The vast selection of wines available on the market can be overwhelming, if not intimidating. While many are confused as they ponder, “Which one?,” the advice within a nearly 70-year-old Napa Daily Journal article will hopefully help alleviate those wine selection jitters.
The headline read, “French Expert Teaching America How To Appreciate Its Own Wines.” The springtime 1948 article reported, “California’s dry wine experts have formed a research center to learn the art of fully appreciating their own products and to study and analyze the state’s finer wines.”
It continued, “Participants include the vintners of the state’s top-flight wineries in the Napa Valley, including Beaulieu, Inglenook, Louis M. Martini, Cresta Blanca, Charles Krug, Larkmead, Freemark Abbey and Souverain Cellars.”
To help achieve their goal of better understanding of the nuances of wine, the group held monthly wine-tasting sessions. Their enological guide and guru was Andre Tchelistcheff, a former National Agronomic Institute of Paris research staff member who had come to Napa Valley to make wine at Beaulieu Vineyards.
Another reason for these sessions was rooted in good business, as explained by the Journal. “The desire to increase the quality of American wines on the part of the experts who make them has been accentuated by the devaluation of the French franc and the expected invasion in force of European wines at low prices.”
The Journal began the wine-tasting advice with a question. “How do you tell a top-flight wine from a wine just ordinarily good?”
It continued, “How to Start—‘Begin in with a sherry or muscatel,’ says the 46-year-old Tchelistcheff, now head of the Napa Valley Enological Research Laboratory here. ‘Try the sweet wines of that class first because the perfume and tastes are most easily detected.’”
Tchelistcheff said, “Establish the primitive tastes first. Then bring all your sensory perceptions to bear, your eyes as well as your palate. Look for clarity, brilliance and color reflection in the wine. If it is sherry, look for the brownish orange tinge.”
Tchelistcheff’s next instruction emphasized wine tasting was a serious endeavor. “For testing and tasting, take a quarter of a wine glass only. Don’t swallow the wine intended for testing until you are out of the amateur class in wine appreciation, or the after-taste will serve to confuse you. The after-taste itself is a final part of wine testing when you have graduated to the finer and more delicate wines.”
He added, “Become thoroughly acquainted with the sherries, muscatels and sweet wines first; decide which ones you prefer and analyze the reasons you prefer them, before you try your palate on the delicate dry wines. An appreciation of fine wines is necessarily based upon familiarity with ordinary wines. The process of appreciation is gradual.”
According to the article Tchelistcheff “believes the average American, whose palate does not have as high an initial register as the European who has consumed wines as part of the regular diet since childhood, should move from sweet wines to the vins ordinaire, the low-priced table wines, and establish his preference among them.”
Based on his many years of tasting wines, Tchelistcheff told the Journal, “The most difficult wines for determination are the delicate white dry wines — the Rieslings, Pinots, Chardonnay and Chablis types. This final list does not include the sweet Sauternes, so popular with the American taste, which in Tchelistcheff’s estimation is a comparatively easy wine to classify as to quality because of its definite characteristics as compared to the more delicate attributes of the dry whites.”
Although the American palate and preferences have changed considerably since 1948, Tchelistcheff’s closing remarks are still valid and worth heeding. “There is no great mystery to wine appreciation. It does not take generations to develop the palate, as some Europeans would have you believe, but just a little careful sipping of one wine against another, a little common sense and a comparison of what the eyes and the sensory perceptions tell you.”
Cheers and happy tasting!