'Wine Tasting 101' teaches tricks of the trade at ScienceWorks

When it comes to wine tasting, less is more.

A wee sniff and swish over the palate tells you a lot more than tossing back a glass or two, says Dwayne Bershaw, associate director of the Southern Oregon Wine Institute in Roseburg.

Bershaw will give a "Wine Tasting 101" hands-on class tonight as part of Science of Wine, a three-day event that began Thursday and concludes Saturday in Ashland.

The eighth annual event is a fundraiser for ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum and began with "Vine Dining," a showcase of wines and winemakers with four-course dinner, on Thursday at Ashland Springs Hotel.

Tonight's event, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at ScienceWorks, also will include a demonstration by noted barrel builder Phil Burton of Calistoga, Calif.

The tasting of wine is an acquired skill, one that takes practice and awareness until you get to the place where you know what you like — and what food you like it with, says Bershaw.

"It's important to learn to taste more critically instead of just judging what's good and bad according to your taste buds," says Bershaw. He will use five flights of wine to train participants in the look, smell and taste of various wines, helping them recognize which ones are young, old, oxidized. And he'll teach them how to recognize the four basic tastes — sweet, sour, bitter and astringent — all of which are important in making a good wine, but all of which must be in the right balance.

"You need them all or wine would taste like soda pop," he says.

Bershaw, whose institute offers a two-year viticulture and winemaking program at Umpqua Community College, says it's important not to regard a wine-tasting as you would a party, but to approach it as an educational experience that will bring more enjoyable dining and imbibing through the years.

"As you start to develop your wine palate, you'll be trying to get more critical, trying to figure out why you like certain tastes, developing a profile of what you like — and trying to discern the balance of oakiness and fruitiness, as well as acidity and sweetness," he says.

And you'll begin to discern the difference in vintages, especially when it comes to smaller wineries.

You may like a certain varietal they make, but the next year may be a different story, he says. Larger wineries use grapes from numerous vineyards, so their products are more stable from year to year.

You've probably seen wine experts go through a certain ritual, and there are good reasons for it, Bershaw says. Here are the steps:

1. Look at the wine in the glass. Swirl it up on the sides of the glass, exposing more of its molecules to the air and releasing its flavors.

2. Stick your nose in the glass and sniff. Infusing those molecules into your nose activates the wine evaluating sectors of your brain.

3. Swish the first sip in your mouth to capture the full taste and body; suck air through the fluid in your mouth, maximizing the aromatic enhancement of air and warming the wine, releasing more flavors.

"You get a different aroma as the chemistry emerges in the back of your throat and goes up to your nose from there," he says. "It's called retro nasal smell and it makes the aroma different."

4. Spit it out. That gives you the best chance at maximum tasting, evaluating and learning what you really like, also called your "wine profile," he says.

Stay sober, don't get a buzz, drink for taste only, and enjoy wine's lovely effects some other time and with the right food pairings, he says.

And, yes, price matters, Bershaw says. The more you pay, the more complex the aroma and the more balanced the sweet and sour notes, he says, adding that wines at a lower price point tend to present more simple and fruity tastes.

"When I smell a new, oaky aroma, like vanilla or nutmeg, in the forefront, a lot of times that means it's from new barrels, which are expensive," he says, and that means a more expensive wine.

Cost for tonight's "Wine Tasting 101" and "The Art & Science of Barrel Making" is $20 general, $15 for members. John Quinones, winemaker at RoxyAnn, also will provide barrel samples and talk about the influence of the barrel in the taste of the wine.

The Science of Wine Gala wraps up the weekend at 6 p.m. Saturday at ScienceWorks and features more than a dozen wineries pairing with more than a dozen restaurants. It will include a wine education center that will field questions from participants, a silent auction and mystery wine bottle raffle. Dan Fellman and the Tritone Trio will perform. Cost is $65 general, $55 for members.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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