or maybe it is that I am not put off by an “expert” of any kind.  In my humble opinion, there has to be an expert on basically everything.  Someone who has spent a majority of their time living, breathing, researching and learning about a specific subject or item.  Right?

I came across an article by Tyler Colman, author of Dr. Vino’s Wine Blog.  In his article, he references an article done by Matt Swayne which basically states that the wine experts are “super tasters,” making them just a little bit better than the rest of us.  I like Tyler Colman’s view on all of the chatter surrounding wine experts:

So, yes, there may be biological differences in tasting ability. But in this nature-versus-nurture discussion, I vote for nurture as being more influential: it’s the catalogue of knowledge and tasting references, the experiences with wines in the glass, that make most of the great tasters I know really good. Also, many wine experts are self-styled and have varying capabilities, so I am skeptical there’s a genetic explanation for superior wine tasting ability.

So why should I care about all this?  Because if it is more of a nurture-vs-nature thing, then maybe, just maybe, I can be an expert too.  And while I may never be a world-renowned, much sought after expert, I can at least been an expert in my circle and be able to recommend a good bottle of wine every now and then. There is hope for the rest of us.



What Does It Mean When a Wine is Corked?

Our Cork Bowl
“Corked” I have heard the term a few times and I really don’t know what that means.  I have asked and have been told it means the wine has been tainted by the cork, making the wine bad and undrinkable.  I have also been told that I will know when the wine is “corked”.  But will I really know?  I don’t know much about wine.  What if I taste a “corked” wine and just think that is how that particular wine is supposed to taste?

I came across an article by Kori Voorhees of Wine Peeps.  She put the definition into terms I can finally understand:

Corked is the term used to describe a wine that has been spoiled by cork taint. Cork taint is most often recognized by the smell of wet cardboard when you sniff the wine. A wine that is corked is essentially ruined.

Wet cardboard is a smell I recognize, so know I know: wet cardboard = bad wine = don’t drink.  One mystery solved.


Columbia Winery 2001 Otis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Other Tasting Notes

Columbia Winery TastingOur second stop on my recent Woodinville tasting trip was to the Columbia Winery. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I went with my brother Seth, who also did an excellent summary of our tastings.

Pulling into the parking lot, the winery was exactly what one would expect when tasting wine – a large manor with groomed lawns and an inviting porch.  As we walked inside, we were greeted and automatically felt at ease.  Inside the winery there was not only the tasting area but also a fireplace with seating, all very warm and inviting on a cool March day.

We selected our flight of four and our hostess was very helpful in explaining each pour and offering her thoughts and insights on the wine.  This is something I really appreciate, since my knowledge of wine is somewhat lacking.

Our tasting ($5 each) included:

  • 2008 Wyckoff Vineyard Chardonnay
  • 2010 Columbia Valley Small Lot Series Rosé of Syrah
  • 2008 Otis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2009 Columbia Valley Small Lot Series Malbec

She also offered us two bonus pours:

  • 2001 Otis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (she served this to us after the 2008 Cabernet so that we could compare the difference between a newer and aged wine)
  • 2009 Small Lot Series Late Harvest Syrah

The wine that stood out to me the most was the 2001 Otis Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  The hostess had us try this one after we had tried the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, so that we could experience and taste the difference between the newer and aged wine. The wine was dark red, almost amber in color with a mellow nose – it was smokey and reminded me a bit of a musty/old basement.  At first, I didn’t think I was going to like it based on the smell alone.  But the taste was a little surprising to me – it was smooth and reminiscent of dark fruits.  There was a bit of a burn from the alcohol, but there was a little spice to the burn.

Our hostess mentioned the wine would be good for grilled or smoked foods. Automatically, it made me think of a summer barbecue, steaks on the grill, eating on the porch.  I ended up purchasing a bottle to try during grilling season.

Another wine that surprised me during this experience was the 2010 Columbia Valley Rosé.  When I saw the wine in a display at the tasting room, I automatically thought “summer” something I was so craving – so I had to try it.  The color was a very light red – pink almost.  It smelled of sweet fruits, like strawberries and syrup, very light and fruity.  What was surprising was the taste – I was expecting an almost too sweet to drink wine, but it was almost sour.

This got me thinking – is that how all Rosé’s are – sweet smell but a sour taste or are there some that are sweet all around?  Another wine I will have to investigate more.

Januik Riesling and Novelty Hill Merlot Tasting Notes

Novelty Hill 2008 Columbia Valley MerlotContinuing my education, I recently did a tasting trip with my brother Seth.  We went to Woodinville to try a few more Washington wines.

Our first stop was Novelty Hill/Januik. From my understanding, Michael Januik used to be the Winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle.  I really liked those wines so I was eager to try out his offerings.

The tasting room was sleek and very modern – lots of stainless steel and open space. While neither winery grows their own grapes, they do make the wines on premise.  Behind walls of glass, visitors can see the barrel room and the tank room – pretty cool really.

I did learn the mystery behind all the different vineyard names included with each wine. Apparently, those are the names of the vineyards the grapes are sourced from.  The winery itself doesn’t necessarily own the vineyard, but they are giving credit to it on the bottle.  I also learned from the lady pouring our wine that only about 20% of wineries in Washington State grow their own grapes.

We did a flight of four ($7), which included:

  • Novelty Hill 2010 Stillwater Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
  • Januik 2010 Bacchus Vineyard Riesling
  • Novelty Hill 2008 Columbia Valley Merlot
  • Januik 2009 Lewis Vineyard
  • We also got a bonus pour of their Late Harvest Sauvignon

Two of the five really stood out to me, the Riesling and the Merlot.

The Januik 2010 Bacchus Vineyard Riesling was pale and light in color.  It had a sweet, fruity (stone fruit) nose and the palette left you with a stone fruity (peaches), mildly sweet taste.  I hate to say it, but it wasn’t overly remarkable and I wasn’t sure what you would drink the wine with. Our host mentioned that it was a good pairing with spicy Thai food.  Anytime anyone mentions Thai food, I am in, so I bought a bottle to try.

That night we opened the bottle to enjoy with our spicy Phad Thai.  She was right, the pairing was nice.  The hot of the food was chilled nicely by the mild sweet of the cool wine.  I can’t honestly say it was so great that I would buy another bottle, but I did enjoy the pairing.

The Novelty Hill 2008 Columbia Valley Merlot was given 90 points from Wine Advocate.  I learned the best possible is 100, so 90 points is pretty good!

The wine was a clear ruby-red with a nose of cherry and warm cooked fruits.  However, for me the taste was a bit bitter (apparently those are tannins I was tasting).  It still had the dark fruit flavors, but the bitterness was a bit much for me. I am not sure if that was due to the fact that I had a Riesling right before, which was a bit sweeter or if maybe Merlots aren’t for me, but I was a little disappointed by the bitterness.

So, I think my next step is to learn a little more about Merlot, as well as about the pointing system. To see how and who decides the points.

Novelty Hill/Januik Barrel Room




Wineries and Social Media Challenges

I came across a post by Joe Roberts, discussing Social Media and Wineries.  While I am new to the wine industry, I am not new to social media. I have been working at a social media company for the past two years.

I agree with Roberts, social media is important for wineries (well any business, really) and I especially love how he refers to social media as “engagement”.  That is what social media is “engagement.” It is reaching out and communicating. But, social media can be scary, it is really putting yourself out there for everyone to see and to comment on.  In fact, it sometimes feels like high school.

How do you get past those initial reservations and get started?  Start slow, only participate in outlets that you can do 100% – so if you are not interested in Facebook or Twitter, don’t create an account that you will never use or update.  This doesn’t help. Know that it will take a little time to gain momentum.

Think of social media and engagement like old-fashioned client development, but now with a tech twist. Social media is like “word-of-mouth” advertising only now in 140 characters or less.

March is Washington Wine Month

So, I am sure quite a few people know this – but it is news to me – March is Washington Wine Month. An article by Margot Sinclair Savell on her Write for Wine blog caught my eye.

The Washington State Wine website outlines promotions and events that are happening throughout the month.  I think this is the perfect excuse to try some new wines.  I am amazed by the vast amount of wineries in this state and am looking forward to trying and finding some favorites.

I am happy to report that both of the grocery stores (Safeway and Metropolitan Market) that I visit often (more often than I want to admit) are offering specials this month.  Now, I just need the confidence to pick out some wines on my own.

Do you have any plans for Washington Wine Month?