Wine Tasting Tips: With Cobb Wines!

During my trip to California, in the beginning of November, I was quite fortunate to be able to spend time with my friends Cindy and Ross. Cindy and I met in Bulgaria a few years back, while we were working for a non-profit organization that helps disadvantaged youths learn filmmaking skills as a tool to express themselves. Through her friendship, I have been exposed to the world of winemaking in ways that would have otherwise been inaccessible. Cindy, who is quite knowledgeable about winemaking, also happens to be married to the fantastic winemaker, Ross Cobb who is responsible for Cobb Wines and also the winemaker for the terroir driven Hirsch Vineyards (check out the recent article from Saveur).

For those of you who are not familiar with Cobb Wines, they are a family vineyard located on the Sonoma Coast.  You can find them on the wine lists of such restaurants as; The French Laundry and other Thomas Keller restaurants, Blue Hill, Le Bernardin, and a long list of other outstanding restaurants.  Even Martha Stewart has twitpic-ed enjoying a bottle with Emeril Lagasse and just the other day and The San Francisco Chronicle just named their Pinot Noir one of the Top 100 wines in 2010.  Saying it was a treat to be visiting wine country with them would be a vast understatement!
After my shenanigans at the Foodbuzz Festival, Ross and I headed towards the Sonoma Wine Country, with a brief detour at the CIA Greystone campus.  Cindy had told me that Ross would be picking me up in San Francisco and that I was free to pick his brain about all things wine!  Woo hoo! I would be a most gracious captive audience, though I am not sure how he on the other hand enjoyed my 2 hours of incessant questions.

I am not extremely knowledgeable about wines.  I have some skills, but they are quite primitive. I’ve been tasting in France, US and Australia, but I get intimidated when I am in charge of selection the wine at restaurants and unsure of my palette in tasting situations.  My biggest question was what exactly am I looking for when evaluation a glass of wine?  This seems like a dumb question, but I needed it spelled out.  You see people sniffing the cork, swirling the glass, observing the color, inhaling deeply, sipping and reacting to the taste, but what evokes specific responses?
What he told me was not a specific dogma, but something to help me prioritize my tastings, something to wrap my head around. The most knowledgeable bit of information that has stuck with me was that 70% of wine tasting is actually the aroma or smell; this is where it is at! Taste only counts for about 25% of the equation and then about 5% for color. Now these percentages are not scientific, but merely estimates. Ok, so know I know that I need to focus on the smells or aroma, but how do I know if what I am smelling is good or bad.  From what I understood is that smelling wine is like smelling a perfume, you are looking for balance, no one essence overpowering the other; the fragrances should blend together harmoniously. We touched upon taste briefly, but I was longing to ask some questions about color. I’ve held glasses up to the light and tipped them sideways to observes stuff, but really, I am just replicating behaviors I’ve seen exhibited before, while he did give me some tips, I am still foggy, so I will save that for another for another post..

The night before I left, we had a wine tasting dinner, I did the cooking and they provided the liquid persuasion. The environment was more social, so I found it hard to separate social drinking or drinking for pleasure to tasting and evaluation.  My mind needs to be focused otherwise I can’t think about what I am drinking, so needless to say, while cooking, chatting and sipping, I kind of got lost.

Some of our last night tasting parade.

Before I left to go home Ross gave me an amazing book from University of California Press called Reading Between the Wines by Terry Theise.  
(I have linked to this book from my Amazon store. I get a few cents if you happen to purchase one from my site)
While, I have read numerous books about food and cooking and why they are important, this was the first book I’ve ever read which covered wine in the same manner.  I found this book to be a fast, albeit a tad pretentious read, as it was chockfull of .50 cent words. Aside from that, one chapter in particular struck a chord.  Theise makes a valid argument about taste specifically about what is good taste.  I had long heard that if you believe a wine is good because you like it than it is a good wine, but Theise says the opposite.  Good wine is good wine for a reason, while there is some room for subjective interpretation, knowing good wine is not an elitist epitaph.

“If you like Twinkies, eat them.  Don’t apologize.  Have all the fun a Twinkie delivers.  But don’t claim it’s just as good as a home-baked brownie from natural fresh ingredients, or that anyone who believes other wise is a food snob.”(Terry Theise)

This experience in California’s wine country has taught me that I have so much more to learn about wine.  It was an amazing experience visiting the extreme Sonoma Coast or Fort Ross area and the only thing that I know for certain, is that I must return as soon as possible.  If I ever come to live in the United States for good, this is the area I envisioning inhabiting.

To get your hands on a bottle of Cobb Wines, please visit their online shop.

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