Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Mountain Winery U - Wine Classes

A couple of weeks ago, Ted, Shannon, Sue and I took a couple of classes at The Mountain WineryWine Tasting Basics: See, Sniff, Sip, Sense and Component Tasting.

The classes were taught by Ilyse Pender, a certified sommelier and then some. She seemed a little timid at first but quickly warmed up to the group, sharing her knowledge in a friendly manner. She explained that this was the inaugural class and they were still working out some of the kinks. Interestingly, the classroom was right behind the stage where the Devo roadies were setting up for the show that night, not that we could hear any of their work.

Ilyse Pender

Wine Tasting Basics: See, Sniff, Sip, Sense

Ted, Shannon, & Sue Enjoy a Wine Tasting Basics Refresh

This class covered the basics of wines tasting delving into a See, Sniff, Sip, and Sense system. Most of this we'd had before, but a review every year or so is always fun.

For smell she taught a FEW system, (F)ruit/Non-Fruit, (E)arth, and (W)ood, accompanied with a handout of common smells in the category, which worked well.

Some interesting things we learned:
  • Don't initially swirl the wine before your first smell. There are delicate aromas that may be lost when swirling.
  • How to sense the structure of a wine
    • To sense sweetness stick the tip of the tongue in the glass
    • To sense acidity put the wine of the side of the tongue and notice if you begin to salivate
    • Oak tannin can be sensed as a drying sensation on the back of the tongue. Fruit tannin is sensed on the gums of the front teeth.

Component Tasting

The second class was more intimate, about half the people from the first didn't attend.

Component Tasting Setup

First we learned where on our tongues we tasted sweetness, acidity, and tannins. This was followed up by giving us four glasses of Chardonnay, 3 of which were spiked. Our task was to determine how each was spiked, either with sweetness, acid, or tannin. This sounds simple, but wasn't, at least not for me.

Next they had us pour the wine of our choice and decompose it with the help of different FEW stations set up with the different components. We moved from stations to station, smelling the components and trying to find matches in our wine. I found this immensely helpful, and wished I had a box full of these smells.


The first class was well worth the $25. The second class seemed a tad expensive at $40 for what we got. If they add in a little more structure I think they'll have a winner.

The Winery

While we were not there to strictly wine taste, we did get to taste and decompose most of the wines they had to offer. We also purchased a couple of cheese plates for lunch, not our original plan, but worked well enough, and checked out the tasting area.

Ted & Sue at the Tasting Station Picking Up Some Cheese Plates

Sue Checks Out One of the Tasting Areas

The winery has a beautiful outdoor tasting room with a great view, and plenty of room for hanging out with friends and tasting wine. The wine was good, but nothing really stood out to me.

A View from the Winery

They also are a fantastic venue for concerts. A little expensive, but mostly worth the intimacy.

The Amphitheater

Fact Check

During one of the classes, I asserted that it is illegal to add sugar to wine in the United States. Only European wine makers could add sugar while only US wine makers could add acid.

It turns out this is false. Chaptalization, adding sugar to unfermented grapes in order to increase the alcohol content after fermentation, is legal in the US, though not in California.

"In the United States, federal law permits chaptalization when producing natural grape wine from juice with low sugar content.[13] This allows chaptalization in cooler states such as Oregon, or in states such as Florida where the native grape (Muscadine) is naturally low in sugar. However, individual states may still create their own regulations; California, for example, prohibits chaptalization,[14] although California winemakers may add grape concentrate."

I lost $5 on this bet and sent Ilyse a "you were right" email.