One of the better decisions I've made in the last few weeks was to attend "A Beginner's Blind Tasting with the Master/Master" seminar given by Doug Frost at the Washington D.C. Wine & Food Festival. I had had numerous email exchanges with Doug over the past few years concerning Midwestern wineries and Norton and tried to find a time to say hello during the weekend. Since he was very short on time - giving two seminars each day - I decided to forgo my usual drinking routine and attend a session. What an enlightening and entertaining class. First something about Doug. He is one of only a few individuals who are both a Master Sommelier and Master of Wine. He is also the author of several wine books, notably On Wine: A Master Sommelier and Master of Wine Tells All, is the director of the Jefferson Cup Invitational Wine Competition, judges numerous competitions, etc. Let's just say he's knowledgeable about the subject he teaches.
The purpose of a blind tasting, according to Mr. Frost, is to remove any preconceived opinions about a wine or discriminating preferences toward a wine region. We all have biases and tasting blindly removes these as a factor in evaluating the wine. Then throughout the session, Doug informed us how to reduce the number of possible wines by the deduction method - that is, by analyzing the wine and deciding what it is not. Then, after you've narrowed the possibilities - you have a better chance of guessing the type of wine. Out of the seven wines we tasted we discovered how to notice when a wine's aroma changes with the taste - say, from a red cherry nose to a black cherry flavor. How to distinguish whether a wine has been aged in American or French Oak - or the gotcha when French Oak has a large buildup of tartaric crystals. Is the wine from the old or new world? Is the wine herbal, earthy, dusty; are there fruit or vegetable aromas? Sensations and questions I hadn't really thought about before the session. He also gave us the general characteristic of specific grapes - are they in general floral, spicy, herbal, fruity, etc. With this information we could eliminate most types of wines and narrow to a few possibilities - and at this point in our education - guess.
Mr. Frost is also an outstanding speaker - blending humor and self-deprecation with his knowledge of wines and regions. He also encouraged the audience to evaluate a wine's purpose such as how a generally bland Italian wine comes to life when drunk during a meal. Or similarly, how a wine with a strong tannic finish changes with a meal. We learned that a Shiraz can be made that isn't overbearing and too spicy and that a zinfandel can be made to taste like a merlot or cab. At the end of the session the old adage surfaced - "the more you know, the more you realize you don't know". I have a lot to learn. But, I have an improved basis on how to evaluate a wine - and thus hopefully enjoy the experience a little more. If only I had time for his next presentation on "Rioja: Where Old Meets New - A Reserve Spanish Wine Seminar". Maybe next time.