The things I learned at (wine) boot camp



I did not do push-ups.

I did not clean latrines.

Nobody called me "Maggot." (At least, not to my face.)

Yet I did complete boot camp.

Well, the Broadmoor's second annual Sommelier Bootcamp, to be clear.

Think: less whine, more wine. Education without so much effort. More sniffing than heavy breathing.

Sommelier Boot Camp Broadmoor
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Drink through your nose first. Smell accounts for 90 percent of what one perceives in a wine. "We actually smell flavors," reads a note on our boot camp manual.

Basically, it's a weekend jammed with six relaxed, 101-level classes, two special meals and more than 30 individual wine samples. (None of them skimpy pours — a lot of good wine was lost to the bucket thanks to this guy. Sorry grape gods.)

My goal is to pen a short series of blogs this week to share experiences from the thorough grape smack-down, beginning with this one, in which my aim is to share some broad tips and principles that might inform your next liquor-store purchase for a meal pairing.

The most direct way to do this is simply by posting a cheat sheet supplied to us by the Penrose Room's sommelier staff.

Here's a PDF version you can print out:

Beyond that, I'm simply going to do a "note-dump" of sorts, trying not to steal too much of the Broadmoor's thunder. (In case you should care to attend next year's boot camp, there's price info at the bottom of this story.) Instead, I hope to share some of the key concepts to know and other worthwhile comments made throughout the weekend.

During our "Language of a Sommelier" session, we first talked about primary, secondary and tertiary aromas in wine.

The term "bouquet" refers to the multitude of aromas one perceives all at once when smelling wine.

Broken apart, the primary aromas refer to the smells generated by the grape variety in its environment. You'll often hear the term "terroir" to refer to what the land imparts on the grape.

Sommelier Boot Camp Broadmoor
  • Matthew Schniper
  • During a game where we spun the Aroma Wheel of Fortune, boot camp attendees blind sampled from this sweet and stink-chest of laboratory prepared samples. Strawberry? Bring it on. Mercaptan? Get that sh_t away from me!

Primary aromas include earth, stones like limestone, and fruit notes.

Secondary aromas enter the picture via the winemaking process. So anything related to barrel-aging, most commonly in French or new American oak, speaks to a secondary aroma.

Also most wine flaws will show up in this aroma category, including Brettanomyces (a good component in craft beer, when properly controlled, and also acceptable in very small doses in wine) and Trichloroanisole.

Tertiary aromas develop as a wine ages, sometimes becoming quite pronounced over a long period of time. Examples include the olfactory detection of leather, cigars, mushrooms and earth.

Quick fun-fact: Southern Wine & Spirits of Colorado executive director Jay Fletcher says there are more master sommeliers in Colorado (Aspen in particular) than anywhere else in the world.

As for how smart wine guys like him are able to blind-taste a wine and pick out the grape varietal, growing region and often an exact vintage, he says it's no parlor trick.

"It isn't rocket science," he says. "It's a game of logic. And I know the rules better than you."

Sommeliers will first look at color. Whites grow darker with age, for example, and sulfered wines will look shiny. Color can indicate if a wine has seen oak or not, or if it's been blended with its skin.

Variation around the rim of the wine can indicate whether it is a thin-skinned grape or not, as well.

Next, they'll "read" the alcohol by a couple methods: You're probably familiar with checking the "legs" of a wine, in which you run the liquid high up in the glass then steady it level again, watching how quickly the syrupy film runs back down.

Sommelier Boot Camp Broadmoor
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Southern Wine & Spirits of Colorado rep Jay Fletcher rules the powerpoint presentation here, as boot camp guests sample through six Italian wines in one seminar.

The longer it hangs, the higher alcohol percentage it is. The quicker it runs indicates lower alcohol.

Then, a deep nasal inhale into the chest will tell you how strong the alcohol is: The more your eyes feel like they want to water or you are tempted to cough, the higher the alcohol, obviously.

This test alone will weed out an Old World wine from a New World. Most oldies range between 10.5 percent and 13 percent, says Fletcher, while many new worlds hang between 12 and 17 percent. ("Good date wine," he jokes.)

"We are homicide detectives trying to convict someone on circumstantial evidence," he adds.

Rounding out that evidence is, of course, the aforementioned trio of wine aroma categories.

That's a lot more info, but a quick example: If you detect banana or mango, you're likely dealing with a wine from a hot climate. If you detect a bloodiness, it's high-iron soil. (To really study up and become a real sommelier, you'd be memorizing all the environmental qualities of particular growing regions.)

The types of flower you detect can indicate seasonality and geography as well.

With the actual drinking portion of a tasting session, one would check sweetness versus dryness, the acidity and how tannic a wine is. Running it up over your top teeth into your gums quickly indicates a tannin level — you'll quickly know just how drying the wine can be.

Sommelier Boot Camp Broadmoor
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The view from our Broadmoor West boardroom/classroom. Canadian geese wandered by, the wind drove wakes across the pond, and we drank wine.

All sounds pretty fun and educational, right? But we are at our city's five-star destination, so you're probably now wondering how much this boozy boot camp will set you back, should you wish to attend Year No. 3.

Well, the bad news for à la carte lovers is that only the final dinner at the Summit this year was open to non-boot-campers, at a cost of $95 per person.

Otherwise, the weekend is designed to attract guests to stay on property. Lodging packages this year ranged from $330 to $720 per person, which included classes and most meals. (Big disclaimer: I did not lodge, and only participated in the classes and special pairing dinners on a media comp pass.)

For all the details, check out this boot camp breakdown:

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