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WINE BANTER by John Haggard - August 2015

WINE BANTER by John Haggard - August 2015

by John Haggard

The Vocabulary of Wine

The vocabulary of wine allows us to describe the complex flavors we discover in wine, our palate being influenced by receptors on the tongue. Aromas on the nose provide even more clues as to what we experience when tasting wine. Discover your own palate – how does the wine feel on the tongue, the acids, the sweets, the textures, the sugars. While each person’s palate is individual, there are a myriad of flavors that are common to particular varietals, and you can look out for them when tasting wine.

If you enjoy red berries, red fruit, raspberry, strawberry, red cherry, watermelon, explore roses of pinot noir. There was a time in the US when roses were mainly made sweet, (white zinfandel) and were often referred to as “the Kool-Aid” of wine. This has certainly changed in roses today – the alcohols are lower and there are more varietals being produced into rose from a myriad of red wines. If your preference is red berry, and you like red wine, pinot noir is always a great starting point – however there are other varietals such as cabernet sauvignon that will produce red fruit characteristics.

White wine characteristics can be tropical: pineapple, mango, guava, or sub-tropical melon, cantaloupe, crenshaw melon and there also can be floral notes such as jasmine, lilac, rose petal, honeysuckle, peoney, and violet. Herbaceous favors may also be displayed and are really broken between the dry herb and the fresh herb; grassy herbaceous is often displayed in a sauvignon blanc. Eucalyptus is also a note and mint (spearmint, peppermint) displays a freshness that can be more pronounced on the palate. When it comes to dry flavors think of tea, tobacco and alfalfa – other times wines display a nutty quality and it could be pecan or walnut sometimes hazelnut and almond; another description would be confectionary – mocha or chocolate, burnt sugar, molasses, toffee vanilla, maple brown sugar and caramel. There are also flavors of earth (mushroom forest floor) – typically on the mid-palate to finish. When you first taste, you can break this down more simply – is the wine sour on your palate – or is the wine sweet – is the wine bitter or acrid. Further tastes and aromas will reveal more flavors to you.

Think about your favorite foods, each of us has a favorite food that we would cook and prepare for ourselves or even snack on – whether it be beetroot, blueberries or apples. Some persons might enjoy something very burnt – charcoaled and the smoky flavors of over-cooked meats – a leathery tannin on the palate may be preferable or even wines that exhibit bretamysis whether faint or pronounced – follow your food palate.

Here are three new wines I’ve recently tasted and the flavors that were most pronounced:

Willowbrook Chardonnay, Russian River Valley 2013 (ret $20-$24)

Delicious green apple, pear citrus, well blended and fermented in neutral oak – a classic Sonoma county chardonnay a fine well-balanced chardonnay – superb summertime sipping wine and excellent pairing with salads, sautéed prawns, boneless skinless chicken breast. Enjoy now through 2016.

Willowbrook Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2013 (ret $24-$25)

Another superb wine and gold medal winner. Mild red fruit flavors, nice spice and well integrated oak with subtle spice. A super pairing for king salmon, roast pork or heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella, basil, olive oil and balsamic. No decanting necessary, enjoy now through 2017.

Thumbprint Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley 2013 (ret $38-$45)

Thumbprint has a new release of pinot noir, the 2013. It’s important to remember the 2013 vintage is a warmer vintage – the warmer the temperatures, the brighter the red fruit and in some cases more residual sugars, also known as brix. This pinot exhibits these characteristics and is youthful. An excellent pairing, if you’re looking to enhance some of the bright spice red fruit flavor is spiced prawns over grilled polenta – or a pear with grilled smoked spare ribs or country pork spare ribs.


John Haggard is owner of Sophie’s Cellars, Sonoma Wine Tasting in Duncans Mills, California. Sophie’s Cellars is open Thu, Sat, Sun and Mon: 11am – 5pm, Fri:  11am-7pm (Local’s Night, Friday, 4-7pm, and you don’t have to be a local to join us).