I think anybody can become a great wine taster with training, but some people will always have a very distinct advantage. I’m talking about the people who always stop to sniff the flowers and taste everything put in front of them. Adventurous people who are naturally tuned into their senses, will always find it easier to ‘verbalise’ what it is they’re smelling and tasting. If you find it difficult to put some smells and tastes into words, just relax and go find your own descriptors. Human beings can’t identify the smell or taste of anything they’ve never smelled or tasted before. It’s true! If you’ve never tasted a gooseberry for example, you won’t have a hope in Hades of being able to identify any trace of gooseberry in a wine. The same goes with limes, cut grass, lychees or sawdust or whatever. Our smell and taste receptors are tuned directly into our memory banks, so if you have no memory of a smell you won’t be able to describe it accurately. When we can’t identify the exact taste, we might simply say it’s acidic, or bitter, or salty, sour or sweet, or we might say that it smells ‘fruity’ when ‘plum’ or ‘blackcurrant’ or ‘apple’ might be more accurate.
When I was little, our family would go on bush walks and my father would soon become impatient with me. I’d be dawdling along, sniffing the flowers and leaves, while the rest of the family raced ahead, eager to get to our destination. Walking home from school would take forever and once home, I’d sniff and taste every new spice or herb that entered our kitchen. Visits to the supermarket were equally painful for my parents. There wasn’t much I wouldn’t chew either, except tripe (the smell makes me gag). So of course most of my life memories revolve around, or are triggered by, smells and flavours. Down the track when it came to working in wine, I found it relatively easy to describe the characters I saw in the glass, while some people struggled. So I guess I was destined for a sensory career.
If you’re keen to become a really good wine taster, then start practising. Not by just tasting wines, but by tasting and smelling everything you can (provided it’s not poisonous). And next time you’re out walking become aware of what’s around you, slow down, sniff the flowers, then get on your hands and knees and sniff the dirt and the grass and the cats pee and…actually I think we’ll stop right there.
Man O’War Waiheke Cabernet Franc Merlot Malbec Petit Verdot 2014 $28 (4 stars)
Winemaker Duncan McTavish has stitched together a gorgeously bold blend of four Bordeaux varieties from their sun-baked vineyards overlooking Man O’War Bay. 18 months in oak has unleashed powerful aromas of blackcurrant, liquorice and spice that osmose into an invitingly soft palate packed with dark berries, bay leaf, chocolate and coffee and finishing with delicately lingering, leathery tannins.
It’s a rich, red wine you’d want to cuddle up to over French lamb stew and chive dumplings.
Flying Sheep Hawke’s Bay Sangiovese 2013 $35 (4 stars)
Crafted by the clever kids over at Osawa Wines in Hawke’s Bay’s Maraekakaho district, this is a lithe, lovely, local example of an Italian classic, which boasts buckets of red cherry, redcurrant and raspberry, all wrapped up in an earthy, suede-like texture on the finish. Juicy, yet dry and smoky, it’s maturing nicely and just sings with sticky, slow-cooked beef cheeks.
I saw the movie ‘Dunkirk’ the other day. Heartstoppingly, breathtakingly good it was too – much like these delicious pinot noir’s…
Mahana Nelson Pinot Noir 2014 $39.50 (4.5 stars)
Certified organic and produced biodynamically, this pinot has a cloudy appearance due to it not being filtered or fined therefore it’s filled with flavour, the whole flavour and nothing but the flavour. Soft, elegant, truffle-edged and earthy, I love the baked cherry and raspberry layers – fine-grained tannins and fluttery length. It’s got gravitas for sure.
Just becaue it’s not bright and glossy-looking, don’t let that stop you from leaping into this gorgeous wine. It’s simply un-fined and unfiltered and made as naturally as you can. Aromatically it heaves with hibiscus rosehip, cherry and cranberry, while on the palate it’s a tsunami of taste. Mixed spices, cocoa, raspberry and silky saturation make this a cracker for the price.
www.seresin.co.nzSilver Wing Waipara Pinot Noir 2013 $36 (4.5 stars)
Crafted with wild yeasts and as little preservative as possible, this pinot has an earthy, smoky note from being aged in French oak barrels for 19 months, 15% of which were brand new. Chock full of cocoa, red cherry and rhubarb, it’s got real pluck and power behind it, making it a seriously tasty product of North Canterbury’s deep limestone soils and drying Nor’west winds.
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