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.