Passion fills most expert evaluators of wines

Wine evaluation is like discovering what makes a watch tick: We take the wine apart, analyze its components, then reassemble it to recreate the experience as a whole.

Take alcohol level as one component, for example. Some wines, such as zinfandel, will tolerate higher levels of alcohol in its taste sensations than others because of the intensity and richness of the fruit and heavier treatment of oak. The alcohol is not perceptible as a stand-alone element but seems to integrate with the entire taste experience.

Wine evaluators can be educators, writers, scientists or all of the above. They make great commercial wine judges for a variety of reasons, the first being they are hyper-inquisitive by nature and are marvelous at ferreting nuances from a glass of wine.

I have been with these folks in numerous tastings and it is uncanny what wonderful flavors they can unearth in a single glass of wine. As a young wine writer, I attended a blind tasting in which two very famous wine evaluators, within 10 minutes and without speaking a word, selected the only French chardonnay from a flight of 15 from around the world.

Secondly, well-educated wine evaluators display uncanny levels of concentration, a rare skill. Their sense of inquisitiveness and ability to concentrate make for a formidable force in the wine business.

Thirdly, and this might be the most stunning trait of true, professional wine evaluators, is their incredible memory.

Recently, I tasted 12 exquisite red Bordeaux in a private wine tasting. An elderly gentleman, a former wine importer, determined where these wines were grown in Bordeaux and described why he chose those areas. He was spot on.

To make this event even more fascinating, he compared the wines on the table with a dozen other Bordeaux he had tasted while in that region in 1959. He then recounted conversations he'd had with winemakers back then about the growing season, oak treatment and viticultural practices and contrasted them with the Bordeaux on the table and why similarities existed.

At the heart and soul of folks at this level of wine appreciation is a fierce passion for wine. I have run across perhaps 15 top-flight wine evaluators in my lifetime, and I would say that this passion is the overwhelming drive behind their magic. It's quite something to experience.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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