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WINE BANTER - By John Haggard - March 2016


The Nose Knows

by John Haggard

When guests come into my tasting room, one of the first questions I ask often throws them for a loop. They might say they like a “big red wine” or a “bu-tery chardonnay” but what I do to help discover their palate is to ask, “if you were to pick a berry, what would you pick? Would it be a blackberry, blueberry, a raspberry or strawberry” – and oftentimes, they’re taken a-back as we’re talking about wine. 

It’s these very preferences for tart red berries or sweet red berries versus, perhaps dark, round berry fruit which would indicate, for example that they likely would prefer a wine that’s been barrel aged. Whether red fruit or black fruit, every wine is subject to the winemakers’ whim. How sweet will the red fruit be, how jammy will the dark fruit be, and as a taster, what matters to any individual is finding that note of flavor that excites their palate and that sense of delight when tasting the very fruits that are their favorite.

In the case of white wines, I often ask, “if you pick an apple, which apple would you pick? Would it be Golden Delicious or Gravenstein?”. A Gravenstein being a much sweeter apple. More often than not, most, but not all persons appreciate flavors of apple. Golden Delicious, tart Granny Smith, Bartlett pear, hints of citrus, more often Meyer lemon than lime. Lemon or lime can be equally detected and are pleasant when balanced with well-integrated minerality and acidity on the finish.

Attraction crosses all five senses starting with the nose.  These answers to palate preferences in foods actually, more often than not, helps me guide guests to a wine that they find most pleasurable for their palate. Wines have the ability to exude such complex flavors that we find in the foods we enjoy. Discovering and, frankly, thinking more about our food choices, can often be the best way to discover the wines we most enjoy.

Of course the vintage many times dictates the quality and what flavors are possible for the winemaker to expose in the wine. The smaller the producer oftentimes the higher the quality. However, this is not to say producers who are making 10,000 case of say a chardonnay or a pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon do not have that capacity. It simply means the more barrels and the more volume one has to manage the more difficult it becomes to produce a high quality of consistent wine in vintages that are not always the best.

There has been a trend towards refinement in stylization and the willingness of winemakers to think more about the client, guest and restauranteurs’ wishes making it less common to over inoculate, over-oak or exacerbate high alcohol wines which typically will not pair well with anything other than barbequed ribs and chicken (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Lower alcohol wines may not fulfil a broad palate experience upon their release, however, a few years in the bottle or a few hours of decanting often provides a more food compatible wine, decanting time being a way to enjoy a wine today that may otherwise have required further aging.

When wine tasting, share your preferences of flavors and foods. Almost forget about picking a wine, but instead think about the flavors you love and share that with those who are selecting wines for you to taste. Cheers.


39th Annual Barrel Tasting March 4-6 & March 11-13, 11am - 4pm each day. There are two weekends of Barrel tasting in three of Sonoma’s larger appellations, the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys. There is an opportunity to buy futures and wines at a discount. Attendees are encouraged to pack a picnic as most wineries will not have food for this event. For more information, visit Make a weekend of it: check out for lodging information.

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).