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“Baseball is 90% mental — the other half is physical.”

                                                              Yogi Berra

To a linguistics specialist life is filled with conditional sentences or “if – then” clauses. For the rest of us that translates as, “if X is true then Y must also be true.”  The “if – then” clause also applies to tasting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat across a table from a student in a coaching session or in an exam and watched them describe a wine completely, eloquently, perfectly and then, in the words of the all-knowing Bugs Bunny, taken a left turn to Albuquerque with a conclusion that’s completely in the wrong place. It’s as if they either didn’t listen to themselves while tasting or for some reason they can’t connect the dots to come up with a conclusion that makes sense given the information they found in the glass. Ultimately the sensory evaluation sequence where one gathers as much information about a wine’s appearance, aroma and palate is only half the equation. What’s equally important, arguably even more important, is for the taster be able to make sense out of all the information to come up with a logical conclusion.Enter the deductive tasting decision matrix. The matrix is a series of mini if – then decisions/conclusions that a taster can use to assess the information in the glass as completely as possible and ultimately to enable them to come up with the best possible conclusion for a wine.

What’s important to remember now is that this so-called matrix is intended as a starting point for anyone to use and then to develop their own personal version of it. So what follows is by no means intended to be carved in stone but rather, as they say in the pirate movies, to be used as guidelines. However, I think you’ll find a good deal of value in using this matrix to become more disciplined in not only the way you taste but also in how you think about wine.

The matrix will also help you extrapolate the “why” behind each component in a wine and in doing so help you connect the dots between said wine and its variety, style and origin. For example, looking at a glass of red wine that’s lighter in color can build instant expectations in terms of a thinner-skinned grape variety grown in a cooler climate with red fruit dominating and the finished wine having less alcohol, higher natural acidity and moderate tannin. You get the idea.

While there are exceptions to any and all the “rules” below, the matrix will provide a foundation for you to build a base on. Finally, remember that there is no replacement for knowing key markers for classic grapes and wines.  Mastery of these is absolutely required to become an experienced taster. With that, read on, explore and enjoy.

Sight

White wines:

Light/pale color =

o   Youth
o   Possible cooler climate
o   Cooler vintage
o   Reductive winemaking
o   Lack of new oak aging

· Green hue =

o   Cool climate
o   Cooler vintage
o   Youth

·Deep yellow or gold color =

o   Warmer climate
o   Riper vintage
o   Oxidative winemaking
o   Overall age
o   Possible extended aging in new oak

Red wines:

· Lighter color =

o   Thin skinned grape
o   Cooler climate
o   Cooler vintage
o   Red fruit dominant wine
o   Less overall ripeness of fruit
o   Possible higher natural acidity
o   Possible lower alcohol

· Deeper color =

o   Thicker skinned grape
o   Warmer climate
o   Possible warmer vintage
o   Higher alcohol
o   Dark fruit dominant wine
o   More overall ripeness of fruit
o   Lower natural acidity (potential for acidulation)
o   Possible higher tannin

Color of edge/rim in red wines:

Pink or purple color =

o   Youth

· Salmon/orange/yellow/brown =

o   Age in barrel or bottle and/or oxidative winemaking
o   Specific grape think skinned varieties (i.e., Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Grenache)

Legs/tearing:

· Quickly forming, thinner and quickly moving tears/legs =

o   Lower alcohol
o   Possible cooler climate
o   Lack of residual sugar

·Slower forming, thicker and slower moving tears/legs =

o   Higher alcohol
o   Warmer climate growing region
o   Possible presence of residual sugar

· Staining of the tears in red wines =

o   Thicker skinned grape
o   Concentrated wine
o   Possible warmer climate

Nose

Flaws/wine hygiene:

·Brettanomyces and/or the presence of volatile acidity VA =

o   Possible old world growing region
o   Minimal interventionist winemaking
o   Poor winemaking skills

Fruit:

· Fruit dominant =

o   New world region or new world style wine

· Lack of overt fruit =

o   Old world region or old world style wine

·Fresh fruit =

o   Youth
o   Lack of new oak influence

·Dried or preserved fruit =

o   Wine with age

· Cooked, stewed or jammy fruit =

o   Ripe fruit from warmer growing region
o   Ripe fruit from warmer vintage

· Abundance of ripe fruits =

o   Warmer region
o   Warmer vintage

· Abundance of tart citrus fruit and otherwise under-ripe fruit =

o   Cooler growing region
o   Cooler vintage

Red wines:

· Abundance of tart or under ripe red fruits =

o   Thin skinned grape
o   Cooler growing region
o   Cooler vintage

· Abundance of darker ripe fruits =

o   Thicker skinned grape
o   Warmer growing region
o   Warmer vintage

Non-fruit Characteristics:

· Dominant floral character =

o   Aromatic grape (Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Viognier etc.)

· Pyrazines =

o   Cabernet family grape (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc etc.)
o   Sauvignon Blanc

Earth/mineral characteristics:

· Earth/mineral driven wine =

o   Old world region or old world style wine

· Lack of overt earth/mineral qualities =

o   New world region or new world style wine

Oak:

· Dominant new oak characteristics =

o   New world wine or new world style

· Used or neutral oak character =

o   Old world region or old world style

Palate – Structure:

Acidity:

· Higher natural acidity =

o   Cooler climate

· Lower natural acidity =

o   Warmer climate

· Acidulation/acidification =

o   Warmer climate
o   New world region or new world style

Alcohol:

· Lower alcohol =

o   Cooler growing region
o   Possibly old world region or style

· Higher alcohol =

o   Warmer growing region
o   Possibly new world region or style

Tannin:

· Lower tannin =

o   Thinner skinned grape variety
o   Less new oak usage
o   Possible cooler climate growing region

· Higher tannin =

o   Thicker skinned grape variety
o   More oak usage (especially new oak)
o   Possible warmer climate growing region

Finish:

· Longer finish =

o   Theoretically a better quality wine
o   Theoretically a more complex wine

·Shorter finish =

o   Less quality wine
o   Less complex wine

Initial conclusion:

· Old world or old world style wine =

o   Less overt fruit qualities
o   More earth/mineral qualities
o   Higher natural acidity from a cooler growing region
o   Less alcohol from cooler growing region
o   Less new oak usage
o   Less winemaking influence

· New world or new world style wine =

o   More overt fruit qualities
o   Less earth/mineral qualities
o   Lower natural acidity from a warmer growing region
o   More alcohol from a warmer growing region
o   More new oak usage
o   More winemaking influence

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