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New World Wine Maker Blog - Wine tasting

Beaujolais, Freed From Clichés

Article by Eric Asimov of The New York Times

Wine School, a monthly column, invites you to drink wine with Eric Asimov. In each installment, Mr. Asimov chooses a type of wine for you to try at home. After a month, Mr. Asimov posts his reaction to the wine and addresses readers’ thoughts and questions.  This assignment was Beaujolais; Mr. Asimov shares his thoughts on this wine below.

Because wine can seem so arcane, and because it offers an experience that can be difficult to articulate, it becomes easy to fall back on conventional wisdom.

“What is that odd whiff in the glass of older riesling we’ve just poured?” you may wonder. Chances are, somebody will respond, “Petrol,” a dead giveaway that the assessment came from some secondhand description of the wine. (Most Americans wouldn’t use a British term like “petrol,” unless they were repeating something they had read or heard.)

And so it is with Beaujolais, the subject of this installment of Wine School. It’s a wine trapped too often by clichés, confined by expectations, held back by a checkered past that leaves many hesitant to embrace all that the best bottles have to offer.

The purpose of Wine School is to shed those expectations that can shape our responses and limit the growth of confidence and ease. Together each month we will explore a particular type of wine. The idea is to drink, not taste, with curiosity and attention, then to share thoughts and insights. The hope is that in time this sort of considered wine drinking will lead to an understanding of what you like, what you don’t like and why, and that it will encourage all of us to sharpen our observations and re-examine our assumptions.

Few wines require such a re-examination more than Beaujolais. Here is an example of why:

“The beauty of Beaujolais for me has always been its simplicity and its price point,” said one reader, Al Jiwa of Toronto. “These days, however, the price point is so much higher than it used to be while its quality, as enjoyable as it may be, is straightforward, offering very little complexity not to mention offering no ageability.”

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The Trouble with Blind Tasting

blind-tasting

If you’re an American in the wine industry and are within my age range (mid-twenties to early thirties, not to put too fine a point on it), you have, or are somewhere on the path toward, a Master Sommelier diploma. That is barely an exaggeration. (Some folks pursue a Wine & Spirits Education Trust diploma, or go on to a Master of Wine, instead.) For a generation that purports to care little about what the so-called experts have to say about wine, it seems we all want to become one anyway.

“It definitely helps to have it on the résumé when it comes to scoring a great job in the wine world,” said Dustin Wilson, wine director at Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning Eleven Madison Park and MS class of ’11. “It’s a title that earns you some automatic respect.”

The numbers speak for themselves: 63 and 70 people have sat for each Master Sommelier exam this year, compared to 38 and 37 in the two 2009/2010 sessions. (Some people were returning; you can repeat a failed segment of the test twice more, then you have to retake the whole thing.) In 2012, a total of 95 people took the Advanced Sommelier test for the degree a step below, with 39 more this past April. Of the 133 total North American Master Sommeliers, 71 have earned their letters since 2005, and the first test was held stateside in 1987.

By most accounts of people in the program, the series of seminars and degrees leading up to one’s MS is a fantastic immersion in wine knowledge. At $2,870 for the four course levels required to get your MS—and thousands more often spent on tasting practice—it’s also a pricey test to fail, and around 90 percent do in the final stage of each session (this month’s sitting of 70 hopefuls only minted one new MS). There are three segments, two of them perfectly unobjectionable. Deep knowledge of wine and spirits, along with grace under fire on the restaurant floor, should absolutely be required of, well, ideally any sommelier, but certainly one who claims mastery.

But here’s the rub: You also have to blind-taste six wines in 25 minutes and “identify grape varieties, country of origin, district and appellation of origin, and vintages of the wines tasted” at a minimum of 75 percent accuracy. Even if you’re a wine ace, you’ve played this game and lost, perhaps embarrassingly. So as you might expect, the tasting sinks plenty of sad somms. The new film Somm includes scenes when the four documentary subjects/MS candidates (Wilson is one) guess off by a mile, both in their thousands of practice hours and on the big day.

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Mixed case: opinion and advicewith Ben O’Donnell of the Wine Spectator

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