There exists a great show about wine on Netflix called Somm about the world of sommeliers and the Court of Master Sommelier. We have all been around friends who take a swig of wine or whiskey and make untrained and preposterous claims about the fruits and earthiness of the alcohol. While eating out, we get to witness actual sommeliers, through specialized training, take their claims to whole new levels. Instead of simply identifying the fruits, they identify its effects on the palate and then marry the wine to your food choice.
In college, when the Siena Casino opened I had the privilege of working in Lexie’s Ristorante with a renowned Master Sommelier who took wine tasting to levels unobtainable by mere mortals. He worked magic in his descriptions of wines. He would even tell you the history of the vineyard, fascinating tidbits about the producer, maybe a personal detail or story about the owners. Pure magic.
I vaguely remember our restaurant training where we were told the basics of wine tasting. Our entire front of room wait staff were professional waiters, credentialed sommeliers, and were generally passionate about fine wine and incredible food. Their level of experience and understanding appeared light years beyond our college level experiences of cheap wine and light beer! The Master Sommelier, naturally, catered to furthering their education and it was fascinating to participate in this world.
The documentary Somm, pulls the curtain back on the trick. The secret is basically simple deductive reasoning that we can all attempt and, with some experience and learning, deduce a wine past the superficial fruits and color. Not saying an amateur can deduce a wine down to a specific vineyard, let alone an exact year, but anyone with an interest in broadening their own knowledge of a specific alcohol – wine, whiskey, beer or otherwise – should take some time to learn the properties of the alcohol by learning their respective deductive grids.
To go into a little more detail, the deductive process is all about isolating our senses and reducing the possible choices down step-by-step until our knowledge ceases to take us further. The low-hanging fruit of wine tasting, so to speak, is to start with sight. Color, clarity, brightness, viscosity, and others. Then the Nose. Fruitiness, earthiness, intensity, and others. And so on through tasting – the palate structure and flavor elements. Whiskey has its own process as do other alcohols.
Ok, this sounds more simple than it is, but the idea is there. The best suggestion I’d say for the amateur is to start by grabbing a book specific to tasting and start from the top with a variety of selections vastly unlike the others so you can isolate through extremes certain components for each step. In the least, learn enough to help educate your fellow drinkers without sounding too snobby and as your social group learns more it can make the entire experience even more enjoyable than it already is. Part of the fun of drinking is talking about the drink. It will certainly help your social circle move past the superficial and actually take the journey of exploration together.