Whenever I approach tables and introduce myself as the “wine guru”, they seem to automatically make the assumption that I am the pinnacle of wine knowledge in the world. That couldn’t really be farther from the truth, and in an attempt not to embarrass my lack of knowledge, I’m constantly trying to probe the table to see how much they know. Many circumstances arise that you want to know who you are talking to. Does you waiter know what he’s talking about, or is he just throwing out words he saw on a flavor chart? How about your guest? Did they tour a winery in 1988, so now they’re certified sommeliers? Your sales rep dresses nice, but they described a wine as tasting like grapes? How about someone you’re interviewing for a position that talks about your wine? Here are some questions that may apply to any of the above situations. I, of course, know all of the answers because I wrote the test, but in some instances, one word could be changed in the context of either of these questions, and I would be stumped.
In a perfect world in a wine shop that is full of nothing but your favorite wines with a large stack of spendable money in your pocket, what wine would you buy tonight?
Obviously, there is no wrong answer. I try to ask every one of my tables this. It tells me so much. If they say “2006 Domaine de la Romanee Conti, La Tache” I will back away and let them choose their own wine, they clearly know more than I do. If the answer is “7 Deadly Zins” or “The Prisoner” I know the style that they like, and I have a good idea of how much money they want to spend. I also know that their exposure has not gone much further than a couple select racks at the local wine shop.
More often than not, I’ve never heard of the wine that they say they would buy. So, I
ask them about it. “What is it about this wine that you like?” Do they speak comfortably about it? Does what they’re saying sound accurate? “I loved this Barolo because it was dark and rich! And full of jammy fruit! And even a little sweet.” That would be an incorrect answer in my book. Their response to this can tell you a lot about how comfortable they are talking about wine, and how diverse their wine palate is.
What are the 5 main red grapes of Bordeaux?
This is such a cliché question, but because of how overused it is, no one that claims to know about wine should ever miss it. (My ability to recite these fantastic five varietals to my fiancé’s father was a deciding factor in his blessing for our courtship.) I think it’s silly to memorize every popular grape from every popular region in the world, but when it comes to blends, this is the most used, most copied, and most prestige mixture available. If you’re interested in wine, it’s good to know. Side Note: If you get someone that nails this right away, ask “What are the five first growths of Bordeaux?”
In terms of Italian wine, what are the “Three B’s”?
I don’t like that the majority of wine testing revolves around Old World wine and regions. The fact is that Old World wines have their standards. Those five Bordeaux grapes have been the same for YEARS! Barolo, Barberesco, and Brunello will more than likely always be the only hugely popular wines that start with “B” that come from Italy. New World wines are more subjective, and up for argument. Old World wines are pretty much the same as they’ve always been. Side Note: If you get someone that nails this right away, ask “What are the grapes in these wines?”
The term “Legs” refers to wine that rolls down the side of the glass after swirling, what can be determined from these “legs”?
This is an interesting one for me. I’ve heard the answer to this probably 1000 times. 950 of those times, were before I even started drinking wine. It wasn’t until after I took my level one exam that the answer stayed in my head. After I learned the science behind it, I’ll never forget. Side Note: If you get someone that nails this right away, ask “What are some examples of grapes that would roll slowly? Or fast?”
The Russian River Valley has one immensely popular white grape, and one immensely popular red grape. What are these two grapes?
Bonus points given for “Why?”
The GSM blend is growing in popularity in Australia. What does GSM stand for?
Knowing the blend is great. Knowing where it originates is better yet. Knowing why the blend is so popular (what each grape adds to the equation) is perfect.
What is the most popular red grape coming from South Africa? How about white?
Bonus points for knowing where the red gets its name, and what the white is called in South Africa.
This isn’t meant to be a test, but I feel that any one of those questions can be great to determine the knowledge of whomever you’re talking to about wine. Knowing all of the answers by no means makes someone a scholar, but if you know what they know than you know what to teach them. You know what they could teach you. Many of the tables I talk to have visited wineries in Italy. They probably couldn’t tell me the first thing about the grapes of Bordeaux, but what I know of Italian wines is probably pale in comparison to what they have experienced in their lifetimes. Remember, the worlds most wine savvy sommelier probably only knows ¼ of what he could know.