Taste Towards Finesse
There are many theories on how wines should be ordered for a tasting. Based on one’s experiences, theories breakdown into principles, which help solve the tasting order riddle. The staff often finds themselves in a troubling situation because we are usually tasting a group of new arrivals—on any given shipment from France, there can be five or more regions represented and ten or more producer’s wines aboard. This means that we could ostensibly taste Corsicans, red Burgundy, white Rhônes, and Alsace all in one night. Yes, it would be easier if we just tasted one region at a time, but there are only so many hours in the day and we have a lot of wines to get through (most tastings contain at least twenty wines).
There are several ways to approach a tasting that covers multiple regions and styles. Five wine experts would probably order the wines in five different ways, and have convincing arguments for having done so. The ultimate goal in choosing a tasting order is to maximize the tasting potential of each wine. Like a well-written album, where the music flows from track to track, you want the tasting to flow from one wine to the next—it should “make sense.” The order in which wines are tasted can greatly alter how certain wines are perceived so choosing wisely is important.
I won’t tell you how to order your wines, but I will elaborate on one tasting principle that we have here at KLWM. Regardless of the other wines in the line-up, we always taste red Burgundy last. This might seem naïve. You might have heard that the “biggest” wines should always be tasted last because they will over-power more delicate wines like Burgundy. However, the opposite can be true – bigger wines can taste clunky and lacking in character when tasted after a more refined, elegant wine. Kermit learned this concept from his experiences in France where the people with whom he tasted always placed red Burgundy at the end.
Admittedly, at times I’ve been skeptical of the “taste towards finesse” concept—rules are meant to be broken, bosses challenged from time to time, right? During my time at KLWM, red Burgundy has always been tasted last, until last month when an un-named guest recommended that we taste Bandol after some red Burgundy from the Côte Chalonnaise. The Burgundies were beautiful, but lo and behold, the full-bodied Bandols seemed wonky, over-done, out of place (which was contrary to how they tasted a few months before). Now there are many factors that could have played into what happened – a low pressure system, the lack of a freshening wind, an off bottle – but I think that in doing the opposite of what we normally practice, the experience made me a believer in the concept of tasting Burgundy (or complex, elegant, albeit lighter wines) last. If you find the right occasion, give it a go and see what you think.