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Wine A - Z: Questions overheard in the tasting room

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Wine tasters come in all shapes and sizes, and with varying degrees of wine knowledge. From the novice to the know-it-all, wine's ever evolving nature can lead to a variety of questions. Following are just a few of the questions overheard lately:

Q. Why is the pour so small?

A. Quite simply, because you are wine tasting. Naturally, the person pouring your sample is under the assumption, since you are out wine tasting, that you will be visiting more wineries (or have already). It may not seem like much at first, but as the day wears on, those standard one ounce pours add up...totaling as much as several glasses depending on how many wine tasting rooms you make it to.

Q. Why do we swirl the wine?

A. Swirling the wine in your glass has a purpose, other than looking displaying your dexterity and finesse. When you swirl the wine, you are exposing the wine to air (aeration, anyone?) and helping to release it's aromas and flavors. Try this - pour a small amount of wine into a glass and right away, smell it. Now do the same thing, only swirl it first and then sniff. Notice a difference? In a future article we will explore the relation between oxygen and wine, but for now, suffice it to say that swirling air into the wine helps you to experience it's finer qualities.

Q. The tasting notes say it has the flavors of other fruits and woods and stuff. Is any of that really added to the wine?

A. Interesting, isn't it, that tasting notes rarely ever say it tastes like grape? Rest assured, the chardonnay with notes of butter and pineapple does not contain actual butter or pineapple. Most grape varieties have distinct and specific flavors inherent to the grape itself, and still others are picked up from the barrel in which the wine was aged. One word of advice overheard in the tasting room - taste the wine before reading the tasting notes. Often times, you are able to taste the flavor notes of a wine, but cannot name it until you read it or hear it. Let your taste buds have a chance to experience the wines nuances before you let your mind be influenced by someone else's perceptions of the wine.

Q. What's the difference between syrah and shiraz? Between syrah and petite sirah?

A. This is a two-parter. First, syrah and shiraz: they are the same grape with two names, based predominantly on geography. While not the only two grapes that have multiple names (pinot gris/grigio ring any bells?), for some reason the most confusing. Exacerbated, perhaps, by the existence of another similar sounding grape - petite sirah. These two are grapes are, as extensive tests and studies have shown, related, but not identical. Petite sirah is the result of a cross of syrah and peloursin, the brainchild of a Dr. Francois Durif (which it is sometimes referred to as - Durif). Syrah, it would seem, is also a cross, of two nearly extinct varietals, although the true source of it's origins is still up for debate. That cleared it all up, right?

There are many more questions asked and overheard. Do not be afraid to ask them. Wine is fun. Wine is serious. Wine is as wine does. The best way to experience the very best of what's in your glass in one sip at a time. Don't over analyze or complicate matters. And most of all, don't be intimidated by wine and wine tasting.

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