The Master of Wine exam is known to be one of the most difficult tests in the world and there are less than 500 people who’ve secured the honor since the program’s inception in 1953. One of those people is Cees van Casteren MW. In 2012, when he earned his Master of Wine (MW) title, he was only the second person in the Netherlands to hit this achievement.
van Casteren has a new English version of his book out this month which takes his framework of expertise and boils it down into a very useful method and reference point for anyone looking to enhance their wine tasting experience. Anyone Can Taste Wine (Carus Books, 2023) is helpful for students of wine, professionals, and anyone who wants to feel more empowered in knowledge and breadth of sense observations.
Many wine enthusiasts, both novice and experienced, sense that there is some mystique behind a sharp palate. But it’s not a mystery — wine tasting is about observation. Observation of what one sees, smells, and tastes, and also observation of reference points in one’s larger experience of the world. For example, when someone says they pick up the flavor of buttered toast in a sip of wine, they are observing the taste in the glass and their memory of buttered toast for breakfast. In order to tie those clues to a particular wine, the taster also has to have either experience or a guide to which wines might express that flavor under certain circumstances.
When someone says, for example, “I think this one is a Côte de Beaune,” it’s typically not just a good guess. This inference relies on the ability to translate a sensory message and a memory message and identify the wine based on these things. van Casteren’s book supplies a method for deductive interpretation, in both beginner and advanced versions, as well as a solid knowledge-based background on wine growing, making, and aging.
Readers will find the G-20 (Wine’s Internationals) and Local Heroes (Around the World in 80 Wines) particularly practical. Here van Casteren takes specific bottle examples and puts them to task with his CHARACTER tasting method — the framework for the tasting technique taught in the book. For example, let’s look at a wine with buttery and toasty notes, which appear in the ‘aromas of winetasting’ metric (the second A in CHARACTER). This factor appears on the page for a wine I’ve enjoyed, Joseph Drouhin Côte de Beaune Blanc from Bourgogne, France. van Casteren lays out the method and experiential notations for this wine as well as background on the region, his tasting notes, serving and storing recommendations, price range, and a list other wines made in a similar style.
Each page of Anyone Can Taste Wine is in full color with very clear language and appealing iconic graphics. It includes the aroma wheel by Dr. Ann Noble and plenty of relevant examples of quality and interesting wine that many people can find in the global market. I find that this book makes a positive wine tasting experience accessible to many while still maintaining a dedicated and scholarly standard for a practice that is by no means easy. van Casteren calls this a book for wine lovers, not wine snobs, which is an apt description of the well-researched and appealing project that evidences the many years of experience behind his well-earned MW title.