A wine expert’s tongue can detect the age of the wine, the variety of its grapes and the region it’s from.If your wine knowledge begins and ends with the pretty label on the bottle, here are some tips for becoming a connoisseur.
“The best way to learn is to get out there and taste,” says Coco Umiker, who, with her husband, Karl, owns Clearwater Canyon Cellars in Lewiston, which turns 10 this year.
Fine wine can be costly, but there are ways to defray the cost. One way to sample high-end wines is to do it with a group of friends to split the cost of more expensive bottles, she says. Another way is to visit a winery.
“One of the great things about going to a winery is you get to try before you buy,” she says.
Awards can help consumers narrow down their choices, says Karl Umiker. While judges look for things like color, aroma and flavor, they’re also making sure a wine is not flawed in any way. While an award doesn’t guarantee it will taste good to you, it does mean the wine doesn’t have any flaws.
Another benefit to award-winning wines is they’ve often been deemed good by a blind panel. When a wine is rated by a reviewer or critic in a magazine, it is usually one person’s opinion and the wine is not tested blindly, which can lead to bias, Coco says. (Find the awards regional wineries won in 2013 here.)
A lack of awards doesn’t mean a winery doesn’t produce great wine. It costs money, time and bottles to enter competitions. That can be a burden for small wineries.
In the end, “awards don’t matter. It really comes down to what you like,” Coco says. “There’s a biological difference in how we taste. Gold medals, awards, all those these things are great, but the proof is in your glass.”
Q: A region’s geology, climate and geography gives wine its terrior, a set of characteristics unique to a place. We asked Coco Umiker to describe the terrior of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, where 80 percent of Clearwater Canyon Cellars’ grapes are grown.
A: “There’s a fresh minerality, a smell that is so refreshing and beautiful,” she says. “It has great color and a full-mouth feel in both reds and whites. It’s very similar to Walla Walla wines. It’s really a neat note people should look for.”