On June 15, 2014 The Press Democrat hosted an invitational tasting for gold medal wines (scoring 90+) in their North Coast Wine Challenge at CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in Greystone’s iconic Barrel Room, including the Best of the Best winner, W.H. Smith’s 2010 Maritime Pinot Noir. The North Coast American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) consist of wines made from grapes grown in Napa, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Solano and Sonoma counties. With North Coast AVA’s consistently producing highly acclaimed wines and young winemakers challenging the concepts of what can be grown here and the way in which wine is made, this North Coast Wine Challenge may soon become a premier world event instead of a national highlight.
Founded in 1946, the CIA is an independent, not-for-profit college offering associate and bachelor’s degrees with majors in culinary arts, baking and pastry arts, and culinary science, as well as certificate programs. The CIA was the not-for-profit recipient of a portion of the proceeds from this event.
Celebrated local chefs provided culinary treats that delighted the palate and highlighted wine and food pairing in Wine Country. Clark Wolf hosted culinary artists and winemakers in a panel discussion of winegrowers with award-winning restaurants and chefs working in wine country. Clark’s panel included Christopher W. Silva, Winery President & Chief Executive Officer of St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, T’Anne Butcher, General Manager of W.H. Smith Wines, Duskie Estes, Owner/Chef of Zazu Kitchen+Farm, and Daniel Kedan, Owner/Chef of Backyard Restaurant. But my personal highlight was the Blind Tasting Challenge with Gilian Handelman, Director of Education at Jackson Family Wines and Traci Dutton, Manager of Public Wine & Beverage Studies at the CIA Greystone.
As with most blind tastings, we were given a variety of red and white wines to taste and classify by aromas/flavors, body, acidity, residual sugar, tannins, and finish using a variety of senses from sight (visual appearance), through smell, to taste and touch (texture/mouthfeel). The challenge with blind tastings over the obvious of identifying the wines is to communicate the experience and share it with others.
This has proven more difficult than most beginners initially anticipate because the linguistics of wine tasting aren’t natural. There is no specific olfactory vocabulary in most languages, so descriptions have to be made using words from other domains.
Olfactory descriptions are primarily made on the basis of the smell of objects and also their color and taste, i.e. dark objects are used to describe red wine and pale objects are used to describe white wine. This construed language often requires a novice to learn a complicated set of descriptors and their agreed meanings to appropriately describe the tasting experience.
To overcome this inherent limitation, our tasting guides for the blind tasting coaxed us into describing our experience visually, by drawing the taste, be it a bright sun, a rooster crowing, or a raging stream. This concept has been discussed before by a number of people perhaps no one better than owner/winemaker, Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV Wines in Oregon who has developed and teaches wine tasting visualization using a variety of symbols to describe acidity, texture, flavors, and feel of the wine.
Wine education classes for the wine enthusiast through industry professional are taught at the CIA. A wine enthusiast class was the reward for the winning taste visualization (it was my drawing) and I am looking forward to learning more from these challenging instructors at the CIA in Greystone.
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