On Wine


Teacher's Pets:
How A Wine Judge Picks His Favorites


by Fred McMillin


Several vintages ago Edgar Vogt joined me in teaching our wine classes at the Ft. Mason campus of San Francisco City College. (I'm not too spry, being an 85-years-young veteran of WWII.) I select and write up the wines; Edgar conducts the classes. How is he doing? The last two semesters' courses were SOLD OUT! Since he's frequently selected to be a wine judge, I thought our readers would like to know what he looks for in various types of wines, and some good examples...that is, some TEACHER'S PETS!

Edgar sez:

I look for balance between fruit intensity, oak spices (when present), acidity, tannins and minerals in all wine I drink. But there are certain flavors I look for in each varietal:



Aromas: elegant, intense apple, Asian pear, lemon, baking spices with gentle hints of oak vanillin.

Taste: Intense ripe fruit on entry with good oak and acidity to carry the mid-palate into a complex, smooth finish of fruit, spice and minerals. No malolactic fermentation, minimal new oak.

Example: Chardonnay Reserve, Jarvis Winery, Napa Valley, 2006, $70


Cabernet Sauvignon

Aromas: complex, broad nose of dried herbs, black/red currant, plum, black cherry/berry, cassis and cocoa powder.

Taste: elegant, fresh fruit on entry, full-bodied mid-palate of herbs, spices and earthy intensity carrying fruit into a rich, lush, deep finish complimented by lingering leather and spice.

Example: Cabernet Sauvignon, Grgich-Hills Estate, Napa Valley, 2004, $60



Good Merlot is hard to find, but worth the search. I look for complexity in the nose and palate.

Aromas: black cherry and plum, surrounded by forest floor herbs and spices, cocoa and vanilla from smoky oak notes.

Taste: cherry and plum entry with dried herbs and oak adding depth mid-palate through a complex finish of fruit, cocoa, leather and spice.

Example: Merlot, Hawkes Vineyard, Alexander Valley, 2003, $30


Pinot Noir

There are many enjoyable styles; the flavors derive from the clonal selections and terroir.

Aromas: dark cherry, plum, mushroom, earthy forest floor notes with hints of baking spices on the edge.

Taste: balanced, elegant, silky red and black berry with sweet oak edges on entry, dried meadow herbs, mushroom and minerality and acidity mid-palate seamlessly flowing into a lingering crisp finish of dark fruit and spice.

Example: Pinot Noir, Steele Wines, Santa Barbara County 2005, $35



I prefer cool-climate Syrah, which is dark and brooding. But I love Aussie Shiraz also.

Aromas: wild blackberry, plum, violets, allspice, white/black pepper, oak, raw/cooked meat and minerals.

Taste: dark brooding fruit on entry, deep mid-palate of rich fruit and spices wrapped in dried herbs, into a finish of balanced intense fruit and spice.

Example: Syrah Reserve, Adelaida Cellars, Paso Robles, 2003, $55



I prefer Zin from cooler regions, Mendocino and Russian River Valley, but any old-vine Zin will do.

Aromas: blueberry, wild blackberry, briary, white/black pepper, anise, tar, cinnamon with mineral notes on edge.

Taste: big blue, red and black fruit entry, balanced mineral, spice and linear fruit mid-palate, intense finish of smooth berry, white/black pepper with integrated oak notes.

Example: Zinfandel, Gary Farrell Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley, 2004, $36


Fred McMillin

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He was voted one of the U.S.A's 22 Best wine writers by the Academy of Wine Communications. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.


Copyright © 2008, Fred McMillin. All rights reserved.


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This page created October 2008

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