Archive for the ‘Tips & FAQs’ Category

The Complexity of Coffee: Aroma profiling isn’t just for wine

March 04th, 2012 by Sébastien Gavillet

Proper Aroma/Flavor profiling is all too often neglected in Coffee. Coffee Aromas/Flavors are essential to understanding and appreciating coffee. As in wine, coffee gets its aromas or flavors from the soil and the climatic environment in which the coffee plant grows. The coffee variety (genetic) and the method in which the green coffee was processed also contribute to the aromas/flavors.

Like wine, coffee has many variables which can affect its quality. Coffee crops can be harmed by insects, freeze and poor storage conditions during harvest, which may lead to moldy and sour flavors. It can also be contaminated during its processing such as in the depulping and washing of the coffee cherries, and lastly, during the final storage conditions where once again several defects can develop on the beans. These problems are not exactly the same but similar to those which occur during wine production. Coffee has different varieties, as does wine,
which get their characteristics from the soil (terroir). The core aromatic profile of the end product (in the cup) is defined by these characteristics and by the roasters. The coffee blender creates the finishing touch by assembling different roasts. This is very similar to what consulting winemakers do during the wine blending process.

We talk about taste, aromas, flavors, acidity and body in coffee as we do in wine. The main difference between coffee and wine, taste aside, is that coffee is not rated by vintage. Unlike certain wines, roasted coffee does not keep for years. The fresher the roast, the more aromatic the coffee beverage will be. Let it age and you will create unpleasant tastes and aromas; this is especially true for the volatile aromas. The consumer also has an important hand in the outcome of her/his coffee experience as does the wine consumer. In wine, serving temperature, wine glass shape and proper food pairing play an important role in properly enjoying a wine. In coffee this
process is a little different. The important factors are the grinding, blending and brewing process. The grinding size and the water temperature play major roles in the proper extraction of coffee aromas/flavors, as well as the quantity and quality of water used to prepare a good cup of coffee. Ultimately, the coffee drinker puts her/his final touch to the coffee beverage.

In coffee, over 850 volatile aromatic compounds have been cataloged to date. That said, most aromatic descriptions have been simplified or regrouped in terms of flavors and taste. Common flavors found in coffee are fruity, floral, earthy, buttery, caramel, nutty, spicy, smoky, etc. The classification of taste includes acid, bitter, body (thin, watery to thick, heavy). This simplification helps coffee drinkers express their preferences in a basic way. If one wants to gain further knowledge of coffee tasting, then it is imperative to recognize key aromas and flavors in coffee. Especially if you wish to narrow down the country of
origin, variety and profile. One would then be able to differentiate between a Robusta from South East Asia with one from Brazil.

This is something we have been doing for years with wine and which has been available to every wine aficionados for more than 30 years through le nez du vin (Wine Aroma Kits). Using the same methodology, Jean Lenoir, creator of the famous Wine Aroma kits, created two le nez du café (or make scents of coffee) kits.

The first kit is an introduction that includes the 6 most commonly found coffee aromas:

Le Nez du Café Temptation Kit

1) Garden peas 2) Blackcurrant-like 3) Butter
4) Caramel 5) Roasted peanuts 6) Roasted coffee

The second, a more advanced and complete kit, contains the 36 most commonly found coffee aromas:

Le Nez du Café Revelation Kit

01) Earth 02) Potato 03) Garden peas
04) Cucumber 05) Straw 06) Cedar
07) Clove-like 08) Pepper 09) Coriander seeds
10) Vanilla 11) Tea-roses/Redcurrant jelly 12) Coffee blossom
13) Coffee pulp 14) Blackcurrant-like 15) Lemon
17) Apple 18) Butter
19) Honeyed 20) Leather 21) Basmati Rice
22) Toast 23) Malt 24) Maple Syrup
25) Caramel 26) Dark chocolate 27) Roasted almonds
28) Roasted peanuts 29) Roasted hazelnuts 30) Walnuts
31) Cooked beef 32) Smoke 33) Pipe Tobacco
34) Roasted
35) Medicinal 36) Rubber

This unique and extensive collection of aromas will help you train your sense of smell and improve your enjoyment of coffee. The le nez du café (make scents of coffee) kits provide a common vocabulary to describe coffee aromas, taste and flavors because coffee deserves the same attention as wine.

It is no surprise that most coffee roasters and specialists from the world over use le nez du café to train their sense of smell and better understand the aromatics behind coffee.

So if you or someone you
know is passionate about coffee and would like to become a better taster, understand where aromas and flavors originate and how they are associated with the varieties, le nez du café (make scents of coffee) kits are fundamental to the development of your coffee expertise.

Wine Aromas – Le Nez du Vin

June 29th, 2010 by Sébastien Gavillet

People often ask me how I can be sure that the aromas I say I smell are what they are and not another. “Is it really strawberry instead of raspberry?” they ask.

I can understand why people feel the need to ask this question. All too often, wine aromas are confused or misinterpreted, making it difficult to identify the wine being described. So, just how does one learn to accurately distinguish and describe wine aromas?

In my professional opinion and based on my personal experience, the simplest way to learn to differentiate the aromas in wine is by using the Wine Aromas’ (Le Nez du Vin) wine education kit developed by Jean Lenoir. But we’ll return to that later. For now, let’s discuss where wines get their aromas, and how professional wine tasters describe wine aromas and why they describe them this way.

Where Wines Get Their Aromas

Wines, or more specifically the grapes used to make wines, take on the characteristics of their environment (in wine speak, that’s terroir). In the earth (i.e. soil), air and water are aromatic compounds. The soil and water also contain the essences of plant and floral life that have been layered over through the centuries. These are the exceptional aromas found in red and white wines from France and around the world.

A wine’s aromas can give us an indication of this wine’s country, region and vineyard of origin. They also tell us about the grape varietal/s used to make the wine, the winemaking techniques utilized and the aging conditions to which the wine has been subjected.

An Explanation of Wine Aromas and How Wine Tasters Describe Them

When professional wine tasters say they detect the strawberry aroma in a particular wine, they are not saying that the maker of the
wine added strawberry essential oils to the grape juice (i.e. that the wine is a strawberry-flavored one). They are simply saying that the wine has a scent that closely resembles that of strawberries.

In truth, wines owe their aromas from their chemical composition. It is not just one chemical compound that can lead to a particular aroma, moreover. A specific wine aroma can be a result of one or a combination of several compounds. For instance, there are a number of compounds (individually or in combination) that can give wines strawberry-like aromas – and these include Furaneol, ethyl acetate, ethyl butyrate, ethyl formate, ethyl hexanoate, and methyl cinnamate.

Professional wine tasters, however, do not mention these compounds in their wine reviews. For example, they simply say they smell strawberries instead of saying the wine has Furaneol or any of the other compound with which the strawberry aroma is generally associated. This
makes it easier for the readers of wine tasting notes to assimilate and use the provided information in their wine buying decisions. What professional wine tasters do, basically, is assess a wine’s aromas and describe them in a manner that laypersons (non-professionals) can easily understand.


Isn’t it easier to imagine how a wine would be like if we read a tasting note that describes it using words in our everyday vocabulary? Take the following sample description of a Nuits-St-Georges Premier Cru:

This red wine, garnet in color with pinkish meniscus, has the aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, and liquorice with some smoky notes. The wine is balanced with a smooth lingering finish.

The above description is clear, simple and very easy to understand, right? Now, imagine how so much more complicated and unfathomable this
review of Nuits-St-Georges Premier Cru would be if wine tasters wrote the following way:

This red wine, garnet in color with pinkish meniscus, has the aromas of one or more of the following: Furaneol, ethyl acetate, ethyl butyrate, ethyl formate, ethyl hexanoate, methyl cinnamate (Strawberry), ethyl acetate, ethyl formate and esters (Raspberry), Benzaldehyde-cyanohydrin (Cherry), Glycyrrhyzin (Liquorice), Guaiacol, and 4-ethylguaiacol (Smoke). The wine is balanced with a smooth lingering finish.

Is your head aching yet? With a description like the above, only someone with a degree in chemistry could possibly imagine what this wine smells like. Any wine taster that writes his tasting notes this way will quickly (and deserves to) lose all of his readers, subscribers and followers.

The Wine Aromas Wine Education Kit

Now, let’
s go back to our original question. Just how do we learn to distinguish and name specific wine aromas? The answer is simple: use the Wine Aromas (Le Nez du Vin) wine education kit.

Wine Aromas - Le Nez du Vin 54 Aroma Master Kit

The Wine Aromas (Le Nez du Vin) wine education kit is an essential tool for anyone who wishes to learn how to accurately identify specific aromas in wine. Through its help (and with time and practice), you will learn the universal language of wine, become skilled at accurately pinpointing wine aromas, and become good at identifying the type and origin of whichever wine you are sampling. Ultimately, the Wine Aromas wine education kit will improve your appreciation for wines.

For more information about
Wine Aromas / Le Nez du Vin, please visit


Disclaimer: Sébastien Gavillet (the author of this article) is the Chief Wine Officer of Wine Aromas Inc, the official distributor of Le Nez du Vin wine education kits.

Swiss Wine Facts

March 17th, 2010 by Sébastien Gavillet

Not much is known about Swiss wine outside of Switzerland. When people think of Switzerland, they usually think of skiing, chocolates, cheeses, watches, and private banking, among other things. Where does wine fit into all this, and why don’t we know much about it?

lavaux vineyards
Vineyards of Lavaux , Vaud, Switzerland

How much wine does Switzerland produce?

To put Switzerland’s wine production into perspective, I will compare it with California. Switzerland produces around 1.1 million hectoliters (29 million gallons) of wine a year. California, on the other hand, produced around 20.6 million hectoliters (545.8 million gallons) in 2008. In other words, Swiss wine production is only around 5% of California wine production. Clearly, Switzerland’s wine production is significantly less than California’s. Nevertheless, if you figure in
Switzerland’s population, you’ll realize that Switzerland actually produces a lot of wine. Specifically, it produces more than 4 gallons or 21 bottles of wine per inhabitant.

How much wine does Switzerland export?

Over 4 gallons of wine per capita seems plenty, especially since people below 18 normally do not drink wine. Switzerland probably exports most of it – or does it, really? Well, it does not. Swiss wine export is actually very limited. It’s just supply and demand. Swiss people drink 4 times more wine than Americans do. In fact, Switzerland has to import around 1.7 million hectoliters of wine (45 million gallons) just to satisfy its people’s demand for wine. In short, residents of Switzerland love their wines so much that they leave very little available for export. Switzerland exports only 1.5% of the wine it produces. In contrast, according to the US Department of Commerce, California exported over 21% (3.8 million hectoliters
or 100 million gallons) of its wine production in 2006. So, why do we know so little about Swiss wine again? Simple. Virtually all of it is consumed domestically. Not a lot of people outside Switzerland get to try it, let alone know about it.

Interesting trivia: Even though the demand for Swiss wine is very high, Swiss wine prices remain reasonable. Most Swiss wines are priced at the $12-$30 range.

Swiss wine varietals

Switzerland is most well known for growing Chasselas, a white grape variety often used as a table grape in Europe. For some reason (climate/soil), Chasselas has found a perfect home in Switzerland. Swiss Chasselas wines are delicate and elegant with great minerality. At first, it was thought that all Swiss Chasselas wines are best drunk young (within the first 2 years). However, sommeliers have
discovered that some Chasselas wines 15 years and older from great producers and vintages actually drink very well. These vintages are creating beautiful, mature Chenin Blanc/Viognier-type wines. Switzerland is home to many indigenous varietals and has cross-cloned numerous varietals as well. Some 190 varietals are grown in Switzerland today. The most commonly cultivated are (in order of importance and categorized by wine type):


Pinot Noir (52%), Gamay (19%), Merlot (12%), Gamaret (4%), Garanoir (2%), Syrah (2%)

Humagne Rouge, Diolinoir, and some fifty plus, non-listed varietals account for 9%


Chasselas (66%), Muller-Thurgau[ /glossary] (8%), [glossary]Chardonnay (5%), Sylvaner (4%), Pinot Gris (2.5%)

Amigne, Pinot Blanc (Malvoisie), Charmont, Humagne Blanche, Petite Arvine, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Heida (Paien) and some seventy or so non-listed varietals account for 14.5%

Swiss vines go back as far as 3,000 BC. According to records, Swiss viticulture and wine production began at the time of the Roman Empire. We owe today’s incredible terraces of vineyards in the Lavaux area to the monks. Some of these vineyards are now UNESCO World Heritage sites (enlisted/inscribed in 2007, UNESCO ref 1243).

More Swiss wine facts and trivia to come

This is just the start. Expect more blog posts about my trip into the heart of Switzerland’s wine production areas.


What are Super Tuscan Wines?

March 09th, 2010 by Sébastien Gavillet

A great question with a very simple answer. Super Tuscan wines (or Super Tuscans) are wines from Tuscany (Italy), and they have the following characteristics:

  • At least 85% of Super Tuscan wines consist of grapes produced in Tuscany to receive IGT cassification
  • The Super Tuscans’ winemaking process does not adhere to the local appellation law

View of Montepulciano, Tuscany

What does that mean exactly? Makers of Super Tuscan wines do not use Sangiovese as the dominant varietal. Instead, they use other wine grape varieties (mostly Bordeaux types) such as Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot. This makes Super Tuscans ineligible for DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or DOCG (
Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) classification under the local appellation law. Nevertheless, Super Tuscan wines do qualify for IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) classification. Some of the most expensive wines from Tuscany are Super Tuscan wines such as Sassicaia, Tignanello, Solaia, Magari, Ornellaia and Picconero. Cheers!

Wine Styles: New World vs. Old World Wines

February 14th, 2009 by Sébastien Gavillet

It is common belief that Old World wines refer to wines from the Old World (specifically wine regions in countries like France, Italy and Spain) and that New World wines refer to wines from the USA, South America and Australia.  This benchmark might have been true in the past but, nowadays, one can no longer rely on this simplistic classification.  Today, when we pit New World wines against Old World wines, we are actually comparing the wine styles and the wine making processes more than the wines’ place of origin.

Wine Styles of Old World Wines

What are the typical characteristics of Old World wine styles?  Compared to New World wines (i.e. wines that have New World wine styles), Old World wines tend to be less bold, less vibrant in color, more delicate, and more elegant.  They also tend to have higher acidity and better natural balance.  Old World wines also feature
more of the characteristics of the grape varietals used and their Appellation or terroir.  In Old World wine styles, higher minerality is usual.  Wines of the Old World wine style, moreover, are typically made according to the traditional wine making guidelines of their region of origin.

Wine Styles of New World Wines

Wines that are considered to be New World wines are characterized by wine styles that are almost always bolder and more luscious than Old World wine styles.  They are often bursting with fruit aromas from the get go.  Typically, they also have higher alcohol content since, in the New World style of wine making, grapes are often left to ripen longer/ripen faster; this can be attributed to the warmer climate in New World wine regions.  New World wines, moreover, tend to have mid-to-light acidity levels.  The nose is also less delicate and sophisticated.

The Rule and the Exceptions that Prove the Rule

There are, of course, exceptions to this two-way classification system.  Some young Barolos and Barberas are known for their “boldness” and higher-than-typical alcohol content.  These are probably the exceptions that prove the rule, though.

Once again, remember the general rule for comparing New World and Old World wine styles.  Old World wines (i.e. wines exhibiting Old World wine styles) have lower alcohol content, are more delicate and are more terroir-driven than New World wines.  On the contrary, New World wines (i.e. wines exhibiting New World wine styles) are typically big, bold and fruity.  Furthermore, they have light to medium acidity and have higher alcohol content than Old World wines.


How Does Champagne Differ from Sparkling Wines?

October 21st, 2008 by Sébastien Gavillet

What is the difference between champagne and sparking wine?  For that matter, is there really any difference between champagne and sparkling wines?  These are questions I get asked all the time.  I figured they are a worthy blog subject, so here goes.

Champagne and sparkling wine are different.

Champagne is different from sparkling wines.  The difference between them may not seem very “significant,” but the difference – however slight – remains.  Remember that the term Champagne refers to an AOC (geographic region) of France.  This wine region undoubtedly produces the world’s best sparkling wines.

So what exactly is champagne, the wine?  Only sparkling wines that have come from the Champagne AOC, been made through the
traditional sparkling wine production method (méthode champenoise) and been produced following the strict guidelines of the Champagne AOC can be called champagne.

Champagne is a type of sparkling wine.

Champagne, therefore, is a specific type of sparkling wine.  Again, remember that champagne refers exclusively to sparkling wines that have come from Champagne and have been produced according to that AOC’s strict sparkling wine production method.  All other sparkling wines that do not fit the Champagne Appellation guidelines may simply be designated as non-champagne sparkling wines.

Champagne Making – Some Particulars

Champagne can only be
made from six types of grapes.  The following are the most commonly used varietals or wine grapes in champagne production:

The following varietals or wine grapes are also used in making champagnes, but they are used less often than the above-mentioned grapes:

The wine grapes used for making champagnes must be handpicked.  They are also pressed as whole clusters; that is, they are not destemmed.  Champagnes must also rest a minimum of 15 months on lees for non-vintage crus and 36 months for vintage crus.  It is not uncommon for the best cuvee to rest for up
to a decade.  Chaptalization is permitted, but this is mostly used when making non-vintage crus.

Trellising is also an important factor in the Champagne Appellation.  Four methods are authorized and they are Chablis, Cordon, Guyot, and Vallee de la Marne.  I will not elaborate on these methods as they are an entirely new subject.

Some of Champagne’s finest vintages are 2002, 1996, 1995, 1990, 1985, 1982, 1976, 1975, and 1971.

Non-Champagne Sparkling Wines

There are so many different styles of non-champagne sparkling wines.  Sparkling wines are produced in numerous wine-producing regions and from so many different varietals of grapes.  The sheer number of sparkling wine variants worldwide prevents me from talking about them further in this blog post.  Perhaps, non-champagne sparkling wines will be a future topic in this wine blog; who knows?  Cheers!

Wine Preservation: The Best Way to Preserve an Open Bottle of Wine

September 12th, 2008 by Sébastien Gavillet

What is the best way to preserve an open bottle of wine?

This is a question that I have always answered but have never written about.  Read on to know the answer.  Specifically, I will discuss the two main methods of wine preservation (the vacuum pump method and the inert gas method) and the method I personally use to preserve wines.

The Two Methods of Wine Preservation

Have you ever succeeded in drinking an entire bottle of an older Sauterne in one sitting?  Good for you, if you have.  I myself haven’t been able to do that yet.  As this is wine that I don’t drink all that often, I naturally want to preserve whatever’s left in the bottle.  Like me, you also probably need a way to preserve wine you can’t drink in one sitting.  Otherwise, you’ll be wasting a lot of wines.  The alternative – drinking and enjoying wine only when you have company –
is not something true wine lovers would ever consider.

There are several wine accessories out there that can help you preserve an open wine bottle.  The wine accessories or wine-saving products from Vacu Vin are probably the most commonly used.  To use the vacuum wine saver, place the vacuum wine stopper in the opening of the wine bottle.  This will pump out the air and create a vacuum inside the wine bottle, thereby halting the oxidation process or reducing the rate of oxidation.

There are also inert gas wine preservers.  In this case, inert gas is pumped into the open wine bottle.  The inert gas is heavier than air, so it successfully replaces the air inside the bottle and “blankets” the wine.  After pumping the inert gas into the bottle, put the wine cork back on and you will be all set.

The Best Wine Preserver

I know that some of you are thinking, “I do not wish to purchase an expensive wine
accessory just to preserve my wines.”  Well then, I have great news for you.  Using inert gas is probably the cheapest method of preserving wine.

You do not need to buy a refrigerated inert gas dispenser!  There’s a much simpler and inexpensive alternative.  For only $9.95, you can buy a can of Private Preserve – “the original inert gas preserver” – and get up to 120 uses per bottle.  You can use this inert gas wine preserver not only to preserve wines but also to preserve ports, whiskeys, olive oil, and any other bottled product.  This inert gas wine preserver is what I personally use because, in my opinion, it works better than the vacuum pump and has no harmful consequences.

I believe that the vacuum pump method preserves wine only temporarily.  Sucking air out of an open bottle of wine and creating a vacuum seal should be good only for a day or two; the air will
eventually make its way back in.  In contrast, Private Preserve lets me preserve wine for a long period of time.  Some of my bottles have been open for months, but I have been able to successfully preserve them with inert gas.

[One word of advice:  Make sure that the wine cork you use does not breathe.  If you put your cork screw all the way thru the cork when you opened the wine bottle, you shouldn’t use that same wine cork to reseal your wine bottle.  If you do, air would seep back in.  Do keep that in mind the next time you open a wine bottle.]

The use of the vacuum pump method may also have an unintended and undesirable effect; it is generally believed that repetitively sucking the air out of the same wine bottle will eventually suck out the bouquet and aromas of the wine in that bottle.  There are no such issues if you use the inert gas wine preserver.

preserving wines through the vacuum pump method can be expensive in the long run; the vacuum wine stopper needs to be replaced at least once a year if it is to work at maximum efficiency.  On the other hand (and as already mentioned above), Private Preserve costs below 10 bucks and can be used a total of 120 times.

Private Preserve is truly the inexpensive, practical and effective way of preserving open bottles of wine – and only a tête de mule wouldn’t give Private Preserve a try!


What Are Rosé Wines and How Are They Made?

June 09th, 2008 by Sébastien Gavillet

Today, my son asked me, “What are rose wines and how are they made?”  I realized that this would make a worthy subject to discuss in this wine blog especially as it is during the summer months that we enjoy rose wines the most.

Rose wines are made of red grapes or red grape varietals.  Rose champagne or rose sparkling wines are exceptions because they are also made with white grapes or white grape varietals (I say varietals because Chardonnay is not the only white grape used to make sparkling wines).  There are some winemakers who add a little white wine to their own blend of still rose wine, but this is not common practice.

About Rose Wines

There’s a difference between old-world rose and new-world rose wines.  Old-world rose wines tend to be more bone-dry than new-world rose wines.  Californian rose wines, for instance,
can be almost sweet; they also have very similar characteristics to white wines.  It should be noted, however, that there are now some Californian rose winemakers who make fruity, elegant and almost bone-dry rose wines that resemble old-world roses.  Sophia by Coppola is just such a wine.

Tip: You should drink still rose wines when they are young or are 1-3 years old.  Good rose champagnes with some age can be a real delight.

How Are Rose Wines Made?

There are several ways to make rose wines and you can find a lot of information about them online.  You should be aware, however, that the four most commonly used methods of rose winemaking are often explained erroneously in the internet.  The errors persist even in some of the top-ranked sites!

I love the internet, but I believe it has become as much of a misinformation highway as an information highway.  I wanted to set the record straight and give you the correct information about wines
and wine making, so I started this wine education and wine review blog.  But that’s neither here nor there.  Let’s go back to the topic:  rose wine making.

The four approaches to making rose wines are bleeding, pressing, limited maceration, and run off.

  • Saignée or bleeding is used to make the best quality roses.  Juice is obtained by stacking up the wine grapes in a tank and letting the grapes’ weight do the crushing.  Since the juice is in contact with the grape skins only for a very short time, the rose wine obtained through this technique has a very pale color – e.g. Gris de Bourgogne, a rose wine from the Loire Valley.  Rose wines made through bleeding are rich, fruity and have great freshness.
  • Pressé or [
    is the technique of pressing the red grapes until the juice has the desired color.  Once the desired color has been attained, the winemaker stops pressing.  Only the pressed juice is used to make the rose wine.
  • Limited maceration is the most commonly used technique for making rose wines.  The grapes or, to be more precise, the skins are left in contact with the juice until the winemaker decides that he is happy with its color.  The “wine” (or the juice) minus the skins is then transferred to another tank to finish the fermentation process.

On Provence Rose Wines

Provence rose wines are usually made using the same local blends used in making red wines.  Most rose wines from Provence are made using the Grenache and Cinsault grapes or varietals, but some have been made using Mourvèdre.

For the wine aroma hunters: The following are the typical aromas found in rose wines from the Provence region (Côtes de Provence, Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, les Baux-de Provence, Bandol, Cassis, Bellet, and Palette):

  • grapefruit
  • banana
  • strawberry
  • raspberry
  • redcurrant
  • almond
  • linden
  • cut hay

If you want to try a typical rose wine from Provence, I recommend Mas du Fadan Côte de Ventoux 2007.  Oh, and by the way, a great bottle of rose wine should not cost you more than $20-$25 unless it is rose champagne!


Wine Ratings and Personal Preferences

April 22nd, 2008 by Sébastien Gavillet

Today I was asked a question worthy of a blog post.  The question is as follows:

“I had wine which was rated 84 points and I loved it!  Does that mean that I have poor wine taste?”

I believe that any wine critic will agree with me when I say that wine should be enjoyed based on personal preferences rather than on wine ratings.  The appreciation for wines has just recently made its way to the mainstream, so newcomers need some system to guide them.  Wine critics want to be as unbiased as possible when making their wine recommendations to the public; as such, they give wines points or ratings based on a specific and defined methodology or benchmarking procedure.  These wine ratings, however, should never be allowed to take precedence over your personal preferences.

I always tell my clients to think of wine as perfume.  Some appeal to you and others don’t.  Some people buy a certain perfume because they truly
like its scent; some buy it because it is a famous brand or is endorsed by someone they admire.  If you were to choose perfume, would you rather go with a trendy scent you don’t particularly like or a non-popular brand you really love?  The answer is obvious, right?  In the same way, you should choose wines based on your personal tastes and preferences rather than on wine ratings.

Wine Ratings:  It Can Be All about Marketing

As with any industry, the world of wine can be all about marketing.  A particular wine can become the hottest product to hit the market – or not – depending on how people perceive it.

The best way to market a product in the wine business is to get a high score from an accredited wine critic like Robert Parker Jr.  If a highly respected wine critic decides that a particular wine deserves 95 points, the winemaker has hit the jackpot as this wine rating can be used to promote the wine to the public.  On the flip side, if a certain
wine receives 80 points or less from a wine critic, the winemaker will (and should) probably not mention the wine rating at all when he promotes his wine.

Defying Wine Ratings

I host blind tasting events to demonstrate to my clients that wine ratings are not infallible.  In such blind wine tastings, I ask my guests to taste two wines.  One is always a well-known wine that been received well by wine critics; it usually has wine ratings of 89 points and above.  The other wine is always a poor performer in comparison to the first.  It usually has a low eighties ratings; I choose, it however, because I believe it to be worth a lot more than its wine rating indicate.

You must understand that any wine can get a low wine rating because it wasn’t ready when it was sampled or because it had characteristics with which the wine critic was not pleased.  [Note to the wise winemaker:  Do not release your wines to
critics if it is not showing promising signs or if it is not yet ready for sampling.  Moreover, you should not choose a critic to whom you know your wine – or certain characteristics of it – will not have any appeal.  This is a mistake that many winemakers have made and will usually not repeat

What is so interesting about these blind tastings is that, 80% of the time, my guests prefer the wine that scored lower.

Wine Ratings Affect How Wines Are Perceived

I also conduct wine tastings to show that wine ratings affect how wines are perceived.  In such tastings, I also present two bottles of wine.  Like in the blind tastings described above, one of the wines is a highly rated wine and the other is a low-rated wine.  This time though, I let each of the participants know what they are drinking and how many points the wine has been given by wine critics.  As expected, almost 100% of my guests in such wine tastings prefer the highly rated wine over the low-rated wine.
This brings to mind one of my visits to a winery’s gift shop in Oregon.  This shop sold a plate with a comic strip on it.  The comic strip depicted a man who tastes a wine and finds it repulsive.  He complains to the store owner about it.  The store owner replies, “Well, I don’t understand.  That has a rating of 93 points.”  The man, embarrassed by his remark, ended up ordering 3 cases of the wine – the wine which he originally found repulsive but which has suddenly acquired appeal because of its high wine rating.

I ended up buying the plate, of course.  I really liked the moral of the story:  a man who doesn’t trust his taste in wines will probably buy wine he will not enjoy.  People, especially wine novices, typically base their liking for a particular wine on the wine ratings that it has received from wine critics.

Indeed, wine ratings affect our perception of wines.  Highly rated wines become popular, while low-rated wines (more often than not) fail.  Wine stores may decide to
liquidate their stock of the poorly rated wine and replace it with another that has a higher rating; these wine stores, moreover, will probably never carry this low-rated wine again on account of the profit losses it has caused.

Our Perceptions Can Affect Our Preferences

Our perceptions can also affect our wine preferences and wine buying behavior.  California Merlot growers learned this painful lesson when America’s favorite wine was criticized in the movie Sideways.  In the context of the movie, one of the characters (acted by Paul Giamatti) simply told another character that Merlot “sucks.”

This was just a movie.  The criticism of Merlot was just part of the dialogue of a make-believe story!  Yet, the effect was immediately felt.  Merlot sales plummeted and Pinot Noir wines instantly took over a huge chunk of Merlot’s market share.
To this day, Merlot sales have not recovered.

Is it possible that a mere line in a movie stopped people from buying Merlot?  It could be that people tried another wine and found they like it better than Merlot.  It is more likely, however, that the movie really played havoc with the public’s perception of Merlot.  It is the power of marketing at work!

Your Tastes and Preferences Should Matter Most

Becoming a wine drinker is like a spiritual journey.  You need to identify your personal preferences.  This is extremely important if you want to fully enjoy wines!  Do not be intimidated by what others may be thinking or saying.  Ultimately, it’s your palate, not theirs.  Remember, your nose knows what’s best for you.

My recommendation is for you to try a different wine style each time and make your marks accordingly.  We live in the golden age of wine and it would
be a shame if you miss out on the wondrous wines available just because a wine critic says it’s not up to par or just because a character in a movie says it sucks.


Wine Aromas vs. Wine Bouquet: What is the difference?

March 04th, 2008 by Sébastien Gavillet

Is there a difference between aromas and bouquet in wines?  Yes, there is.  The difference is distinct, but it can be really confusing to differentiate aromas from bouquet.  Even the most famed wine critics sometimes confuse these two.

Wine Aromas:  General Classification

Wine aromas may be classified into three major categories:

  • Primary aromas. They are also known as varietal aromas.  These aromas come from or are determined by the type of grapes (grape varietals) used in wine making.
  • Secondary aromas. These are also known as vinous aromas.  These aromas develop during the pre-fermentation and fermentation process.
  • Tertiary aromas: These aromas are developed during the post-fermentation process.  They
    develop when wine is being matured in the wine barrel (e.g. oak barrel) or being aged in the wine bottle (bottle aging).

Aromas versus Bouquet

To be precise, when a wine specialist talks about a wine’s aromas, he is referring to that wine’s primary and secondary aromas (i.e. varietal aromas and vinous aromas).  When he talks about a wine’s bouquet, he is referring to that wine’s tertiary aromas.

To put it even more simply, while it is true that there are three main aromas in wines, only the primary and secondary aromas qualify as “aromas” in wine lingo; the tertiary aroma is referred to as “bouquet.”  That, in a nutshell is the difference between aromas and bouquet.


Wines owe their bouquet to the post-fermentation and the maturing process.  The bouquet is
developed only during the post-fermentation stage and in the wine bottle itself.  Aldehydes and esters are formed during the oxidation of the fruit acids and alcohol in the wine bottle.  As such, bouquet takes time – years, actually – to develop.

A good, mature wine will have a complex bouquet.  After all, a wine’s bouquet is a combination of aromas bundled together to form new aromas (you could call it perfume, if you want).

I have here a list of the common tertiary aromas found in wines.  Again, I would like to emphasize that these aromas qualify as bouquet aromas because they are developed in the post-fermentation and aging process:

  • prune
  • mushroom
  • truffle
  • cedar*
  • liquorice*
  • leather
  • toast*
  • roasted almond
  • roasted hazelnut
  • caramel
  • coffee
  • dark chocolate
  • smoke*

For more information about wine aromas, please see the works of Jean Lenoir and his must-have, world-renowned Le Nez du Vin kits.

Final Note on Aromas and Bouquet

A diligent wine critic will usually not use the word bouquet to describe the aromas found in young immature wines, unless he is describing wines of such exceptional vintage that they are already starting to show, albeit prematurely, their bouquet.


*Aromas that are usually developed when wine is aged in new oak barrels prior to bottling