People tend to think that analytical wine tasting while studying for certification exams can get boring or tedious, but it really isn’t. During the tasting process you learn to hook certain flavors, smells, and characteristics to certain wines. You quickly learn how to identify an unknown wine by its character traits, sometimes just as quickly as someone telling you what the wine is.

AlbarinoWhen the wine does not have the characteristics that you have come to expect from that varietal then there truly is a Great Disturbance in the Force. That happened with a couple of different Pinot Noirs in 2015. My friends and I have called me a heat seeking missile when it comes to Pinot Noir. When I taste Pinot that I can’t even figure out what it is, then there’s either something wrong with my brain or there is something wrong with the Pinot. Whether or not there’s something wrong with my brain is a constant point of contention among my friends, but even they agree that I’m rarely wrong when it comes to the Pinot. These two Pinots were from the Central Coast region, and I was amazed at how horrible (for Pinot) they were. Unusual tasting wines, but definitely not Pinots that displayed typicity.

I’ve talked about typicity before and how much it’s emphasized by the Master Sommeliers who conduct training and examinations for the various levels of Sommelier. We are constantly encouraged to taste wines that taste the way they’re supposed to taste, not those that either aren’t from a classic region – and therefore lack the classic traits – or wines that are the result of an experimenting winemaker’s attempt to do something “different” with the grape.  That does not mean that you shouldn’t try those wines, but they won’t be in the glasses that will be in front of you when you’re taking the exams.

Glass of Albarino
Glass of Albarino

The great part is that the Masters encourage you to be frugal (not cheap) when you purchase the wines to taste.  Once upon a time $20 to $30 for a bottle of wine was a lot of money. Nowadays, it signals a good midrange wine that will – given that it’s from a classic region and classically made – will teach you about the typicity of that particular grape. There’s no need, they insist, to spend a lot of money on a bottle of wine.  At the same time, don’t think that stockpiling cheap wines from the grocery store sale bin will advance your wine knowledge in a positive way.

Of course there are the occasional exceptions.

I recently went to Trader Joe’s at Washington and Buffalo to enjoy the Friday evening tasting.  Yes, it’s a real tasting with dump bucket and snacks. He poured an Albariño and when I nosed it, I was blown away.

One of the hooks in the nose of a good Albariño is beach. I’m talking about the surf, sand, seagulls, and cool ocean air. The wine was clear, bright, very lightweight, and pretty.  When I sipped it, it displayed good, mouthwatering acidity and the classic white fruits, touches of citrus, and brine notes that are so characteristic of the varietal.  I detected a bit of salinity – almost brininess without being salty – on the front end and on the finish. This screamed Rias Baixas.

“Wow,” I said, “this is Albariño and a good one.”  Tony nodded in agreement.

“How much is this?”



Albarino7I have tasted Albariños that I’ve struggled to figure out what they were – they were suffering from the cheap Pinot Grigio syndrome.  That’s when the wine tastes like lightly acidulated water, but bears no resemblance to actual wine. What’s more, these wines cost the requisite $20 or more, yet did not live up to what this inexpensive wine did.

There are certain wines that I taste that instantly bring the food that they should be paired with into my mind.  In this case, I could see in my mind’s eye having this wine with a plate of briny oysters or lightly seasoned Mahi Mahi. It reminded me of a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s classic memoir, A Moveable Feast:

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

I bought two bottles.

2013 Portico Da Ria Albarino

While I didn’t enjoy this marvelous little wine with oysters, I did enjoy it while relaxing late Christmas Eve and watching TV.

Albariño pairs pretty well with Alastair Sim’s Scrooge. Especially the Ghost of Christmas Past. Who knew.

2013 Portico da Ria
Albaniño, Rias Baixas
$7.99 at Trader Joe’s


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