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The art of wine tasting, or what I could glean in an hour and a half

You have to love a hobby where you’re encouraged to spit into a gilded silver bucket.

The art of the wine connoisseur takes years, even decades to learn, and even then you’ll never know everything. It’s a subtle form of appreciation that truly uses all five of your senses.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I took a two-hour seminar on the art of wine tasting last year at Cornucopia and I think I got the gist of it. I’ve done a little reading since for my own edification, and I’ve tried to put what I’ve learned into practice. If wine tasting were hockey, I’d still be in PeeWee, but to someone who’s never seen a hockey game before, I might as well be Gretzky.

In other words, winning the respect and admiration of other even less-experienced wine tasters these days is just a matter of going through the motions. My limited knowledge is secondary to the overall effect.

Call me pompous, but I enjoy the whole civilized ritual of wine tasting and the curiosity it arouses in those around me – they generally don’t know I’m a hack until I drool wine down my shirt, but I’m getting better. That’s practice.

And sometimes, to the complete amazement of myself and those around me, I do everything right.

Why go through the motions?

Because drinking alcohol is easy, at least now that I’m of legal age, but wine is always a puzzle to solve, a challenge to unravel. You rarely buy the same bottle twice in a row, unless you’re completely boring, and if you’re at a tasting you don’t hover around the same table all night.

Identifying a variety or region of wine is a matter of educated guesswork based on observations. Judging a bottle wine is a matter of experience – the more Merlots you drink, for example, the more context you’ll have to rate the particular glass in your hand.

In the words of sommelier Mark Davidson – my instructor last year, and the instructor this year for the sold out Grape Beginnings: An Introduction to Wine Tasting – "There is a vocabulary to wine tasting that you learn over time that helps you to describe the little differences between wines. When someone asks you if you like the wine you’re drinking, you can say yes or no. But when someone asks you why you liked it, or why one wine you tried is better than another, it gets a little more difficult to qualify."

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