On taste, good and otherwise

By Carson Lee Walker, Columnist

At a recent wine tasting, I met a Russian fellow by the name of Ezekiel who informed me that he could see wider varieties of the colour blue than I could – your powder-blues to off-teals, whatever have you. This was because his native tongue had more words to describe the many tedious variations of the colour, a colour I had previously believed I held an above-average eye for thanks to my history of shopping for blazers. But this man could see more shades of blue because he had an arsenal of words to describe each varietal. This is relevant because those who know nothing about wine (i.e. everyone) will remark that aside from your basic distinctions between whites and reds, “all wine tastes the same.” Well, all wines taste differently. I know this because much like Ezekiel and his varietals of blue, I know about grape varietals and how each differs. To paraphrase: I can taste things you can’t.

My name is Carson Lee Walker. I have dedicated the better part of my adult life to drinking, and this is your first step towards getting hammered like an adult.

I can taste the differences between wine primarily because I know what each different type is supposed to taste like. It sounds pompous as hell but it’s incredibly easy to learn, which makes it less bourgeoisie in retrospect. Regardless, this column shall be your guide to the various drinks you’ll use to keep your own emotions at bay throughout your quest to adulthood.

The first thing you need to know is how to identify actual varietals, which if you’re confused at this point, just means the different wines. This is simpler when you’re discussing North American over European wines (respectively referred to as New World and Old World, for the pedantic) as North American wineries name their wines after their varietals. European wines, particularly French and Italian ones are named after the region from which the wine was fully produced. Champagnes can only come from the Champagne region and Bordeauxs can only come from Bordeaux. I’ve seen a grown man open-hand slap another for suggesting otherwise.

Here is a quick introduction to some of the more popular grape varietals, in order for you to better understand this beverage that pre-dates the internal combustion engine and contemporary notions of modesty.


Regarded as one of the more popular wines worldwide, this is one of the easiest grapes to grow. Thanks in part to Californian wineries’ love of overdoing it, Chardonnays are divided into oaked and non-oaked. Oaked chardonnays can often be described as buttery, often with flavours such as vanilla and cloves, with a fuller body than the average white. Unoaked will be more fruit-forward, featuring the mango and pineapple flavours with a little less richness in the body – meaning the wine visually resembles water more than cider. When pairing with food, note that the more oaked ones are better suited for poultry and seafood with intense flavours. For more delicate dishes, go with a lesser oaked or completely unoaked chardonnay, but then again you could just go with another wine.

Pinot Gris/Griggio

A white that quite honestly goes well with most foods, expect for beef. They tend to be floral on the nose and taste of melons, apples and pears. A pinot griggio is the same thing, it’s just the Italian name for it. The name difference isn’t much of an issue with New World wines however the Old World style does often result in lighter body and greater acidity, which may give a more “refreshing” and crisp taste to the wine.

Gew├╝rztraminer and Riesling

Two Germanic grapes that are both noted for being off-dry, or in laymen's terms, sweet. Gew├╝rz will often be the lighter of the two and can be described as being brighter (better acidicty), with a lychee aroma. It pairs astonishingly well with turkey, complex Asian cuisines and heavy European cheeses. Riesling tastes like gooseberries and smells like gas when it gets too old.

Sauvignon Blanc

Even a cheap non-New Zealand sauv-blanc can be acidic, floral, fruity, dry and simply enjoyable. More complex ones will contain herbal notes and green pepper aromas, but the more common examples are noted for their citrus fruits such as grapefruit and lemon.

Pinot Blanc

It’s white, it’s neutral and people will often mistake it for chardonnay because idiotic winemakers don’t know what to do with it.


One of the more popular reds, merlot tends to yield a medium-full bodied wine that can range in its flavour and aroma, however, most people note plums and berries as being the more dominant notes. The body of the wine makes it a good wine for beef, lamb and other heavier proteins.

Cabernet Sauvignon

One of the most widely made red wines. Not particularly fruity, the natural complexities and common oak flavour is what makes this wine beloved by people over the age of 30. It’s heavy and tannic (it makes your mouth feel dry) so it’s not an ideal beginner's wine, unless you’re eating it with something or you aren’t afraid of challenging yourself.

Pinot Noir

It’s a light red wine, noted for being light on tannins. It goes well with poultry, mushrooms and cream-based sauces. Other than that, I couldn’t give a fuck about this over-hyped grape-juice.

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