Wine Evaluation. Yep, Wine Evaluation.

I had the awesome opportunity to host our local wine guru – Terry Stingley – at The Evaluation Center this week. He spoke to us about how to evaluate wine. We, of course, were thinking strictly about how to apply these notions to program evaluation. I learned so much about wine!

Terry said there are four things one does when tasting wine, called the Deductive Tasting Method:

1. Look at it. Tilt it to the side. If it clings to the side of the glass (or, in our case, styrofoam cups – sorry, Terry) and appears thick, it has a higher alcohol content. Also look at color. For reds, lighter means older. For whites, darker means older. In reds one also wants to look for the color change in the wine between the middle of the glass and the rim – lots of variation in color means it is older. Ready to taste? Me, too, but not yet.

2. Smell it. The wine will reflect what was grown in the region. Wines made in Europe will have traces of earthiness or wood to them. Fruits should be present in all wines. But to detect this, you have to swirl the wine and really stick your nose way down in the glass.

3. Okay, now you can taste it. The same and new fruits, earths, and woods should emerge. I swear I tasted leather in one glass we sampled. Olfactory in full effect here.

4.  Evaluate it. The true test comes in step four, where the taster simply determines how well the essences deduced in the first three steps are balanced. Imbalance is referred to as angularity. You’ve had that too sweet wine – it’s actually angular. One wine we tasted was too acidic and Terry said it could be in better balance if we had let it breathe at least an hour (he even suggested letting it breathe for a full day).

And while this seems to be derived from pure subjective opinion – little e evaluation – trained wine tasters reportedly have a 95-99% reliability when basing their judgement on the first three indicators. If only we could find the same level of consistency in determining program effectiveness, where the characteristics also change on an annual basis.

Terry is my new favorite person and I’m following him on Twitter. He works as The Wine Guru for Harding’s Marketplace, a local family-owned grocery chain, where he has revolutionized the placement of Michigan wine. He’ll be working there until I replace him.