Wine 101: An Oenophilic
From biodynamic to brix to spitting & dumping to Do's &
Don'ts; school yourself before you sip.
What is biodynamic?
Biodynamic vineyards are a lot like
organic ones—plus mineral and herbal “preparations” and astrological influences
(ley lines, lunar planning). Oregon has about a dozen vineyards certified by the
biodynamic standards organization Demeter.
What is natural wine?
“Natural” wine lacks
strict definition, beyond the winemaker’s minimal intervention in the
fermentation process and typical rejection of additives like sugar. The result
can be funky, off-color, and (sometimes) really fun. In Oregon we call this
LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) or Salmon-Safe.
What is orange wine?
Orange wine—contains no
oranges!—owes its tawny color to (normally taboo) contact between just-crushed
white wine grapes and their skins.
What is brix?
Brix is a unit of
measurement for the sugar in wine grapes. Brix levels are collected at harvest,
and sometimes again after pressing, to gauge the potential booziness of the
Much like a French
appellation, an AVA is an area federally designated as geographically distinct
for grape cultivation. Oregon has 17 AVAs, four of which stretch into
The Willamette Valley AVA
Between 2004 and 2006, six
parts of the Willamette Valley AVA (established in 1983) became their own
subappellations. The newest of these are Chehalem Mountains and Eola-Amity Hills.
The Willamette Valley has 7 AVAs.
Oregon wine: on trend
Nationally, Oregon wine
sales in 2016–2017 are up 17 percent from the previous period, beating out
California and Washington (up just 3 and 2.3 percent, respectively).
Named THE BEST in the world for 2016.
still number one
Approximately 67 percent
of Oregon vineyard production is pinot noir, with nearly 51,000 tons of fruit
Don't be scared of a little wine tasting -
with permission from Discover
Yamhill Valley -
Edited by Philip Colby of My Chauffeur
Go ahead …
spit it out!
Wine tasting novices may find this advice suspect, since polite people are told
not to spit in public. Then, suddenly, a situation arises in which it’s
expected. Uncomfortable, isn’t it?
and dump buckets are part of the tasting room experience.
New to wine?
Tasting rooms are a great place to learn. It’s a welcoming experience, it’s fun
and ever so delicious. Never been? Chances are, you aren’t the only newbie
there. The people who pour in Yamhill Valley (N. Willamette Valley) are here to help you get
of Domaine Serene
wants you to ask tons of questions. In fact, the Domaine Serene tasting room is
set up to encourage this, with a smattering of tables instead of a single bar,
giving tasters better access to the pourers. Those people are there to tell you
about the wine, so ask away.
Willamette Valley Vineyards offers an important piece of advice: “Be
adventurous.” The purpose of a tasting room is to have “your perception of wine
educated.” Try everything that’s on offer, she says. For example, don’t turn
down a flight of Rieslings because you expect them to be sweet; not all of them
But if what
you’re offered isn’t something you’re dying to drink a lot of, dump it out. She
won’t mind. Neither will Linda Lenyo of
truly not offended by people using the dump and spit buckets,” Lenyo says. “We
respect that everyone’s tastes are unique.” She would rather you walk out of her
tasting room on Third Street in McMinnville thinking, “that was fun but not for
me,” than leave feeling uncomfortable.
of R. Stuart and Co. Wine
Bar echoes the pro-dumping-out-wine sentiment. “It is definitely, completely
appropriate. Wine professionals spit when they taste,” she says.
those tasting room pours can look a little generous. Wasteful though it may
seem, leave your glass on the bar and let ’em pour. You can dump it out later
if you can’t finish. As Stuart explains, “you need to get enough wine in the
glass to get the sensory experience. Take a moment, enjoy it, and pour the rest
out” if you need to. It takes between one and two ounces in the glass to give a
taster a fair idea of what the grape has to offer.
with the idea of dumping out wine? Ready to find out what the 2008 and 2009
wines are like? Good. Let’s move on. Yamhill Valley wine professionals
generously shared their tasting room advice.
• Do realize
the person pouring may know a lot about that wine. People are often “pleasantly
surprised by the fact that they’re talking to people who are intimately
connected to the wine they’re pouring,” Lenyo says.
• Do call ahead, particularly if you’re bringing a large group.
• Do buy a bottle if you like the wine. Don’t be shy to pick the cheapest one.
Spring for about $20-$30. If you’re in a group, it’s a real bargain. If you were
paying for a tasting, you’d be expected to shell out $10-20 a head. Oregon wines
tend to be expensive just like their sisters over there in Burgundy (and for the
same reasons) where some of the most expensive wines on the planet come from.
• Do bring a notepad and pen. Most wineries will give you a tasting list and
something to write with, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.
• Do have a designated driver – because you’ll likely be offered 10-20 wines to
• Do skip the lipstick. It’s really hard to clean from the rim of the glass.
Plus, you look so pretty without it.
• Do ask questions. As Maria Stuart says, “if you know nothing about wine, you
should feel comfortable asking questions.” Allan Carter echoes the sentiment:
“The person pouring isn’t doing it for the money. They’re doing it because they
love wine and love to talk about it.”
Get the Most From Your Winery Visits
• Don’t wear
perfume, cologne or any strong fragrances. Other tasters may be sensitive to
smells and it could kill their experience.
• Don’t bring along coffee. You just won’t get the full flavor of the wine.
• Don’t chew gum.
• Don’t smoke. Sure, sure – we’re worried about your health. But, really, it’s
about your tastebuds.
• Don’t be offended if you’re asked to show ID.
• Don’t pull away a glass to prevent a pour, or pop your glass upward to stop a
pour in progress. It’s really hard to pour wine into a moving target. And that’s
such a nice shirt. Let’s not ruin it.
A couple of ground rules to
1. It’s best NOT to drink water between glasses
of wine (unless you’re really thirsty) – water rinses the mouth too clean, and
can leave a taste of chlorine or bleach in your mouth. It's not necessary to
rinse your glass between wines of the same color, but do rinse if you change
from red to white wine, so as not to tint the color of the white wine with the
leftover drops of red wine;
2. Hold the wine glass by the foot or the stem,
never the bowl of the glass. If you hold it by the bowl, you cannot see the
wine, and you will also heat the wine, which will change it’s characteristics.
3. Taste silently and note your impressions.
You’ll share them later with your colleagues, but for now you don’t want to be
influenced by their reactions, you want to note YOUR reactions. Trust your
initial reactions, they are usually the most accurate.
4. There are NO wrong answers! Everyone has their own perceptions, and
there is usually a good reason if you come up with an aroma or a taste that no
one else came up with. Go with your gut, and know that the more you taste, the
more precise your responses will become.
5. Use simple words & have fun with My
Easy Wine Descriptor.
Wine tasting descriptors - The use of wine
tasting descriptors allows the taster an opportunity to put into words the
aromas and flavors that they experience and can be used in assessing the overall
quality of wine. Many wine writers, like Karen MacNeil in her book The
Wine Bible, note that the difference between casual drinkers and serious wine
tasters is the focus and systematic approach to tasting wine with an objective
description of what they are sensing.
How to Taste Wines