It was a beautiful day in Napa Valley and I had the pleasure of spending a few hours of it in a Sensory Analysis Program at the Rutherford Ranch Winery. I had been looking forward to doing this for a few weeks…ever since the opportunity presented itself in my email inbox. Rutherford Ranch started offering this program to the public awhile back but, prior to rolling it out, they had sought out a few folks to act as guinea pigs to do a few trial runs. They didn’t have to ask twice. Count me in!
Six of us arrived at the winery at 10:00 a.m. It was still cool in the valley and the tasting rooms were just starting to open for the day. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the wine educator on staff, Andrea. Like many people in California’s wine regions, Andrea is earning a degree in oenology – the study of wine. Her knowledge on the subject and her enthusiasm to pass it on is infectious!
As we each took a seat at the tasting table, there were four Rutherford Ranch wines set in front of us – a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, a Merlot and a Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Andrea had selected each of these wines because they were made of 100% of each grape; no blends. She explained that this was her preference as it allowed us to explore the look, smell and taste of each type of grape without any influence from anything else that might be blended in. Also on front of us was a chart of the typical aromas and tastes generally associated with each of the four types of grapes we would be tasting and a ‘mouth-feel wheel’ – a chart of descriptive words typically used to explain the feel of a wine in your mouth; words like creamy, spritzy and chewy, to name a few.
It was very tempting to just grab the first glass and start tasting but we had some learning to do first! Across the room, Andrea had set up ‘scent stations’ that we were going to smell before we approached our first glass of wine. Each station had wine glasses that contained the fruits, vegetables and spices from the list of descriptors back at our place setting at the tasting table. There was even a station that allowed us the opportunity to compare the scent of medium versus high toasting of French versus American oak barrels. Yes, you really can smell a difference between each of them!
Each glass had a cover so those scents stayed concentrated in the glass until each of us removed a cover and took a whiff of the fragrance inside. It was very interesting to smell things like pure olives or pure tobacco without other additives that alter the aroma. For many of us, we were smelling some of these items in their pure state for the first time.
Once we had all taken in the smells of the words used to describe wine, we were now ready to approach our first glass. As you might guess, we started with the sauvignon blanc and worked our way up to the cabernet sauvignon. We explored what each wine looked like in the glass. We smelled each wine and identified the aromas that each of us could discern. We used the glasses from the scent stations to compare and contrast and hone our skills at analyzing each bouquet. While some of the scents were identified by all of us, there was no right or wrong answer. Each of us had different senses of smell and found different essences that we could pick out. This is a big part of the reason why a wine that I may like may not be your preference; we each smell it very differently.
Suffice it to say, I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this program. I learned a lot and had a good time doing it. If you would also like to enjoy this incredible experience, just plan a visit to Rutherford Ranch Winery on a day when a sensory program is being offered. Check the website for the 2017 schedule. One of the wonderful wine educators will be ready and waiting to take you on a sensory adventure and share what they know about enjoying a glass of wine. Salut!