A lot of studying is involved in becoming a wine expert. Case in point: I recently taught a class to 12 local wine industry professionals, who are hoping to further their careers by overcoming the considerable challenges presented by the Advanced Certificate, Level Three examinations given by the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. I offered the group six wines to analyze on the various dimensions of wine that can be reasonably quantified: total acidity, sweetness, alcoholic strength, et cetera. They were all white wines from France. Two of them were from the Loire Valley; one a Sancerre, made from the grape variety Sauvignon Blanc; the other a Vouvray Sec, made from Chenin Blanc.
The Vouvray was memorable. It had a golden hue and beguiling aroma, equal parts floral, reminiscent of rose petals and honeysuckle and fruity, bringing dried apricots to mind. Well before tasting the wine, it was clear that it was going to be rich, luscious and probably sweet. To taste this wine was a privilege. It was literally mouth-watering, the naturally high levels of acidity common to wine made from Chenin Blanc provoking a rush like rainwater from the sides of my cheeks, and mouth-filling, with flavors of honey and dried fruits finding a way to cover my mouth entirely. The impression of weight, power and flavor remained with me long after the wine had gone.
Many in the room thought the wine was sweet—but it wasn’t; it simply tasted of things we usually encounter when sugar is present such as apricots. And despite the powerful impression the wine made, it proved to be a mere 12 percent alcohol. What no one expected was that the wine was 29 years old, made in the cellars in the Domaine de Pouvray in 1990 and squirreled away until today as a retirement nest egg for the winemaker.
As we were finishing up the class, I couldn’t help but think to myself that few Saratogians would ever pay the $50 this 30-year-old bottle of wine costs. And yet it’s one generous glass for each of four people at just $12.50 a head. We’d pay that in a restaurant without a second thought.
Wine Challenge: Discover what sweetness smells like. Pour some refined sugar into a bowl. What does it smell of?