What you might ask, could possibly be so different about an Icewine tasting? A few wines, a dialogue leading you through one liquid icon, towards those unique and then aged. Everyone sufficiently impressed — the wines depleted — end of another spectacular evening.
It was instead, a night of delightfully shattered expectations. The venue was the age-worn loft at Inniskillin Wines, the speaker was the bubbly Shari Darling, the subject was her brand new Icewine aroma wheel and she was brazen enough to teach a group of seasoned wine tasters just how it’s done.
Contrary to empty spittoons and glistening glasses, each setting at the table held a packet of crayons, a small paintbrush, a few Dixie cups and a tongue map. For anyone not familiar with a tongue map, it’s simply a giant, swaying letter “U” that is scrolled on a large piece of paper. The only familiar site in this untraditional setting were four beautiful wine glasses across the top of our activities. Like a beacon to home in the Land of Oz.
Canada, as we all know produces world class Icewines from Vidal, Riesling, sometimes Gewürztraminer, often times Cabernet Franc and every once in a while from untraditional grape varieties such as Chenin Blanc and Merlot. The zesty acidity and intense tropical fruit that mix harmoniously on the palate are hallmark characteristics of the great Canadian Icewines.
The Icewine aroma wheel works similarly to the table wine aroma wheel often used as an educational tool. Once you’ve tasted a wine, you identify one general aroma or flavour and locate it in the centre of the aroma wheel. From there, you branch out and your choices become more specific as you continue to work your way to the outer edges of the aroma wheel, towards more definitive attributes.
The descriptive information is of course, specific to Icewine’s characteristics and because it has a unique harmony of acidity and intense sweetness, these primary taste sensations are represented in the colour overlay of green for acidity and gold for fruity sweetness. Shari describes it as a kind of Ying Yang balance — both in the wine and on the wheel.
But before we could taste, we were to discover what our personal tasting ability was relative to specific tasting categories. Shari explains “Super-tasters account for approximately twenty-five per cent of the population, medium-tasters about fifty per cent and non-tasters another twenty-five.” According to Shari these categories don’t necessarily reflect a level of bad, average and superior tasting, in as much as they do special attributes that one must recognize to understand your own personal style for tasting wines.
To demonstrate this complex theory, we actually painted the various flavours directly onto our tongues and coloured the tongue map to reflect the location we perceived the flavour. The maps told the story. Some contained just a few colours over the tongue, while others were more colourful and still others looked like a well-used paint wheel.
Once we identified our tasting category, the next step was to learn the characteristics specific to the category and finally, to use this information to identify and/or compensate when tasting wine, with the ultimate goal of becoming a better taster.
It sounds a lot more complex than it is and the road to becoming a better taster can be found in Shari’s new food and wine pairing book, Harmony on the Palate ($29.95, available at Chapters as well as other book stores). It really is worth understanding how each of us tastes, not only Icewines, but everything around us.