Many people lack a sense of confidence in describing what they taste in a wine. I often hear, as do many in my profession, “I’m not a connoisseur like you, so I can’t describe the taste.” My answer has always been: the definition of “connoisseur” is “an authority.” I certainly concede that I am an authority on what I like. However, I consider every person I meet to be a connoisseur, since I am just as certain that they know what they like. The only difference between us is that experience and exposure have given me a larger vocabulary.

During a recent conversation I used the following description about the difference between appreciating Cabernet Sauvignon- and Pinot Noir-based wines, both of which would be great choices to serve alongside Karl’s recipe this month.

I prefaced the description to say that I have also observed a consistent pattern in a vast majority of wine lovers. Most often start their journey by learning all about and collecting Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines, and they usually all end up passionately chasing the holy grail of a fine Pinot Noir.
This pattern is consistent whether it is those on the East Coast beginning with a collection of Bordeaux and living out their days seeking to relive a great Burgundy experience or here on the West Coast where we favor more accessible Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons and extreme Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley or Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noirs.

I explained this pattern of behavior by relating the wines to human characteristics. Cabernet Sauvignon is a masculine wine. Big, bold, powerful, intense are general descriptors used but also easy to understand and not very subtle.

Pinot Noir, on the other hand, is a soft feminine wine. It has layers of very subtle traits that require a studied palate to even begin to pick up on. Complex and very hard to understand, but once you have experienced a great one you will face any challenge and do whatever it takes to relive the experience. I rarely ever meet someone who can tell me confidently that they truly, completely understand all that Pinot Noir can be.

This way of describing these two wines was something that I came up with many years ago to try to capture the attention of my audience. I also use this to point out how vast is the language used to describe wine. As a college student I took a sensory evaluation course at UC Davis. On the first day the professor handed out a list of more than 14,000 words that he had found used to describe wine. He followed by issuing a challenge that we double the list before the end of the class.

The fact is that taste is very personal and just like feelings, no one’s description of taste is inaccurate. It is simply their personal description. What is most unique about wine as a beverage is just how much we are able to connect to it on an emotional level.

No one should ever be intimidated by wine. I try to reinforce that view by offering a quote from Robert Mondavi: “Wine has been with us since the beginning of civilization. It is the temperate, civilized, sacred, romantic mealtime beverage recommended in the Bible. Wine has been praised for centuries by statesmen, philosophers, poets and scholars. Wine in moderation is an integral part of our culture, heritage and gracious way of life.” In my own simplification I have always included wine under the general heading of lifestyle enhancement.