Can Master Sommeliers really identify virtually any wine in the world based on taste and smell alone?

What are some interesting facts about master sommeliers?

Can they really identify virtually any wine in the world based on taste and smell alone?

What fun questions!  I like the second question even better because I get asked all the time, “Can you and other Master Sommeliers really identify any wine in the world in a blind tasting?”  Although I'm not a master sommelier (yet), I've met quite a few of them through my journey to become an advanced sommelier.  To answer the first question, here are a few interesting facts about Master Sommeliers I’ve learned:

 

  1. They are human just like the rest of us and do not possess super powers.
  2. Their uniform tie/scarf is nicknamed the "Harry Potter" tie.
  3. They drink a lot of Fernet Branca.
  4. When they are not drinking Fernet, they drink Burgundy, Riesling and lots and lots of Champagne.

Master Sommelier Fred Dame with his "Harry Potter" tie[/caption]

Let’s get a little more serious and answer the second question "Can they really identify virtually any wine in the world based on taste and smell alone?" The short answer is no, however the process is more involved than just taste and smell.  In order to identify a wine blind, sommeliers are trained to use more than just their smell and taste.  We use a deductive blind tasting method, in which we systematically go down a checklist known in the sommelier community as the "Grid".  It is broken down into 5 sections: Sight, Nose, Palate, Initial Conclusion and Final Conclusion.  Each section, leading up to the initial and final conclusions, covers different details that helps reveal valuable clues about the wine.  These clues help to form the initial and final conclusion.  The “grid” is as follows:

SIGHT

Sight covers the following: Clarity, brightness, color, concentration of the wine, rim variation or hue at the edge of the wine as it is viewed from the glass.  Also, using sight, the sommelier must determine if there are bubbles (CO2), sediment or flocculation.  Then the glass is swirled to judge the viscosity of the wine (or its “legs”).

In a formal Advanced or Master blind tasting examination 3 white wines and 3 red wines are poured blind.  Only 25 minutes are allotted  to decipher the 6 different wines and no notes are allowed.  That is only 4 minutes, 10 seconds for each wine, and that’s it! So the sight evaluation has to be covered pretty fast, generally in 15 to 20 seconds.  A lot of the time, sight is overlooked compared to the nose and palate, but it can give very valuable clues and first impressions to the wine.  For example, when a young red wine has an orange hue, it is a clue that it could be a Sangiovese, Nebbiolo or Tempranillo varietal, before you even begin to smell the wine!  Cool huh?

 

NOSE

Always check for flaws first in a wine, such as: Corkiness, sulfur, volatile acid, brettanomyces, or oxidization.  Although, brettanomyces is often up for debate since some sommeliers - myself included - don’t mind a little barnyard, leather and dirt in our glass.  Make note of the intensity of aromas and do a rough age assessment of the wine.  After that, a big chunk of time is spent identifying different fruits, non-fruit (organic matter such as: mushroom, peppers tea leaf, etc.), earth (inorganic matter such as: chalk, slate, flint, cat pee, etc. You heard right, I said cat pee!) and lastly wood.

This is the section to invest the most time, since our nose can pick up over 10,000 unique smells and is the most powerful tool when it comes to blind tasting. Naturally we associate the word “tasting” with using your tongue “palate” when truthfully most of the “tasting” is done with your nose.  Some experts believe that tasting is a combined experience of the nose and palate, which I completely agree.  However, when learning to blind taste, the nose and palate are kept separate as they reveal different clues from the wine.  Read more about taste and smell here.

 

PALATE

Finally getting to the “tasting” portion... All the aromas identified in the nose section are  confirmed again here, with the following structural assessments added: Sweetness, body (think about the weight and texture difference between whole milk and nonfat milk), tannin (think about how eating raw walnuts drys out your gums), alcohol and acidity. At last the wine is swallowed (just a small amount) to determine the finishing length, complexity and if the wine is balanced.

The structural assessment is a very important tool for Sommeliers to determine the correct wine from wines that are otherwise difficult to tell apart, i.e. A German Riesling can be very similar to an Alsatian Riesling on the nose, but Rieslings from Germany are often higher in acidity and lower in alcohol and body compared to its Alsatian counterpart. One would not have been able to tell the difference unless they correctly assessed the structural characteristics.

INITIAL CONCLUSION

Based on the information gathered in the previous sections, and using the deductive method, the wine is narrowed down to just a few possibilities. Think about blind tasting as a super exaggerated funnel, with wide opening on top representing ALL the wines in the world, and through knowing what the wine is NOT (or process of elimination), eventually coming to what the wine could be (reducing to a couple potential options).

At this point a sommelier will place a wine in either new world or old world style, determine the climate of the growing region, 2-3 possible grape varietals, and a possible age range for the wine.

FINAL CONCLUSION

Sometimes the answer is as obvious as the days are bright (at least here in sunny California), other times it could feel like a coin flip or worse - having no idea at all. Either way, it’s time to go for broke. Take one last sip of the wine, and a moment to reflect back on every piece of information you’ve gathered thus far and say the final answer with confidence: The grape, country, region, sub region, appellation, quality level and exact vintage.

A Master Sommelier will get it right most of the time - 75% or more to be exact, that is the score needed to pass tasting at a Master Sommelier’s level, 65% for Advanced Sommeliers -  based on their knowledge, experience, olfactory system and lots and LOTS of practice. Even then, no one is able to identify every wine in the world. There are too many wines not made in the "classic" style and they are impossible to identify. Napa Cabernet can be made to show nothing but Bordeaux characteristics or vise versa. Tasting is also very subjective and personal, with each sommelier having their so call "ringers" and "Achilles's heel". I personally can pick up the smell of Lychee (since I grew up eating tons of these in Taiwan) from a mile away and never have problem identifying Gewurztraminer, Viognier, and Torrontes. On the other hand the smell of watercress or daikon just never seem to stick, which prevents me from correctly identifying  a Gruner Veltliner to save my life!

To officially answer your second question: sadly no one, not even a Master Sommelier can identify ALL the wines in the world, but they can often get pretty darn close. I hope this helps! If you’ve read this far and are still intrigued by what exactly each element means in a blind tasting and what it tells you about a wine, I recommend you read How To Taste Wine written by Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser.  Who happens to be one of the best teachers for blind tasting out there and also a great mentor.

That’s all for now, drink well, drink often, and talk about your wine like a pro now that you know how the “grid” works!

 

------------Chinese-------------------

侍酒大師真的能夠只憑嗅覺和味覺分辨出世界上所有的酒嗎?

侍酒大師揭密這個職業有沒有什麼有趣的真相呢?

他們真的只需要聞一聞、嚐一嚐,就能分辨出世界上的任何一款酒嗎?

這真的是個非常有趣的問題!我個人特別喜歡第二的問題,因為我總是被詢問:「你和其他的侍酒大師真的能夠在盲飲時分辨出世界上的所有酒款嗎?」雖然我(還)不是侍酒大師,但我在追求成為資深侍酒師的路上,也已經累積許多次經驗了。我們先從第一個問題看起,我在過程中的確發現了幾個有關侍酒大師的有趣真相:

 

  1. 他們和其他人一樣都是普通人類,並沒有超能力的存在。
  2. 他們制服的領帶/領巾被暱稱為「哈利波特」領帶。
  3. 他們會喝很多被稱為苦酒之王的Fernet Branca。
  4. 不喝Fernet時,他們喝下很多勃根地、麗絲玲(Riesling)和非常非常多的香檳。

 

侍酒大師 Fred Dame和他的「哈利波特」領帶/照片說明

讓我們嚴肅一些,然後先回答第二個問題「他們真的只需要聞一聞、嚐一嚐,就能分辨出世界上的任何一款酒嗎?」最直接的回答是~不行,但是這個過程比聞和嚐還更複雜。為了要分辨出盲飲的酒款,侍酒師的訓練可不只要運用嗅覺和味覺。我們使用盲飲演繹法,簡單的說就是系統性回顧一份列表,這在侍酒師行話裡稱為「座標」(Grid)。它被分為五個部分:視覺、嗅覺、味覺、初步結論以及最終結論。前三個部分的每一步,都可能領導至不同的初步和最終結論,同時涵蓋了不同的細節,讓侍酒師能得到寶貴的葡萄酒線索。這些線索加起來,就形成了初步與最終結論。「座標」說明如下:

視覺

視覺包含了以下元素:清澈度、明亮度、顏色、酒的濃度,以及在酒杯中呈現出來的邊緣變化,或是酒的邊緣色調。另外,運用視覺時,侍酒師必須能看出來酒中有沒有氣體(CO2)、沉澱物或是凝絮物。接著搖晃酒杯來評斷酒的黏稠程度(或稱為酒腿)。

在正式的高階侍酒師或侍酒大師的盲飲測驗中,會有三支白酒和三支紅酒。只有25分鐘可以推論出這六款酒,而且還不能做筆記。也就是說,每款酒只能花費4分10秒的時間,就這樣!所以視覺評估必須進行得非常快,一般來說是15到20秒。比起嗅覺和味覺,視覺在很多情況下會被忽視,但其實它能夠給予非常珍貴的線索,以及對酒的第一印象。舉例來說,當一款年輕的紅酒擁有橘色色調,這就可能是Sangiovese、Nebbiolo或是Tempranillo品種的線索,而你在聞酒之前就能知道這點了!酷吧?

 

嗅覺

一定要先確認酒的缺陷氣味,像是:軟木塞、二氧化硫、揮發酸、酒香酵母等汙染,或是氧化。雖然酒香酵母這點相當有爭議,因為部分侍酒師─包括我─不介意杯裡有一些穀倉前院、皮革和塵土味。在這階段記下香氣的濃度,另外粗略推估酒的年份。接下來,有一部分的時間會被用來分辨不同的果香、非果香(有機物像是:蘑菇、胡椒、茶葉等等)、土地味(非有機物例如:粉筆、板岩、燧石、貓尿等等。你沒看錯,我的確是說貓尿!),以及最後的木頭味。

這是要投入絕多數時間的部分,因為我們的鼻子可以聞出超過一萬種氣味,而且是盲飲中最強大的工具。我們會自然地把盲飲中的「飲」和舌頭的「味覺」聯想在一起,但其實大部分的「飲」是用鼻子完成的。部分專家相信品飲是結合嗅覺和味覺的體驗,而我完全同意這種看法。不過,在學習盲飲時,嗅覺和味覺需要分別看待,因為他們會透露酒款的不同線索。在這裡查看更多味覺和嗅覺的內容。

 

味覺

終於到了「味覺」部分...所有在嗅覺中分辨出來的香味能夠在這裡被再次驗證,而且還加入了以下架構評估:甜味、酒體(想想全脂牛奶和脫脂牛奶間重量感和質地的差異)、單寧(想像吃下生核桃會怎麼讓嘴巴變乾)、酒精濃度以及酸度。最後吞下(少量的)酒以了解尾韻、複雜度,以及酒款是否平衡。

架構評估對侍酒師來說,是從難以辨別的元素中評斷出正確酒款的重要工具,例如德國的麗絲玲(Riesling)聞起來可能會和阿爾薩斯麗絲玲很像,但德國產的通常酸度較高,而酒精濃度和酒體都比阿爾薩斯產的還低。如果沒經過正確的架構評估,是無法分辨出他們的。

初步結論

依據前幾個步驟得到的資訊並使用演繹法,現在酒款範圍已經縮小到只剩幾個可能了。把盲飲想成是一個超級大的漏斗,上方代表世界上所有的葡萄酒,而通過篩選哪些酒不是(或是刪除法),最後得到可能是哪支酒(減少到只剩幾個可能選項)。

到了這裡,侍酒師能夠知道酒款是新世界還是舊世界風格的,推論出葡萄生長區域的氣候,2到3種可能的葡萄品種,以及可能的酒齡範圍。

最後結論

有時候答案非常明顯,就像是白天是明亮的(至少對陽光四溢的加州來說是這樣)這種真理,但有時候它可能像是拋硬幣或更糟─根本沒想法。不論是哪一種,都該是全力以赴的時間了。啜飲最後一口,花一些時間回顧收集到的每條資訊,並自信地說出最後答案:葡萄、國家、地區、次區域、產區、品質等級,以及精確的年份。

侍酒大師根據自身的知識、經驗、嗅覺系統和很多超級多的練習,大部分都能得到正確答案─75%或更高的準確率,這也是通過侍酒大師等級測驗的及格分數,而高階侍酒師則需要達到65%的正確率。就算是這樣,沒有人能說自己可以分辨出世界上所有的酒。有太多酒款並不是以「典型」風格釀造,而他們也就無從分辨起。納帕卡本內可能只有波爾多的特性,而反之亦然。品酒也是個非常主觀個人的過程,而每位侍酒師都有所謂的「必殺技」和「阿基里斯腱」。我個人可以在一哩外就分辨出荔枝香(因為我在台灣長大,吃過超多荔枝),對於Gewurztraminer、Viognier和Torrontes也都沒什麼問題。另一方面,西洋菜或白蘿蔔的味道對我來說很難記,所以我很難分辨出Gruner Veltliner來拯救生活!

正式地回答第二個問題:很遺憾的是沒有人可以,甚至連侍酒大師也無法分辨出世界上所有的酒款,不過他們通常能夠得到相當接近的結論。我希望這個答案能有所幫助!如果這篇文章看到這裡,你還是對盲飲中的每個環節感到好奇,想了解那些元素會告訴你酒款的那些特性,那麼我建議你前往閱讀由侍酒大師Tim Gaiser主筆的《如何飲酒》(How To Taste Wine)文章。他恰好是指導盲飲最好的老師,也是一位很棒的導師。

這就是今天的內容了。希望大家都能好好喝、常常喝,然後現在還可以向專家一樣談談你的酒了,因為你已經知道要怎麼運用「座標」了!

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