Wine-Tasters' Logic
Review © by Robert C. Ross
Wine-Tasters' Logic: Thinking about Wine -- and Enjoying It
Pat Simon
Edited by Julian Jeffs; part of the Faber Books on Wine Series.
Paperback, 192 pp.
ISBN: 057120287X, Faber & Faber, Inc., August 2000.

Pat Simon
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Pat Simon was educated in Norfolk, France and Cambridge, and spent World War II with the Royal Artillery and at Montgomery's headquarters. He entered the wine trade in 1948, and served as director of a number of companies in the wine and liquor business. He became one of the first Masters of Wine in 1966, and has taught and written about wine for many years. This book is a summing up of over fifty years in the business, and covers a great deal of territory in a straightforward and enjoyable manner.

Part One covers the theory of tasting, and in short chapters discusses tannin sensing, climate, ambience, aromas, wine words, tasting skills and balancing, among a number of other topics. Part Two is a more practical guide to developing tasting skills and focussing on oxidization, acidities, balance, tannin, concentration, practicing decanting, and writing tasting notes. Throughout Simon refers to wine writers and tasters that he has met, and describes several of his adventures in the wine business.

This is an excellent book for an intermediate wine lover with loads of information delivered in a very palatable style – a book for savoring and sipping rather than a text book for formal study. A few extracts I found interesting:

"In sake tasting they use a fifth term – umami – which is usually translated as 'deliciousness'. It is now defined in the ISO vocabulary as the taste of mono-sodium glutamate."

"It is sometimes helpful to make a slight pause when approaching one's nose to the glass: the French use the word 'montant' to describe how certain wines come up out of the glass to meet you."

"Slow Motion Thinking. One of the things that particularly confused me when I was first learning to taste was the way all the perceptions seemed to come together in a rush. Jules Chauvet suggested to me that if one could accept (at least in theory) that aromas might be arriving in a time sequence – and not all at once – it might be possible for the mind to record them all, and then give one a slow motion playback. I found that it helped me to trick my mind into playing this kind of game if I though of the aromas coming off [in a kind of hierarchy -- Flower - fruit - spice - herbs - vegetal - soil notes --], and I would then be able to note their presence or absence from the awaited sequence."

"The word 'vintage' in English has two meanings: the grape harvest and the year in which a particular wine was made. The French, however, make a distinction between the 'vendange', the grape harvest, and 'millésime', the year of the wine. Similarly in Germany: 'Weinlese' and 'Jahrgang'."

Many of his discussions are worth considering: For example, how and why to chew tannins, how to determine three and four way balances in wines, theories of time, shapes of tastes, wine words and phrases, the difference between "steely" and "gun-flint" tastes [the first meaningless; the second "most precise"], practice tasting, practice decanting using rock salt in suspension, parallels with tea tasting, and suggestions for writing tasting notes.

And, as a former artilleryman, his Artilleryman's Guide to Burgundy is visually compelling: field guns shooting straight and far are Côte de Nuits, howitzers shooting over obstacles are Côte de Beaunes, and mortar shooting high and short are Beaujolais.

All in all, a worthwhile book to encourage you to think about wine and your approaches to it – even when you don't agree with the author. Highly recommended.

July 22, 1999

Buy this book from ($14.40).

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