Expert details art of blind tasting
Laurie Jervis/Wine Country | Posted: Saturday, March 5, 2011 12:00 am
Rajat Parr, wine director for the Michael Mina restaurant group, paid a recent visit to Los Olivos to share his insights on the art of blind wine tastings.
A crowd of 31 people sat at tables topped with five tastes of wine — one white and four red. The object of the sold-out event was to taste side by side with Parr and absorb his expertise on the subtleties of tasting wine “blind.”
“Tasting wine is an art, like anything, and you have to work at it,” he told those present.
Parr, a native of Calcutta, India, got his start in the wine business in 1996 at Rubicon in San Francisco, working under the guidance of Larry Stone, one of the world’s most distinguished master sommeliers. Parr’s own label, Parr Selection, debuted in 2007; some of the grapes he uses for this
label are grown on the Central Coast.
Parr noted that Stone served his restaurant staff wine “blind” during Saturday classes at Rubicon, driving home the importance of using all one’s senses to distinguish one particular wine varietal from another. In doing so, Stone honed the senses of his staff.
During sommelier certification exams, students are required to identify six wines by country, region and grape — all within 24 minutes, Parr said. It’s obviously not an easy task, but determining what’s in one’s glass simply by color, aroma, taste and finish is certainly an education waiting to happen.
During his Feb. 20 event, offered by and held adjacent to Bin 2860 in the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa, Parr noted how being a sommelier “used to be one of the lowest jobs in a restaurant — kind of like a cellar rat (in a winery). But the job grew,” from simply handling wines, to one of tasting wines, and then talking about wines with restaurant guests, he said.
Parr led the Bin 2860 participants through the steps vital to distinguishing wines from one another. One starts a blind tasting, he said, with a thorough examination of the color of the wine in the glass. It’s best to hold the glass against a piece of plain, white paper, and hold it up under good light.
The first wine featured Feb. 20 showed “a golden, pale straw color with some carbonization,” he noted. “Look at the viscosity of the wine.”
Detailing and understanding a wine’s aroma is, many believe, a key step in “tasting” wine. The first wine we tasted exhibited “lemony, earthy, mineral-like” tones with less fruit but “some saline” on the nose, Parr explained.
He encouraged participants to venture educated guesses about the wine’s type, and the buzz in the room ranged from sauvignon blanc (early on) to chenin blanc, grenache blanc and, finally, riesling.
When Christopher Knox, event coordinator and manager of Bin 2860, uncovered this wine, those who surmised the wine was riesling turned out to be correct. Riesling tends not to be as acidic as this wine — unless it hails from the Alsace region of France, as this one did. It was a 2008 Trimbach Riesling Reserve, 100 percent riesling, with an alcohol of 12.5 percent.
Participants guessed this first wine to be sauvignon blanc — “until they encountered the acid” present, Parr said.
The evening progressed through four more wines, all of them red, with Parr urging participants to practice, practice, practice in order to form “a relevant wine sample” of a particular varietal. He urged us to create a baseline, if you will, or a standard by which to measure all future tastes.
While such background nuances are key, Parr also emphasized the importance of keeping an open mind. “First, (always) erase your mind about what the wine can or could be.”
Consistent wine tasting, he said, will teach us to solidify, in our minds and taste buds, “classic examples of what a classic wine varietal can be.”
Parr wound up his event with high praise for the local wine region of Santa Barbara County, calling it “a most interesting place for making wine.”
For information on upcoming events and classes at Bin2860, visit www.bin2860.com.
Laurie Jervis is a freelance writer, editor and viticulture student. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.