Zraly’s Sixty Second Wine Expert
Kevin Zraly is acknowledged to be one of the best wine educators of our time. His widely popular, “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course” is one of my favorite and often utilized reference books. It is a straightforward and succinct presentation of wine, the major wine regions, the quality producers and the art of wine tasting and pairing.
My absolute favorite part of Zraly’s book is his description of the “60 Second Wine Expert”. He insists that his students spend one minute in silence after they taste a wine. The “60-second wine expert” simply involves recording impressions of the wine at specific intervals during the following minute: 0-15 seconds, 15-30 seconds, 30-45 seconds, and the final 45-60 seconds. It is a process that I have adopted and utilize quite often and you can do it too with your next glass of wine.
In summary, take a sip of wine in your mouth and leave it there for three to five seconds. You can even slosh the wine around a bit in your mouth to help get things well coated. Then, swallow or spit the wine. I recommend spitting if, as I have done, had sit down tastings of more than 40 wines at a time or if you are planning to visit a number of wineries in succession.
Now comes the important part and where you can become the 60 Second Wine Expert. After the swallow or spit, relax and concentrate on the sensations emanating from the wine for the next 60 seconds. Divide up this 60 second interval into Zraly’s four periods as summarized below:
0-15 seconds: This is the initiation and it is the period where sugar/sweetness in the wine will be most noticeable. Acidity is also likely to be at its strongest. Look for the beginning of the fruit sensation of the wine and its balance with the acidity and/or sweetness. Unfortunately, this is also the period of the taste where pumped-up, highly alcoholic red wines can just about blow your head off, as well.
15-30 seconds: Look for an increase in the fruit sensation. By 30 seconds a wine worth its price should achieve a balance of all the components. For white wines – fruit, acid and maybe sweetness are the normal components. For red wines it includes fruit, acid, alcohol and tannins (the dry feeling you often get with a cup of strong tea). By the end of this period, judge the body (weight) of the wine – light, medium or heavy. This will help you decide what kind of food will go well with this wine.
30-45 seconds: In this period, decide if you like the wine or not. However, as you may well know, not all wines need this much time as they may be out of whack right from the start. In my personal version of the 60 second period, this is where I tend to get excited, particularly if the wine is starting to show balance, structure (weight and feel in the mouth) and complexity of fruit qualities.
45-60 seconds: Very often the term “length” to describe how long the pleasant sensations and flavor of the wine continue in the mouth after the taste. Not many wines really hang together well for this long, but some do and they are worthy of your interest. Particularly for big, bold red wines, this is period were important questions can be answered: Is this wine a good wine or a truly great wine? Is it ready to drink, will it benefit from further aging, or is it over the hill?
Well that’s it….The process is simple, but you need to take the time and effort to apply it. Being an expert does not have to be a complicated process, but it does take practice. Try it for yourself. Additionally, I highly recommend that you obtain a copy of the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly. You will find it a valuable addition to your wine library.
For more information on Kevin Zraly and his Windows on the World Wine School, go to: