I love that wine is a living, breathing thing that continues to evolve in the barrel, the bottle even in the glass. William Church Winery has partnered with Certified Sommelier Yashar Shayan to offer a series of Life of Wine classes. I recently attended the second in their series, Life of Wine: Wine 102.


Wine 102 line up at William Church

Yashar started us off with a quick review of wine tasting tips to help the participants appreciate the nuances of the wines that we would be tasting during the session. Yashar covered the sensory aspects of wine tasting, including sight, smell and taste.

  • Sight– Yashar guided participants through the visual clues that wine gives off in terms of age, varietal, sugar and alcohol
  • Smell– Yashar taught an acronym to help participants detect different aspects of wine aromas, FEW-O. I hadn’t heard that one before but I liked watching the lightbulbs  going off over people’s heads as they made the connections.
    • Fruit
    • Earth
    • Wood
    • Other
  • Taste– Yashar did review the classic tongue diagram of taste detection but in his own style using Einstein’s tongue as the map! I also appreciated his inclusion of unami (savory), the taste that  “makes you salivate”. His teaching focused more on the different mouth sensations associated with acid, tannins and alcohol.

Participants practiced utilizing their new knowledge while tasting the William Church Winery’s 2007 Bishop’s Blend and the 2007 2 Spires Syrah Cabernet blend. Both Yashar and Leslie Balsley shared how the varietals in these blends contributed to the different aspect of the wines. Syrah is used to add color and body to a wine. Even as little as 5% Syrah can make a big difference in the finished wine.

Bottle shock

Bottle shock is more than just a movie. It is what happens to the wine when it wakes up cranky from its long nap in barrel or tank. It complains a bit when it has to endure fining, filtering and bottling.

Yashar explained the role of proteins in wine and the pros and cons of fining to remove some of those proteins. In addition, he explained about the role of S02 in wine preservation and the controversies surrounding sulfite reactions. Did you know that many foods, particularly dried fruits contain many times the amount of sulfites in most wines?

Whereas it might take me an hour or two to wake up after a rude awakening, it can take a wine up to four months to fully recover from the bottling process. Typically bottle shock will resolve in two to four weeks. Yashar explained that bottle shock is like working out your muscles at the gym. It breaks things down then esters are restored with time. A bottle shocked wine can taste flat and lifeless but the aromas and flavors return as the esters are restored. Wines that have been shipped or other wise juggled and jostled around can also endure brief episodes of bottle shock.


This course in the series culminated in a discussion of the Syrah/Shiraz grape varietal. Yashar talked about the characteristics of this grape and how that translated into the sensory elements of the wine. He also discussed the distinctions between Northern Rhone, Southern Rhone and Washington Syrahs.

The next class in the Life of Wine series is on March 21, 2010 and will focus on Malbec. Two sections are offered, one at noon and one at 2pm. Call William Church Winery for details (425) 427-0764.


Yashar and Leslie talking to participants after class