Reds and whites taste test: Rating wines from expert wine connoisseurs.

Chuck Simeone and Alex Berlinger at the wine rating class

For the average wine drinker tasting and rating wines can be fun, informative and above all easy, according to some of the area’s best wine aficionados.

            On Sunday, September 26th, 2010, two of New Jersey’s wine experts held a seminar at the Summit Food and Wine Festival on how to taste and rate wines. The workshop, which featured red and white wines, was a basic how-to for novice wine enthusiasts. With each glass of wine the group was given instructions on how to taste and rate wines the correct way, according to the panel of speakers. For the duration of the workshop the group was given expert advice on how to taste, smell, sip and ultimately given a number rating as to the excellence of each wine tasted. The wine class was given the opportunity to taste a few different types of wines from across the globe in hopes of enlightening their wine tasting abilities.

            Charles Simeone of Beverage Solutions and Alex Berlingeri of Wine Sources in Upper Saddle Brook divulged some of the businesses best tips on how to taste and rate a series of selected wines. Simeone and Berlingeri spoke in tandem to the class about each of the four wines available for tasting. During the exposition both speakers gave tasting instructions coupled with basic facts about red and white wines. The speaker’s main topics to cover included how to correctly taste and what a number rating means for wines. They also spoke about how wine was just as suggestive as art on how it’s rated by top wine magazines.

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            Simeone, who is a private consultant for the Beverage Solutions Company, spoke about why they chose the wines they did for a tasting/rating: “We choose wines that were already pre-rated by a magazine to see what the class thought of them,” said Simeone. “The group was giving us number ratings that were close to what a magazine rated the wines as.” Simeone said that he wanted the group to get the understanding that they could rate wines just as easy as a magazine could. “We wanted the group to get the idea that they could rate wines, too.” said Simeone. “Drink what you like and have fun!” added Simeone, when asked what his top advice is for beginner wine tasters.

            Berlingeri, who works for Wine Sources, said that wine has been a main influence in his life; “It’s about getting people passionate about wine and having fun with it,” said Berlingeri. “In the old days wine used to be something in a private club, complicated and overwhelming. I like to make it simple where everyone can enjoy it and not feel silly.” “It can be very intimidating; going into a wine shop and seeing a thousand bottles.” added Berlingeri. “My job is to give you a stand point to go to when you go into a shop.” Both speakers wanted to emphasize the basics about learning how and what to look for in a wine.

            During the workshop, both speakers began the lesson with the must know tips when tasting. Their number one concern was to have the taster take out his or her personal preference. For example, if you really enjoy Rieslings a taster may want to rate that type of wine higher than a Merlot or a Pinot. A wine taster must rate the wines on what the wine offers as far as taste and smell. Swirling the wine in a glass is key to releasing the smell of each wine. Proper techniques include grabbing the wine glass by the stem and swirling the wine around vigorously. This releases the smell of the wine and allows the taster to smell the scent as it was meant to be smelled.

Another key aspect of rating and tasting wines is the smelling of a wine sample. Tasters are urged to not smell with “big whiffs” or long, deep smells. The proper techniques are to smell lightly in a directional smell: North, South, East and West with your nose inside the glass. The panel urged the class to “pull in the smell of the wine through your nose and your tongue,” All wine tasting is supposed to be done this way, according to the workshop. Having tasted wine before smelling it is said to be the wrong way to taste the wines’ aroma.

The first wine for the class to taste and rate was a dry Riesling from Germany. Comments from the class included a discussion on what types of seafood to pair with this wine and how the bright acidity is said to be felt on the side of your tongue. Both experts agreed that this wine would be good as a food wine and to match it with an oily fish, due to the acidity. General comments from the class also included the scent of apples, butter and minerality as they tasted the Rieslings flavor. Berlingeri mentioned that Rieslings in general are supposed to be served at 45 degrees to unlock the flavor. Colder temperatures tend to seal off the wines’ flavor, he added.

The second wine from the panel was a Syrah from Paso Robles, CA. Many of the audience concluded that this wine tasted “toasty” and smelled of pepper and black cherries. The main question from Simeone to the class was if the “palette confirmed the nose,” meaning if the smell was what one would taste. Simeone also confirmed that the wine was not a heavy tannic wine, meaning the taster should not taste a lot of tannins from this Syrah. Simeone also added that the taste of items like pepper and black cherries in wine are due to the chemical reaction caused when the wine was made, which is true for all wines.

Third on the menu for the workshop was another Syrah from Ballard Canyon Estate in Santa Barbara, CA. Almost immediately the class noted that this wine was “spicier” then the last Syrah and had the scent and taste of leather and tobacco. This type of wine would pair well with a heavy meat such as steak; said Berlingeri Simeone also added that this  region of California is known to be “a more intense area with good climate” for growing grapes. “It’s got its own funky flavor!” said Berlingeri, who spoke about the common flavors of Syrah and Merlot.

Berlingeri and Simeone added a twist to the fourth and final wine in the panel: a blend, of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Both experts asked the class a major question: is this Old World or New World wine? Berlingeri explained that Old World wine is more earthy compared to New World wine which tends to be more fruity in flavor and smell. Having found a fig and licorice scent the group concluded that this mixture of wines is medium to a full flavor. The workshop also found scents of tobacco and agreed this wine would pair well with steak, lamb and other rich proteins.

In closing, Simeone had a few words of encouragement for the class as they left the tasting: “Wine makers are passionate about wine and you should be too.” He also went on to say that the rating system they use should be a basic guideline at best and to follow your nose and tongue when shopping for wine: “Your palette decides what your should buy; don’t buy a 90 plus rated wine because a magazine rates it high.” The workshop gave a good basic approach to those interested in beginning wine tasting and rating. Those interested in learning more about wine should contact their local wine shop and ask for more insights in the world of wine tasting and rating.  

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