On Tasting Wine

On Tasting Wine: When drinking wine, as opposed to Pepsi, you should keep two things in mind: Slow down and pay attention. The more attentively you smell and taste wine the more interesting you will find it, and the more you will learn.


On Tasting Wine

On Tasting Wine

You put cream in your coffee, I don’t. You put salt on your eggs, I don’t. I put Tabasco on almost everything, you don’t.  We all have different tastes; it’s just that simple. So lets learn something on Tasting Wine.

If we translate that to wine, you drink oaky Chardonnay while I prefer a steely Sauvignon Blanc.  You drink Beaujolais while I enjoy a hearty Cabernet. We have different tastes. In my earlier days I used to think all wine tasted more or less the same. I liked some better than others, but I could not say why.

When drinking wine, as opposed to Pepsi, you should keep two things in mind: Slow down and pay attention. The more attentively you smell and taste wine the more interesting you will find it, and the more you will learn. There are countless books written on wine-tasting, but I figure you just want the essentials. Here they are:

Looking – We look at a wine’s appearance to see what it can tell us. After pouring wine into a glass we examine its color and clarity. We expect white wine to be crystal clear, which means it has been properly filtered. A cloudy or opaque red wine is not necessarily bad. It may mean it is purposely unfiltered. Unfiltered red wines may reward us with bigger flavors but it also means it will throw some sediment.

Color can tell us about the wine’s age. White wines get darker as they age and finally become “onion skin” in color. Red wines, on the other hand, fade as they age and become “brickish.”

The color can also tell you about grape varieties.  Some white varieties offer rich gold color such as Chardonnay whereas Riesling will usually be much paler. Color will often tell you a lot about how rich the wine will taste.  A very dark opaque red wine is going to be much different from a lighter colored red wine.

But most of all look at the wine simply for pleasure; let it sparkle in the light as you roll the wine around the glass.

Swirling – So what’s the deal with swirling the wine besides giving me a great opportunity to stain my shirt? Okay, I am not sure you are ready for this but swirling wine in your glass releases esters and aldehydes that combine with oxygen and create wine’s bouquet. That is why larger glasses are better for swirling and you should fill the glass only about 1/3.

I’ve been drinking wine for so many years that it is not uncommon to see me swirl my Diet Coke or even my morning cup of Joe. So get a grip on yourself and swirl just your wine.

Smelling – Once you have swirled the wine bring the glass close to your nose and take a nice steady sniff, as if you were smelling a flower. What you smell is aroma and bouquet, called wine’s “nose.” Wine can smell like many different things, some appetizing and some not. The difference between aroma and bouquet is like smelling flowers. If you smell one gardenia what you smell is an aroma.  But imagine a large mixed bunch of flowers including roses, gardenias, sweet peas, geraniums and jasmine – what you now smell is a called bouquet. Bouquet is complicated, interesting and the goal of the winemaker.

Smell is a very powerful sense, and your first impression is very important. That initial sniff may reveal many familiar and unfamiliar smells. You should interpret them in words common to you and your experience.  Write them down or say them out loud. Don’t worry about what other people, or what the experts might smell. It’s your nose doing the smelling, and another nose may smell something different.

Tasting – To most people tasting wine means taking a drink and quickly swallowing. Please don’t. Take a medium sized sip of wine and hold it in your mouth. Purse your lips and draw some air across your tongue and over the wine, being careful not to dribble down your chin. Finally, slosh the wine around your mouth before swallowing it.

The whole idea is to get the wine’s bouquet from your mouth to rise to your nasal cavity which is where much of the real tasting goes on. We all know that when you have a cold nothing tastes good.  That’s because your nose is blocked-up. The tongue’s taste buds merely pick up the basics of sweet, sour, salty, etc. The average person has a repertoire of thousands of smells they can recall and identify.

After you have tasted the wine take a few moments to savor what you swallowed. The persistent lingering after-taste is what wine tasters call the “length” of the finish.

The flavors you experience in your mouth and nose may blast you or they may be very subtle.  Again, you should articulate out loud (or write them down) what you taste and smell. This language of smell and taste will allow you to build a memory bank by which to judge future wines that you taste.

Now, after all that rigmarole, it’s time to decide whether the wine is good or not, and the instrument that measures a wines quality is your palate. We will all have different opinions on how good a wine is, and this is not anarchy.  My definition of a good wine is one that I enjoy and it fits in my budget; and if it’s a real value you may see my eyes sparkle. Just remember, life is too short to drink bad wine.

On Tasting Wine

By David Darugh, Oeno-Spelunker Extraordinaire, and also Chef and Sommelier at Beechwood Inn, Clayton, Georgia. beechwoodinn.ws