For student looking to source samples wine to use for study purposes, you will find a general list of wines to shop with. It should be noted that not all wines are available in all markets, but I have taken care to create this list with items that are widely distributed on a national basis.
The goal of this particular list is to source a starter list of wines that will help understand a few basic principles in taste calibration. Specially, comparing an unoaked and an oaked wines, as well as comparing youthful and developed or fully developed wines.
As a reminder, it is important to always try and taste wines is comparison flights as this will give you the best opportunity to see, smell and taste the differences between styles and components.
For the neutral white example it is best to source a style that is traditionally made with no oak, such as a Muscadet from the western coast of france. A great pairing for seafood, the Muscadet is made from a grape called Melon de Bourgogne, but this is not Burgundy. The grape has a fairly neutral aspect in its aroma/flavor profile, making it a great wine to use in this case. There are many producers, so any muscadet that carries hge appellation Muscadet de Sevre et Maine is acceptable. Should cost about $15 or less. Other neutral white examples can be a delle Venezie Pinot Grigio from Italy.
Contrast this with an oak influenced white such as a California Chardonnay that has been barrel fermented and/or barrel aged. The more oak the better. The small caution her is that many lower priced wines might say they have oak aromas, but often do not actually see a barrel but rather are made with oak chips, or worse, oak extract. Get a great bottle of oaked chardonnay and enjoy. Examples from the Jackson Family of wines can often be found, just stay away from Kendall Jackson Reserve Chard. Opt for a wine from the line of La Crema or Hendry Chardonnay. These wines may be a little more costly as the oak is expensive, but many wines from Napa and Sonoma are barrel fermented and or aged. Just check the notes to see how much. In this case more is better.
The thing to note when tasting is the vanilla, toast, cedar, spice notes in the oaked chard, and compare that to the absolute lack of these notes in the neutral white. Texturally the oaked wine should be much more round on the palate, longer in the finish, and most likely lower in acidity than than the neutral white. The Muscadet will also be categorized as youthful, while the oaked white could be youthful, but by definition it has seen some oak if it has spent time in barrel, so as long as it is a recent vintage then this wine will often be categorized as developing.
The Beaujolais is made from a grape called Gamay and these wines are typically going to be fruit forward with loads of vibrant red and blue fruits, have soft tannins as the grape is fairly thin skinned and grows in a cooler climate. As stated above, maceration times for basic Beaujolais is relatively short, so the extraction of thing slike tannin is minimized. The focus here for the wine is youthful, fruity aromas and a smooth texture on the palate. They are fruity, just not sweet - there is a difference. Mostly focused on Primary aromas, you might get a bit of secondary as some older and large oak can be used in production, but this is somewhat rare. Color here is also of note, as the Beaujolais will often be a vibrant ruby - even purple - and could go to deep although I find most to be medium. Look for a Beaujolais or Beaujolais-Village from producers such as Louis Jadot or Duboef. A Cru is not necessary in this flight. Get the most recent vintage as you can, but stay away from wines that are more than 3 years old or are Nouveau (unless it's Thanksgiving).
For the Rioja, sourcing a Gran Reserva that is of about 8-10 years is often the best option. These are also some fantastic wines to drink on a regular basis as they are tremendous values in the wine world. For the tasting comparison, we are looking for a wine that can display color that is impacted by long periods in wood. So a Ruby core with some garnet fade to the edge is often the case. The core color could also be moving to garnet, and in some cases you may even find wines that have definite amber edges.
On the nose we will find primary, secondary and tertiary notes. ANd this is key as it is important to being able to identify the notes derived from extended aging. More dried fruits, forest and savoy spects are often key here. Contrast this with the very youthful and primary notes in the Beaujolais and it should be easy to see what is meant.
On the plate the wine will have very soft tannins, depending on the wine. Remember these wines have been aged in combination of wood and bottle for a minimum of 5 years, but they are also designed to last for years and even decades upon release, so you could get an 10 year wine that is still fairly young in overall development. The point is that we will see the oak influence in the color, the spices and aroma/flavor characters and on the finish.
I am fond of producers such as Faustino, CUNE and Riscal.
You can also add another wine to the flight and see an aspect of oak influence but also with youthful and very ripe tannins. A Napa Cabernet Sauvignon from a recent vintage will often fill this listing. Just expect to pay a bit more. Honig Winery makes an exceptional Cab at a more moderate price point for this region. Also are family owned and a great people to support.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With 30 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.