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World of Wine: Wine tasting is about new discoveries

Ron Smith, World of Wine columnist

I've written a few times about blind wine tastings and wine tasting protocol. Someone asked me if I drank all my wine that way; see, swirl, smell, sip and savor — or spit it out. My answer is no, because the wines I drink on a regular basis don't need a thoughtful analysis every time I drink them. They are simply enjoyed.

Tasting wine is for those who want to make new discoveries in a wine drinking experience.

For some wine drinkers whom I'll loosely classify as somewhat wine snobs, treat their wine drinking as a religion; never to deviate from, held to sacred standards that nothing else can compare to. I believe folks like that are missing out on some good wine drinking enjoyment opportunities. I expanded my palate weeks ago with the drinking of a delicious sherry wine.

While I've written about horizontal tastings where several wines from the same region and vintage were experienced and their differences noted across the board; price, mouthfeel, aftertaste, and simply which one was preferred.

Sommelier Jean Taylor introduced a vertical tasting experience at a Downtown wine event recently, where two wines from the same winery were sampled.

One was from a 2011 vintage and the other a 2012. To say they were exactly the same would be untrue. I likened the tasting experience to having identical twins. They are the same, but also different in subtle ways. They were Tignanello, Antinori 2011 and 2012. This was the first sangiovese to be aged in barrique barrels (smaller versions of the standard hogshead barrel; 59 gallons vs 79 gallons) giving wine a greater exposure to the oak barrel influence.

Vertical tastings might be more difficult to obtain due to limited volumes of wine production from year to year, but if you ever have the opportunity to participate in such a tasting, do so. The difference you will note is the result of the growing season from vintage year to the next, and how temperatures and rainfall distribution can impact the wine's taste from year to year. Warmer weather might bring about a wine with higher alcohol, body and fruit flavors; cooler summers would likely result in a more austere and lean taste. Vertical tasting also provides a glimpse as to how certain wines age over the years in their taste profile.

Horizontal tastings will highlight different approaches to making the same varietal by different wine makers. Five merlots with 2012 vintages from Napa valley wineries will highlight not only wine-making techniques, but also how the terroir differs across a given region and the subtle differences that can be picked up in tastings.

I'll liken wine drinking to my love as a young man for John Phillip Sousa's marching band. I enjoyed picking up the tuba sounds, which led me to playing one in high school and college. With wine, look, taste and enjoy. It's that simple!

Ron Smith, a retired NDSU Extension horticulturist, writes weekly about his love of wine and its history. Readers can reach him at