Friday, March 4, 2011

Les Analyses Sensorielles 2011 - Montpellier!

Several weeks ago I received an e-mail from Andrew stating that his boss, Veronique, suggested that I might be interested in participating in a sensory analysis program that takes place at INRA.  The program involved evaluating various wines based on sight, scent, and taste - "I'm in!"  I stated emphatically!   After making sure that my lack of knowledge of the French language would not be an issue, I reserved my spot on the panel. Amelie sent me some information including the official invitation and a list of the variables the we would be evaluating.  Of course, as expected, it was all in french.  I grabbed my laptop and started translating the various words to construct my own little "cheat sheet" so I knew what I was supposed to be looking/tasting/smelling for.

The sessions take place every week or two (it varies) and the first was today at 10:00 am.  Being the paranoid, nervous nellie that I am, I went to INRA with Andrew yesterday after lunch to ensure that I knew where I would be going today (I believe I developed this sense of overprotectiveness from working at and preparing for trials with TPMR).  Andrew had mentioned that the panel met about 10m (meters) from his office, I assumed he meant 10m from his building but he truly meant 10m from his office - out the door, down the steps and in the other door - very easy!  As I checked out the situation yesterday, I realized that I wasn't in for a bunch of "Napa style" tastings.  The room was comprised of several rows of desks/cubbies complete with a chair, small sink, computer, bottle of water and light on the top.

This morning, I woke up and prepared myself for a morning of serious tasting!  Andrew met me at the gate of INRA to let me in and we walked to the building.  As I entered the room, about 10 people turned and looked at me so I introduced myself and met Marie (the person in charge of the project) and Amelie (I assume Marie's assistant).  Marie walked me to my station (#1!!) and explained the system to me.  She asked if I understood what the words on the computer meant so I pulled out my handy dandy cheat sheet and she seemed very impressed :)  She reviewed my english version of the words and approved of them and then told me that we would be tasting 2 blancs (whites) (Chardonnays) and 15 rouges (reds)- each glass was labeled with the number of the sample.  Holy Cow-17 samples?  It's 10:00 in the morning!  I looked at Marie and said "and then we will all be very happy!"  -- she smiled and nodded. I was to taste the wine, answer all of the questions on the computer screens, dump the wine when I finished the evaluation, push the little button to illuminate the light on my station and wait for someone to bring me my next glass - wahooo!  what a life!  I entered my name and e-mail address on the first screen - and clicked on "ecran suivant" or "next screen", I was ready.  I had a bottle of water and there was a whole basket of sliced baguettes in the front of the room to cleanse our palates.

The analysis of these wines was amazing - I had never given so much thought to what I was drinking before.  Here - I had a glass of chardonnay (I doubt if it was oaked because it was not "buttery" at all - and I don't like oaked chardonnay - I did like this one).  The first sensory analysis - sight - we needed to evaluate the intensity of the color and whether the it was more yellow or orange.  Next was scent-the 7 olfactifs - intensity of the aroma, quality of the aroma, fruitiness, floralness, vegetal (?), and mineral and then whether it was "hot".  Next -Gustatifs (taste) - Our first analysis was to determine the "eating quality" (which I believed meant the drinkability), then: acidity, sweetness, boldness, alcohol taste, bitterness, persistence or aftertaste, and the presence of CO2.  Lastly we evaluated the overall quality considering the combination of the smell and taste - and the defects. I enjoyed both whites.

The red wines, however, were very different from each other!  We evaluated many of the same qualities in the red wines with the addition of: tanins, dry in the mouth, spiciness and coat color (couleur de la robe - violet/rouge/maroon). There were several very fruity wines that smelled delicious and several where the scent was really bad.  One eye opening point that I found was that in many of the wines where the scent was bad, the flavor was actually good!  That suprised me! There were a couple of wines that were bad for smell and for taste but looked beautiful - hummmm - remember that old saying "don't judge a book by it's cover"?? Well, it goes for wines too!

When I was half way through I had already comprised my letter of resignation to Lee Plakas, my boss at home: "Dear Mr. Plakas, I reget to inform you that I will not be returning to TPMR afterall, I have found my true calling here, in Montpellier, in a little room, tasting wine.  I don't get paid anything, but am feeling pretty relaxed and happy - the true meaning of a nice life.  Sincerely...."  I was having a great time!

My favorite overall was number 747 - the color was beautiful, smell was fuity and pleasant with some spice, taste was wonderful with a little tanin and dryness but not too much (I don't care for a big dry wine).  I gave #747 my highest ratings :)

After I was finished, I jokingly asked Marie how I could purchase a bottle of #746 - she waved her hand and said "follow me" - I said that I was only kidding but she just smiled at me and let me outside to a van where, in the back, was a box of approximately 15-20 skinny bottles of wine - she did a little digging and then handed me a bottle of #747 - a Syrah with a bunch of coding on the research label :)  I was/am very excited-What a bonus!  Marie told me that if I was interested in participating again, to let Amelie know via e-mail.  I will certainly be e-mailing Amelie.


  1. Hey Beth,

    What a fun volunteer job you've got yourself there. Does Lee Plakas ready your blog?


  2. What a wonderful and unique experience! I'm sure it's one of those things that you will remember forever! And then when you get home, you can impress all of your friends with your new knowledge. Maybe you can even have your own wine-tasting/analyzing parties!