Of bell peppers and vanilla

The frenetic activity of the 2013 crush is fast entering the realm of memory, intense lectures about harvest, yeasts, grape varieties and wine making culminated in our mid-term exam, and now we are onto learning how to taste wine.  Keep in mind, we spit; no discussion, that is the rule.  It is a good rule and an industry wide necessity for those that have to taste many wines.

Rattlesnake Hills AVA, within Yakima Valley AVA, within Columbia Basin AVA
Rattlesnake Hills AVA, within Yakima Valley AVA, within Columbia Basin AVA
Seven wines have been poured for each of our test flights; each is a one ounce pour.
Seven wines have been poured for each of our test flights; each is a one ounce pour.

Wednesday we had our first tasting session with seven Walla Walla AVA wines (the southeastern most AVA in the Columbia Basin AVA).  Today we were in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, within the Yakima Valley AVA, which is within the Columbia Basin AVA.  I have to be careful what I have for lunch as our first tasting was not as enjoyable since my CLIF bar didn’t go with any of the wines.  Today I ate some sardines in olive oil and a few crackers – much better!

We note our observations about various aspects of each wine: color, nose, palate and quality.  Each grape varietal, different oak sources and the amount of toast, and yeast all have non-grape characteristics that are discernible with practice; we need lots of practice.

Today’s first real distinctive aromas were the 2009 Portteus Malbec from the Portteus Vineyard, which was planted in 2000: holiday, Christmas, vanilla, spicy, floral notes greeted those that shared their responses.  When others smell what you smell and taste what you taste, you feel validated – like you have figured something special out.  But it is really important to note that if you smell and taste something that others don’t, that is ok.

The next wine confounded my nose in a not very pleasant way, my tongue didn’t care for it either, but I couldn’t identify what ‘it’ was.  Shared tasting notes had the general agreement that bell peppers was the aroma.  Ugh, no wonder I didn’t like it – to my mother’s dismay, I haven’t ever liked peppers.  The 2006 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon from the Red Willow Vineyard had that Bordeaux red grape characteristic down pat.  Despite my inability to name ‘it’ my mind knew what it didn’t like.

We had two more Cabernet Sauvignon’s to complete the flight.  One didn’t have the bell pepper quality to it at all and the other had it on the nose, but was surprisingly lovely on the palate.  Seems there is something for everyone with a little bit of testing.

Cheers to the incredible variety of wines!

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