I am currently studying for my Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier exam. This is the second level of a four level self-study course to learn, basically, everything about wine. Part of these exams involves tasting wine blind, also known as deductive tasting. A Certified, Advanced, or Master Sommelier should be able to pick up a wine and deduce what grape, country, appellation, vintage, and the quality level of the wine without ever seeing the bottle. Many people who are studying for these exams, myself included, study in groups. Everyone brings classic wines and we taste them blind to help us improve our deductive tasting skills. I was at my study group the other night and was presented with a red wine that I called dead wrong. My analysis of the wine was fine, but then I completely botched my conclusion. This happens more often than you might think; I am always extraordinarily embarrassed when I do it. That said, I also always learn from it.
The wine was red; I got that part right. I then proceeded to talk about the aromas of the wine: jam, peach yogurt (no, for real), cranberries, strawberries, red currents, an herbal quality, a little pepper, and a lot of other things that I won’t bore you with. I tasted it and found the structure was in line with Zinfandel or maybe a wine from the southern Rhône. As I tasted the wine, I confirmed the flavors that I smelled and identified the herbal quality as mint. All good sense aside – the color, structure, and that peach yogurt scent (while not present in every one, is a darn good indicator of it) screamed Zinfandel at me – I decided to take the mint and run with it. I wondered why there wasn’t much pepper or spice, but that mint led me to believe it must be a Bordeaux varietal or blend. Zinfandel would never have mint! But here’s the thing: Sometimes I’m an idiot. I backed out of my peach yogurt call, convinced myself there wasn’t much on the palate, and I called the wine as a Merlot dominant Bordeaux blend. I was totally wrong. It was a bottle of 2012 Turley “Juvenile” Zinfandel. I felt like a fool. All the evidence was right in front of me, and I took one little thing and let it lead me completely astray.
As embarrassing as this moment was, I learned an important lesson: Don’t make a wine more complicated than it is. Look at the evidence, and go with it. No, you can’t always just trust what you smell in a wine. The scent of cherries doesn’t always lead to Pinot Noir; grapefruit on the nose doesn’t always mean Sauvignon Blanc. But sometimes those obvious aromas, like peach yogurt, can be just the key you need. Go with it. Don’t over-complicate the wine. Don’t pick it apart too much. That can be what destroys you. Trust those indicators, your experience, the structure of the wine, and you should make the right call, or get damn close. From now on, I will trust my nose and look at the evidence presented to me by the wine. And I will trust in peach yogurt.