Come and taste if the wine is good |

Come and taste if the wine is good

Nine member wineries of the Nevada County Winery Association will observe the harvest in two fun-filled days of wine and hors d’oeuvres, the fourth annual Wine Trail, on Saturday and Sunday.

This event seems to be turning heads far and wide in a positive way, with people inquiring, “How do the wines taste?” The answer, “Come and taste if the wine is good!”

Half of the fun, though, is the new friends you’ll make and the camaraderie while participating in a wine journey of discovery on some of the back roads of the county, with their alluring autumn colors.

Autumn usually approaches Nevada County with a sense of optimism. For the winemaker-grower, another year has arrived of growing the perfect grape and making the perfect wine to “make public” the rich return of the hard-worked land.

In the autumn, I like to attend the “wine trail experience” – the wine-tasting sessions where people gather around individual tables and receive a small pour to evaluate a wine type before a selected purchase.

From here I look for the earliest release of a wine, to taste the difference from one vintage year to the other. And what do I look for when evaluating a sample, while standing on my feet among many personalities, enjoying the adventure of the wine palate?

Here’s what worked for me over the past decades: color, clarity and complexity.

— Color: In reds, the color can range from dark garnet to almost inky-black purple, but at the early stages of wine’s life in the bottle a wine ought to be a beauty of red color.

— Clarity of a young wine at this stage probably will be somewhat translucent, which is good, as long as it isn’t murky.

— Complexity: I’ve wondered about the complexity of young wines because these samples are like young boys, awkward with big feet and changing voices. I ask these questions: Is there plenty of varietal fruit, such as blackberry, huckleberry and black cherry? Can you smell the fruit and maybe hints of mint, coffee or dark chocolate over the vanilla and the spice of the oak? Do the flavors come through, despite tongue-curling tannins? Does the wine feel almost too big in the mouth? If it seems small and tamed, like well-behaved fellows, then it’s doubtful if bottle aging will do it any good.

Look for elements you admire in an excellent wine you’ve enjoyed in the past. Does it possess varietal character? Can you find these elements despite the wine’s youth? Usually, the good qualities will remain as the wine ages. Beware of strong off odors and flavors; oftentimes, they do linger.

Sometimes you’ll be wrong. As for me, I take notes and often find they will tell why a wine turned out to be less sensational. And the notes will give valuable clues about first impressions of that stunning wine I didn’t buy enough of. Then when I encounter another sample with similar traits, I pounce on it and pat myself on the back, waiting for it to mature.

Others when taking notes have amusing ways of arriving at a wine’s evaluation. One taster friend uses the words “mean” (to the pocketbook), “lean” (nice to the pocketbook) and “it’s a steal” (a good buy). Next, there’s the couple who are so devoted to each other that their chosen words of selection are “mine” (my reds), “hers” (her whites) and “for others” (that’s for the neighbors, but don’t let them know of our selections). And finally, there’s the rating of “great” (everyone should taste this one), “not bad” (I don’t believe it’ll age) and finally “flawed” (has a major fault – don’t try it).

Wine grapes naturally have flavors and aromas that the palate interprets as similar to various varieties of fruit: As citrus and apple-like flavors from several of the white wines, orange flavors are commonly associated with riesling grapes. Red wines are more commonly associated with berries and cherry flavors. A really dark cabernet sauvignon may taste like black cherries, or huckleberries. A Rhone-style grenache might even taste like pomegranates.

Aromas also can conjure up images of fruit and other scents such as flowers, spices, pencil shavings, oak or cedar, vanilla, dried fruit, leather and even tobacco. Some of this may come from aging wine in oak barrels or from grapes varietals.

Inconsistent growing methods, such as overcropping or over-watering, might make a wine seem watery or thin. Or poor pruning of the leaf canopy to offer too much sun or shade may call attention to an unwanted characteristic of a given grape.

The soil where the vine grows can give further character and complexity. The involvement of the winemaking and wine-growing process may seem never-ending. But, most of it comes down to the grapes, the growing season, the soil … and the Master’s will!

Norman E. Gates is a Lake of the Pines wine connoisseur. He can be reached at


For information about Saturday and Sunday’s Wine Trail, call 1-800-375-9311 or go online and visit

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