Character Development - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Character Development

An MW shares his personal tasting methodology

Practice makes perfect. When it comes to tasting, wine educators know this to be true. And for many, the practice of tasting wine is among the most enjoyable aspects of teaching as well as continual personal growth. Beyond the theoretical study of soil composition and aspect, actual tasting and careful analysis can sometimes reveal the influence of the soil on the aroma and taste of wine, or the impact topography might have, say, in protecting vines in wet climates. Cees van Casteren, MW, focuses on these kinds of intersections—how wine tasting, study and practice meld into one practical, theoretical and analytical experience—in Anyone Can Taste Wine (you just need this book).

Van Casteren’s writing is eloquent and precise. Yet, even as he imparts detailed scholarly information, he keeps concepts simple, making the book approachable. He begins Anyone Can Taste Wine in a logical place: the foundation of the wine analysis process. Van Casteren recalls starting in the same MW class as Tim Atkin, who shared with him a typewritten leaflet, “The Art of Writing Tasting Notes.” “It was a 10-page check list about how to deal with the MW tasting exam,” van Casteren explained in an email, “extremely detailed, which made it very difficult to remember everything. That’s why I came up with a practical approach and called it CHARACTER. At the time, in the MW program, every student had his or her own approach.”

Van Casteren uses the acronym “CHARACTER” to organize nine data points for analyzing a wine:

Harvest Notes
Aromas of Winemaking
Ripening Aromas
Relative Fruit Intensity

He continually returns to the process throughout the book and the repetition is valuable in helping readers differentiate the information inundating their senses as they taste. His straightforward descriptions and elaborate infographics of technical terms enhance the practicable utility of his methodic process. Moreover, his “CHARACTER” structure allows tasters to remain focused while organizing the data collected. Van Casteren provides examples of what a taster may find in the wine. For instance, smell is H-A-R (harvest notes, aroma of winemaking, and ripening aromas). For the novice he describes only aroma as purple fruit and spices; for a more advanced taster, he describes H-A-R by naming specific flavors like blackberry and black cherry, vanilla, walnut. Sommeliers and beverage managers will find this book useful for staff training, as it provides information for both the novice and experienced taster, including those seeking industry certifications.

Approximately half the book is dedicated to “practice”—for which readers will want to develop a tasting panel of likeminded professionals. Van Casteren suggests 100 wines broken down by variety or region. He presents the wines in alphabetical order, including up to a page of notes and infographics as well as three to five wines that are similar in style. While readers will be best served by investing time in translating this resource into effective tasting sessions, these notes will help streamline the process of selecting wines that will express a desired educational outcome. If, as the title proclaims, “anyone can taste wine,” readers get the most out of it by developing their own detailed and methodic approach to selecting wines as well. Novices can choose from “The G-20” selection, while more advanced tasters likely will combine The G-20 with the 80 “Local Wines” suggested.

As with any useful tasting practice, the CHARACTER model requires a well-maintained tasting note log. Perhaps van Casteren will publish a workbook companion to Anyone Can Taste Wine soon.

Anyone Can Taste Wine (you just need this book), by Cees van Casteren, MW (Open Universe, November 2022; 336 pages)

Karen Goodlad, CSW, is an Associate Professor at New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York where she is the Chairperson of the Department of Hospitality Management.

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