How The Pros Taste (Wine Bloggers Conference 2014)

Vinted on July 8, 2014 binned in wine bloggers conference

This weekend, I’ll be partying at attending the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, an area with which, I’m happy to say, I am now quite familiar, and where I have quite a few friends trying to make a living in this crazy wine business of ours.

During the first full day of the conference (Friday, July 11), I will be part of a panel discussion (along with wine industry veterans Steve Heimoff (formerly running the CA wine beat for Wine Enthusiast) and Patrick Comiskey (a friend, and a great writer and taster, from Wine & Spirits Magazine).

Our topic, as described by the WBC organizers:

How do we analyze a wine while capturing its unique story? Discover more about the sensory and analytical process employed by wine pros as they translate what’s in the glass into words on the page. You’ll refine your own strategy for critiquing wine while learning more about the complexities and insights behind wine evaluation. The discussion will be led by Steve Heimoff (former California wine critic for The Wine Enthusiast) and features panelists Joe Roberts (acclaimed wine blogger) and Patrick Comiskey (wine critic for Wine & Spirits Magazine) as they reveal the methods behind effective wine assessment and wine writing for the public.

Critical wine tasting is a topic about which I think way, way, way too much, as in totally-unhealthy-obsessive-compulsive levels of “too much…”

After (too much) mental deliberation, I’ve decided that (my version of) critical tasting essentially boils down to three levels/stages, each of which contains progressively less objectivity and increasingly more subjectivity, punctuated in the middle by a serious heaping helping of experiential learning. Which is a long way of saying that I taste with objective measurements in mind first, move to more experience-based analysis second, and then let the subjectivity fly in the third stage (contrary to what many other people will tell you, this is impossible to eliminate).

You’ll have to attend the session on Friday, of course, to learn the details (c’mon, you didn’t really expect me to be a nice guy and reveal the juicy details early, did you?). Those of you who know me know that I talk way too much, so I am quite prepared to go into insane amounts of detail on this topic during the session (and, no doubt, learn more than a thing or two from my experienced co-panelists, as well). I will have much to say about the systematic tasting approach, which to my knowledge most prominent wine critics have not studied, a tidbit that remains a near endless source of amusement for those critics and competition judges who have.

Oh… the audience gets to taste along with us during the session, by the way, using wines that we are picking for the demonstration. And you’re really going to want to taste the juice I picked for this… just sayin’…

I hope to see you there, heckling me!






  • Mark

    It'll be my first WBC, but I'm excited for this part-thanks for putting it together. I'm interested to hear Heimoff's viewpoint, always had a ton of respect for that guy.

    • 1WineDude

      Looking forward to seeing you there, Mark!

  • Alan Goldfarb

    Oh, I'll be there to heckle and learn (can you teach this old dog … ), Joe.

    • 1WineDude

      Yeah, our first confirmed heckler! :)

  • Beau

    Here's to hoping someone talks to the bloggers about identifying and understanding wine flaws. If not, it'll be somewhat a waste of time.

    • 1WineDude

      Beau – yeah, a lot of people need to bone up on that.

    • 1WineDude

      While I am almost positive we will NOT have time to go into a faults lesson during that talk, I will say that I have seen wines given praise that I thought had winemaking flaws/issues. But then, I am the guy who, at Penfolds in Kalimna, told them their bottle of Grange was corked (it was) and to open another one (they did; infinitely better)…

      • MyrddinGwin

        It can feel awkward trying a faulted bottle of wine at a winery. Fortunately, it is fairly rare, and only once for me did it go badly.

        While many wine professionals haven't taken the WSET, haven't many taken other courses with their own tasting systems? Also, after tasting enough wine, would a wine tasting routine have developed naturally? Is it possible to distinguish, by their tasting approaches alone, people who have taken particular courses, such as the ISG, the Court of Master Sommeliers, the Society of Wine Educator's courses, the WSET, or someone who just has had 40 years of experience tasting wine?

        • 1WineDude

          Good questions, mg. We'll probably never know the answers. I suspect that theoretically volume alone wouldn't qualify someone in terms of tasting, since it's quite possible to repeatedly do something poorly.

          • MyrddingGwin

            Very good point. Example 1: My bread-making. Tastes great, but violates the second law of thermodynamics by being far heavier than the ingredients used to make it.

            • 1WineDude

              MG – ha!! Some wines do that, I think they actually subtract from the total acidity of the universe, which apparently makes them some kind of singularities…

  • Tom

    It sounds like the conference content improves with each year. I wish I could go, but it hasn't been a great summer for wine sales. Maybe next year.

    • 1WineDude

      Sorry to miss you, Tom.

  • John

    Someone should heckle you now for the stupid title "How the Pros Taste" .

    • 1WineDude

      John – Yeah, gotta blame that one on the WBC guys…

    • MyrddinGwin

      Hannibal Lecter would've killed for an invite–if he's lucky, one or two might be pre-marinated in Chianti.

  • Joel

    Good thing there'll be no lack of candor on that panel with you, Steve and Patrick. Wow – I hope someone is recording that one. Enjoy Santa Barbara at the party of WBC14. Cheers,

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Joel. Not sure about filming, but will see what I can do…

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