Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias I�m looking forward to the upcoming first annual Great Dakota Wine Fest here in Vermillion � not because I�m a connoisseur of the stuff.

I�m quite the opposite. I grew up in an era when the legal drinking age was 18. And the �beverages� we drank � let�s just say Schmidt 3.2 beer, packaged in its special Big Mouth bottles, had a special appeal back then, but today seems anything but high class.

The wine tasting part of the festival leads one to imagine embarking on a strange journey into the unknown, where you hold a glass, pinky extended, and swirl, sniff and taste varieties of the drink.

To someone like me, who is not really a connoisseur of anything, this experience could resemble the bar scene of the Star Wars movie, where nothing really makes sense, but somehow you at least have a hint of what is going on.

I envision someone walking up to me, swirling a wine sample, and asking, �What do you think of this vintage? Is it lush? Creamy? Elegant? Lovely? Graceful? Generous? Luscious? Smooth? Wait! Come back!�

(You see, under all of that pressure, I would have ended the conversation by dropping my glass and bolting out of there.)

Take this sentence about Napa Wine & Co.�s sauvignon blanc, excerpted from Connoisseur�s Guide to California Wine and printed on one of those little cards that wine merchants put in front of bottles. �From the first sniff, one is impressed by the precise, deep but never bombastic aromas in which green apple and crenshaw melon scents (sic) and by a creamy, vanillin accent of oak, and it is wonderfully balanced on the palate with ripe richness set off by firming acids and brightness.�

What the heck does that mean? Is this what happens when your job requires you to drink before noon?

Ann Noble, a sensory scientist-flavor chemist in the viticulture and enology department of the University of California, Davis, would ban from the wine-tasting lexicon whole pages of words that she deems imprecise, vague, or hedonic (her word).

Jon Cohen, writing for Slate, an Internet magazine, states that she has an aversion to the very terms that will only confuse an unpolished bloke like me while rubbing elbows with more experienced wine tasters at next weekend�s festival.

She hates �harmonious,� disdains �fragrant,� and despises �dense,� which, she says, �doesn�t mean exactly anything.� Winemakers, she says, favor fuzzy terms for a reason. �The labels are for marketing an image,� she says.

Having researched how people assess wine, Noble now teaches scientific techniques to describe it precisely.

To this end, she has developed the wine aroma wheel that contains terminology that even I can understand.

Noble divides her wheel into three rings. The inner ring has the 12 �specific and analytical words� that she believes best describe wine aromas: fruity, vegetative, nutty, caramelized, woody, earthy, chemical, pungent, oxidized, microbiological, floral, and spicy.

The middle ring subdivides these 12 words into 29 more specific categories, and the outer ring offers 94 still more precise descriptions. (Franky, that may be TOO much information for someone like me.)

I may have to get me one of these wheels. My plan, you see, is to become enlightened by the Great Dakota Wine Fest experience.

The great thing about this upcoming Vermillion event is it won�t feature a groups of guys and gals holding a tasting of 40 vintages of Lafite Rothschild from 1800 to 1900, with an admission fee of $2,500 per person.

It�s designed for people like you and me.

I�m certain that beer drinkers will be more than welcome at the festival. The event isn�t out to convert anyone.

What the community has recognized is that people who enjoy a good beer also likely will appreciate a fine wine.

A goal of the festival, besides offering lots of fun and entertainment for townsfolk and our visitors, is to help one learn about finding the most interesting wines you can for the dollars you have to spend.


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