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Introduction: Evaluating Wine

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Welcome to the eGullet Culinary Institute's class on Evaluating Wine, which will be presented next week, beginning Monday, March 7. If you plan to take the class and do the recommended assignments, please read through this introduction; it contains information you'll need to prepare for the class.

The instructor

Mary Baker (Rebel Rose) is the administrative partner of Dover Canyon Winery, a small artisanal producer in Paso Robles, California. She has taught college-sponsored courses in wine appreciation, and frequently speaks on wine appreciation and food-and-wine pairing. Thirteen years in wine hospitality and winery business management include stints as the first tasting room manager for Wild Horse Winery, and later the business manager for Justin Winery. As one of the original moderators on AOL's Food and Drink Network, Mary hosted monthly online winemaker chats. From 2002 to 2004 she served as a director on the board of the local vintners' association, representing the Paso Robles appellation, entertaining international visitors, and speaking at local wine festivals and seminars. She was also chairman of the 2004 Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival, an annual wine festival featuring a grand tasting, live and silent auctions, press events, artist receptions, and open house events at over 80 wineries. In her spare time she writes and plants vegetables and flowers, many of which promptly die. She is the author of Fresh From Dover Canyon: Easy Elegant Recipes from Dover Canyon Winery.

For the wine tasting exercises

Later this week we will post a file you can download to print an evaluation form for the wines you taste. It's not necessary to use the form, but to get the most out of the class, you should plan to take notes as you taste.

Wine Recommendations

Before and during the class, students will be asked to find and purchase wines that are good yet inexpensive models of common red and white wines.

Suggested varietals include

* chardonnay

* sauvignon blanc

* pinot gris or pinot grigio

* riesling

* pinot noir

* merlot

* cabernet sauvignon

* zinfandel

* syrah

Here are some recommendations from the wine forum for varietally accurate wines from affordable producers. If you can’t find these particular wines, ask your local wine shop for recommendations. Make it clear that you are looking for “varietally accurate” wines, in other words, a good example of a single grape varietal. For this course, we will not be tackling blends yet, but learning to recognize the distinct aromas and flavors that a particular grape contributes to a wine.

You do not need a bottle of each varietal to participate. Shop within your budget, and invite your friends to participate.


Argyle (Oregon)

Catena (Argentina)

Meridian (California)

Wild Horse (California)

Sauvignon blanc

Galzebrook (New Zealand)

Geyser Peak (California)

Mulderbosch (South Africa)

Pinot gris or pinot grigio

Alois Lageder (Italy)

Chehalem (Oregon)

Erath Vineyard (Oregon)

Hugel (Alsace)

Livio Felluga Esperto pinot grigio (Italy)

St. Michelle (Washington)

Trimbach (Alsace)


Bonny Doon Pacific Rim (California)

Chehalem (Oregon)

Erath Vineyard (Oregon)

Hugel (Alsace)

Trimbach (Alsace)

Pinot noir

Saintsbury Garnet (California)

Leaping Lizard (California)

Louis Jadot (France)

Wild Horse (California)


Blackstone (California)

Columbia Crest (Washington)

Valdevieso (Chile)

Wild Horse (California)

Cabernet sauvignon

Rodney Strong (California)

Sebastiani (California)

Valdevieso (Chile)

Wild Horse (California)


Dry Creek (California)

Ravenswood (California)

Wild Horse (California)


Columbia Crest (Washington)

Hardy’s Stamp (Australia)

Jacob’s Creek (Australia)

Lindemann’s (Australia)

Wolf Blass (Australia)


It will be helpful but not necessary to use fresh wine glasses for every wine you taste. The brand and style of the glass is not important, but for evaluating the color and aroma of the wines, standard stemmed wine glasses are preferable.

Component Descriptor Kit

One of the exercises for this class will involve what the wine industry calls component descriptor kits. Although these can be purchased, it is not difficult to make your own. Assembling it will take only a short time, but the ingredients will have to steep for a couple of days.


12 quart jars with lids or stretch plastic to cover

12 half-pint jars, with lids and screw rings

fine sieve


small 3M sticky note strips


Neutral white wine (a box of Gallo chardonnay or similar wine is fine; you won't be drinking this)

red food coloring

2 cups rocks (gravel or small stones)

2 cups green olives, rinsed

2 peaches

1 box raspberries

1 box blackberries

1 bunch mint

1 mixed bunch of thyme, rosemary and lavender

1 bunch tarragon

3 pears

3 tablespoons cloves

1 box cherries

2 tart apples

*Optional/alternates: Meyer lemon, kiwi, plums, peppercorns, alfalfa hay, sage, vanilla extract

Put a pint of wine in each quart jar. Add the rocks to one jar, the olives to another, and the cloves to another jar. Gently crush and twist the bunch of mint and add to a jar, pushing down to cover with wine. Quarter the peaches and add to a quart jar, pushing down to cover with wine. Add the remaining fruit and herbs to separate jars.

Allow to steep for 12 to 48 hours. Pour off a little of the pear infusion and smell. When the pear and apple infusions are strong enough to identify, the others will be ready as well. Clean the half-pint jars and rinse well. Make sure they do not smell like cardboard or soap. Strain each infusion by pouring through a fine sieve lined with a layer of cheesecloth. Pour each infusion into a clean half-pint jar. Color the "red" aromas --raspberries, blackberries, cherries, mint, tarragon, and cloves -- with red food coloring. Add one drop at a time and stir until the wine turns ruby red. Olives and herbs may be left white or colored red as they can apply to both. Seal the jars until ready to use, and label with sticky notes.

Please post any questions about class preparation or logistics here.

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Attached is the wine evaluation form for use as you go through the class exercises.

This is probably not like any other wine evaluation form you've seen, if – in fact -- you've seen any. What we wanted to do is give students who follow the class and use the form an easy way to categorize the wines they like and don't like and make it more likely that they buy wines they'll enjoy.

This is the way the form works: for most of the elements in wines (fruit, oak, tannins, etc.), there is a scale from 5 to 1. For any given quality, "5" means that the element is strong or very evident; 1 means the element is barely apparent or not apparent at all. Thus, for body, a "5" rating would indicate lots of body; "1" would indicate very light body. Likewise, a "5" under fruit would mean a big fruit presence and "1" would be used for a wine where the fruit is not as apparent. Remember, you're not rating the wine according to how well you like the various elements, or how well balanced they are, just on how evident they are. You may want to fill out two (or more) forms for some wines – one as you first taste the wine, and one later on after the wine has "breathed" for a bit, or perhaps one on tasting the wine alone, and one with food. There's bit of space in each section, and plenty in the margin, for taking notes. Don't hesitate to use it.

In addition to the scales for the various elements of the wines, there is a section to rate how well you liked the wine.

After you've tasted and "scored" a selection of wines on both scales, take a look at your forms and see if there are any common likes and dislikes you have. Do you enjoy lighter or heavier bodied wines? Lots of oak or none? Fruity or less fruity wines? Think about your preferences and use the knowledge the next time you visit your wine store – you should be better equipped to ask for wines with the qualities you enjoy, and you're probably more likely to end up with satisfactory wines.


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We apologize for any inconvenience we might have caused, but the wine evalutaion form that was uploaded this morning was the wrong version. The difference is not substantial -- the final version simply removes an extraneous section -- but if you downloaded the form prior to the time stamp on this post, you should probably downlaod it again to avoid confusion.

Thanks, and sorry for the error.

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