What are the rules of wine tasting? “There are no rules,” says Erin Dowsett, our wine festival coordinator and Food and Beverage supervisor who runs Fairmont Hot Spring’s BC Wine Tasting every Thursday in the lobby. As I sit with my glass of crisp cold pinot, a platter of cheeses in front of me and surrounded by other wine enthusiasts, I wonder to myself, is there a proper way to hold my glass, why are we trying whites before reds, what is this “aeration process” about? Luckily every question can be answered by Erin both a wine connoisseur and a lover of wine – from the way it is produced, to the soil the grapes are born into, to the fermentation, to the aeration and most importantly the taste testing. Erin goes on to describe each of the wineries that the four wines we will taste are from and describes the unique power of the Okanagan Valley as a place for wine to prosper as the soil is rich and the temperatures at night drop so that the flavour holds and produces rich, plump grapes.
We try the whites before the reds so that our palate is not overpowered right at the beginning and move from the softer bodied wine to the full bodied wines. Erin explains that it is in the second taste where you can discern the real flavour of the wine and note the profile. If it is a red wine you may start noting fruit – berry, plum, prune or fig, perhaps some spice clove, cinnamon, or maybe a woody flavour like oak, cedar, or a detectable smokiness. While if it is a white wine you may taste apple, pear, tropical or citrus fruits, or the taste may be more floral in nature or consist of honey, butter, herbs or a bit of earthiness. Each of the four wines Erin has chosen for the event today is smooth and unique from on another. Each person in the room seems to have a personal favourite or taste preference and is enjoying both the wine sensations on the tongue and the lively and relaxed conversation that is sparked from each tasting. In between wines we have some cheese to replenish the palate so we can try the next wine and a small debate breaks out about the best way to aerate a wine and why flavours are deepened when one does so. Erin goes on to discuss the best food pairings for each of the wines and passionately brings up her favourite event, the East Kootenay Wine Festival held every year at the Resort on the first weekend of November, where a blind taste testing of BC produced wine is held and a winery is awarded a “People’s Choice” award. She explains that last year one of the small wineries took first place and that bigger is not necessarily better. Erin ends the wine tasting by stating that although there are all kinds of guides and mechanics in the way that wine is both produced and tasted the only real rule to wine tasting is the experience, which is to “have fun, to relax and enjoy.”