Essential Winetasting: The Complete Practical Winetasting Course

Essential Winetasting: The Complete Practical Winetasting Course

Author: Michael Schuster

Publisher: Mitchell Beazley


Publish Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN-10: 1784720917

Pages: 224

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface


This is a ‘how to’ and ‘why’ rather than a ‘what’ book. It is not a factual volume – there are plenty of those – but an exploration of how to taste, observe, describe, evaluate and enjoy wine. It aims to help you make up your own mind confidently, by giving you the means to do so.

This book has been enlarged, and much has changed, but the structure remains the same. Completely new are a number of essays on issues that are pertinent now in a way they were not 20 years ago: Climate Change; Organics, Biodynamics, Natural Winemaking; Closures, Alcohol Levels, among others; and there is a new section on Blind Tasting.

The In the glass tasting section has been made more complete, with the addition of preparatory reading suggestions from the book, plus subsequent check-and-reinforce questions, and an option to subscribe to my website for specific wine recommendations for the tastings .

Not surprisingly the central section, In the bottle , on grapes and their wines has had to be largely rewritten, and two kind friends have also been of special help: Chris Tew updated the statistics in the map section with figures from 2015, while Robin Lee helped revise the maps themselves. Thank you both!

Gone are the old certainties: Australian Chardonnay was golden yellow, ample and oaky; you could age fine white burgundy to a mellow nuttiness over 10, 15, 20 years; freshly bottled white wine was pale-lemon, fragrant and fresh, not orange-hued, redolent of dried apricots, and tannic. Other ‘certainties’ perhaps deserve to be less secure than they were: new wood will always improve the texture of tannic reds; blind tasting is the only true measure of a wine’s quality; that alcohol levels are not an issue, only ‘balance’ is. I discuss these.

Quality, of course, exists at every level, and I look in detail at how one might think about it in a new tasting, but it must surely be, above all, about drinkability. Sebastian Payne, long-term head wine buyer for the UK’s Wine Society, puts it very succinctly: ‘It’s whether you want another glass or not, isn’t it?’ And Boekenhoutskloof’s Mark Kent put it thus: ‘Quality lies in the second half of the bottle, not in the first taste.’ Quite so. But our relationship with alcohol has also changed.

With so many wines at well over 14% abv today we are apt to forget that ‘great’ wines from only a few decades ago were 12.5% (’90 Latour or Le Pin), 13.5% (’89, ’90 Petrus). And a 14.5% companion at table is, maybe surprisingly, very different, ‘noisier’ company than a 13% to 13.5% partner.

Finally, a personal note. Ten years ago I was investigating my father, a farmer in Kenya, who died when I was 14, and an old army comrade of his replied to my letter with: ‘Your dad taught me how to taste wines and get the most out of the flavours’! How weird is that? I had no idea. In the genes, then?


1 Before the bottle: is about how to taste and assess wine, about how grapes are grown and how wines are made.

2 In the bottle: describes the wines of the world, based on grape variety.

3 In the glass: is a ‘do-it-yourself’ winetasting course, based on my own courses.

4 Reference: consists of maps, country statistics, and a tasting-terms glossary.


The book is written in a logical sequence, but it is organised into sections, panels and captioned illustrations to allow you to dip into and make sense of any section on its own. There is, however, plenty of matter, and to help you navigate and make connections there is a cross-referencing system throughout – ‘See also’ boxes in one corner of most double-page spreads. These take key words or subjects, marked with a star in the text, and lead you elsewhere for further explanation.

In the bottle: the world’s most expensive wines are rarely discussed in this book, for it is a simple fact that they are beyond most pockets, and we have to keep the subject within bounds. This section cannot be ‘comprehensive’, but it is a core guide to the principal wine grapes, and to key features to look for in how grape, origin, and quality are expressed in their wines, in a world where travel, rapid communication, and ‘flying winemakers’ mean there is an increasing convergence of styles.

In the glass: read How to Use the Tastings , to get the most out of this section. The course and my method of tasting are one approach. This is what works for me. It will give you ideas, which you will adapt as you discover what works for you. The questions the course asks, the wines you try and discussions with friends will help crystallise your ideas and give you a permanent means of discovering your palate and preferences.


These are important additions to this new version of the book. The Reading Ahead panels and their page references will enable you to familiarise yourself with the necessary background knowledge before each tasting. Questions in the Looking Back panels, at the end of each tasting, will check and reinforce your understanding of the main points covered. Online Wine Recommendations on can be used in addition to the ‘Ideal Wines’ detailed for each tasting in the book. There are URL links to specific wines, available in real time, that I recommend for the tastings. For Tasting 1 this will be a free service, to see how it works. If you wish to benefit from this subsequently, there will be a small subscription.

If you follow the complete course, it will give you a thorough grounding in how to taste, and how to think about wine. Enjoy the exploration!

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