How to Say “I Don’t Like It”

One of Power Tasting’s founding principles is to help readers avoid being intimidated when they go wine tasting.  Most servers in most wineries try to be friendly and conversational, so they shouldn’t intimidate anyone.  Still many tasters, especially inexperienced ones, find it very difficult to express their opinions when they find a wine they are tasting to be not to their tastes.

Simply put, they don’t feel comfortable telling a server that they don’t care for a particular wine they have just been served.  We’ve been raised to say, “please” and “thank you” and to avoid saying anything negative when someone is being kind to you.  So in an effort to be kind, some people wind up unnecessarily swallowing beverages they don’t like.

Photo courtesy of Food and Wine.

Here are some tips for expressing yourselves firmly but politely.

  • Say nothing. Another of the maxims we’ve been brought up with is, “If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing”.  This is the easiest and least confrontational way of indicating you don’t like a wine.  That’s what the pour bucket is there for, after all.  That leaves you with an empty glass in front of you and lets the server know that you’re ready to move on.
  • There are a lot of terms that aren’t “no” but are recognized as, at best, faint praise.  “Oh, that’s an interesting wine” is one way to say it.  “Unusual”, “different” and even “trendy” can serve the purpose.  For the most part, servers won’t ask you why you feel that way, but if they do, you can always say, “Well, based on my experience…”.  Nobody can argue with that, even if you have next to no experience.
  • Be comparative, not absolute. You don’t need to be negative.  You can simply say, “I liked the other one better”.  And that may actually be the case.  If a particular winery has several Pinot Noirs, for example, you can ask the server to line several of the tastes up side-by-side.  That way you can talk about your favorite and avoid mentioning the one you couldn’t stand.  (Of course, this doesn’t work if you didn’t like any of them.)
  • Devise a code. Assuming you’re traveling with a companion, you can figure out some code words that express displeasure.  For example, “That wine has a hint of cinnamon”, which isn’t a frequently encountered taste.  You’ll both know that that word really means “Ugh”.  Of course, if you do taste cinnamon, you’re stuck in discussing it.
  • Think about why you don’t like it. Saying that a wine is more acid than you like, or too tannic, or too green isn’t saying the wine is bad.  It can also help the server point you towards a wine that is more to your taste.  Maybe there was a different blend of grapes in the 2018 than the 2019 and you’ll have the chance to compare and find you actually like one more than the other.

Or you can just ‘fess up and say, “Sorry, it’s not for me.”


Tasting Sauvignon Blanc

A few issues back we discussed  Pinot Noir Tasting.  That was supposed to be a one-off, because that grape is so ubiquitous and yet so different as you traverse Wine Country.  Then we thought about Syrah.  So we at Power Tasting decided to make a new series, investigating wine tasting from the perspective of different varietals.

We have often experienced tastes of Sauvignon Blanc as the first offering on any given California winery’s tasting list for the day.  To be honest, it’s not our favorite, but what are we supposed to do when a nice server just puts a glass of it in our hands as we walk into the tasting room?  For the most part, California winemakers tend to favor very fruity Sauvignon Blancs. Maybe too much so, in our opinion, so we tend to dismiss wines made from those grapes.

Sauvignon Blanc grapes.  Photo courtesy of the Wine Institute.

Now, it’s not that we never buy or enjoy California Sauvignon Blancs.  We enjoy Dry Creek Vineyard’s version on hot summer days and Robert Mondavi’s all year long (except they call it Fumé Blanc).  If that were all there were to it, we’d consider these wines pleasant pastimes, but nothing to take seriously.

Our mistake.

Sauvignon Blanc has such a different character in France (or really, multiple characters) that it’s hard to recognize French wines made from that grape as being related to their California cousins.  Let’s start in the Loire valley, where Sancerre is as austere (almost to the point of sourness) as California Sauvignon is fruit-forward (almost to the point of sweetness).  For many people, Sancerre is the wine of choice to match the brininess of raw oysters, totally unlike any California Sauvignon Blancs.

The French do make things confusing, though.  Another widely popular Loire wine is Vouvray, but it’s made from Chenin Blanc.  And then there’s Pouilly Fumé from the Loire, which is Sauvignon Blanc and Pouilly Fuissé from Burgundy, which isn’t.   (It’s Chardonnay.)

In Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is one of the two primary grapes in Sauternes.  (The other is Semillon.)  In this case, the wines aren’t almost sweet; they’re very decidedly honeyed.

Shriveled grapes to be made into Sauternes wine.  Photo courtesy of Winetraveler.

There’s nothing quite like wine tasting in the Sauternes region, which also includes the village of Barsac.  It’s a day spent drinking dessert.  The grapes aren’t as pretty; they’re all shriveled by the botrytis fungus that concentrates the sugars and adds an indescribable sensation to the taste of the wine.  But the castles and the grand châteaux are wonderful and the food is delicious.

In Italy, they make wine from Sauvignon Blanc all over the country, especially in the northeastern part, but they just call the grape Sauvignon.  Frankly, they’re not the white wines that Italy is famous for.

They are famous for Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand, where we’ve visited but not had the chance to go wine tasting.  The Kiwi white wines are also very (maybe two very’s) fruit forward, the fruits in question often being citrus and pineapple.  These wines are not to everyone’s taste, but they certainly put New Zealand on the map of Wine Country, so that’s something to be proud of.

A little fruity, a lot fruity, maybe sour, definitely sweet.  That’s some grape, Sauvignon Blanc!


Château Fonplégade

As we have written previously, wine tasting in Bordeaux seems more than a little formal and stuffy for those of us used to visiting wineries in the U.S.  In that region of Wine Country, Saint-Émilion offers visitors the most relaxed experience.  The town itself is lively and welcoming and there are many wineries to visit without an appointment.  Nonetheless, if you want to try the wines of the top châteaux, you’ll need an appointment.

Photo courtesy of

One we have enjoyed is Château Fonplégade (  Its wines are grand cru classé.  That classé is important.  Any Saint-Émilion vineyard can call itself grand cru, but the classé must be awarded by the local wine authorities.  [The top top wines of Saint-Émilion are called premier grand cru classé.]  Of course, for a visitor, the only important thing is to taste good wine, and we have had that experience at Château Fonplégade.

Interestingly, it is owned and operated by American wine makers, Denise and Stephen Adams.  They also make ADAMVS, on Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain.  It seems that Denise is the one most actively involved at Château Fonplégade.  The couple haven’t Napafied Château Fonplégade but they have raised the quality of the wine enough to obtain the cherished classé.

Unlike what we generally find in California, the French vineyard makes only two wines: the namesake Château Fonplégade and a lesser second label, Fleur de Fonplégade.  (The couple also own the Château l’Enclos in Pomerol.)  And of course being from Saint-Émilion, the wines are a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  Another aspect that distinguishes Château Fonplégade is that their wines are made biodynamically, a trend becoming quite common in France (and in California too, for that matter.)

The cellars at Château Fonplégade.  Photo courtesy of The Wine Cellar Insider.

Bordeaux rules require that all the grapes of any vineyard must come from the contiguous estate surrounding the château. Therefore, the château itself is surrounded by vines, which seem to extend forever.  Some châteaux may be no more that humble farmhouses, but in Fonplégade’s case the building is an elegant 19th century structure, intended to project the wealth and taste of its owners.  That has always been the case, but the previous owners had let it run down a bit.  The Adams’ invested in upgrading not only the château wine making facilities and the cellars.

Also under the previous regime, Fonplégade welcomed tour groups.  That is no longer the case.  You must have an appointment and the visits are, in the winery’s term, intimate.  That shouldn’t scare away American visitors.  We have met Denise Adams and she is a very easy-to-talk-to person.  The team at Fonplégade takes on that personality.

As to the word: Fonplégade means “fountain of plenty”.  There is a 13th century fountain on the property that inspired the name.  It is still in use to moisten the vineyard in dry years.


Château de Chenonceau

There are many wonderful reasons to visit the Loire valley.  It’s close enough to Paris that you can make a day trip of a visit there.  For us wine enthusiasts, there’s Vouvray, Chinon, Sancerre and Muscadet to occupy our tasting hours.  Those wines go well with the Touraine cuisine (named after the central town of Tours).  And there’s the history, so much of it, best exemplified by the castles that line the river Loire and other streams nearby.

Photo courtesy of YouTube.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, French monarchs and nobles preferred to avoid the hoi polloi of Paris and so built magnificent châteaux from which they could both rule and enjoy themselves.  There are many to visit, including Chambord, Blois and Amboise.  If you only have the time to visit one, we recommend that it be the Château de Chenonceau.

You enter the grounds down a long allée of plane trees until, seeming suddenly, a fairy castle appears before you.  That’s the entrance to the château, where you can and should sign up for a tour, available in many languages including English.  A guide will show you around the rooms, point out some interesting information about the gardens and explain the history of Chenonceau.

The château that’s there today wasn’t the original.  That one was burned down and replaced by a nobleman in generally the form we see the front of it today in the early 16th century.  King Francois I seized it a few decades later.  His son, Henri II, set it aside as a love nest for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.  This didn’t much please his wife, Catherine de Medici, so she kicked out Diane and expanded the château to cross the river Cher.  [As you tour Chenonceau, you can see two gardens out the windows.  One was Diane’s, the other one Catherine’s.  The mistress got the better of the gardening competition.]

Because the château spans the river, it was used by Jews and other refugees from German-occupied France during the Second World War.  The Cher was the dividing line between the Nazis and Vichy France to the south.  Escapees would enter the front of the château and sneak out the back.

Photo courtesy of The Local France.

Perhaps the most unique and certainly the most romantic aspect of a visit to Chenonceau is to rent a little boat and row along the Cher, under the château.  There’s no other castle in all of Europe where you can do that!

The architecture of Chenonceau combines Gothic and Renaissance elements, so viewing it is another way you can experience history there.  Most of the rooms in the château are decorated so you can give yourself a sense of how royalty treated itself in the early Renaissance.  As Mel Brooks put it, it was good to be the king.  Now, of course, Chenonceau is a historic monument.  Wars and revolutions have not dimmed the elegance and attraction of this great castle.  Other than Versailles, it’s the most visited château in France.  When you are in the Loire valley for wine tasting, leave yourself some time for castling, too, especially at Chenonceau.