“One not only drinks wine, one smells it, observes it, tastes it, sips it and – one talks about it.” – Edward VII (1841-1910)
To some, tasting means taking a sip and swallowing immediately.
That isn’t tasting. To really understand wine, learn to taste deliberately. Wine is a playground for all 5 of our senses, our memory and our minds. Our enjoyment & understanding of wine improves dramatically if we observe, smell, taste, feel, analyze and remember more carefully. So what does it mean to taste like a pro?
Do wine experts have better taste buds? No. All of us have the right equipment to taste wine in a meaningful way. What makes wine tasting experts “expert” is that they always pay attention and they have learned to describe their experience. This type of sensory focus takes time to develop but the best way to develop this skill is to practice every time you drink wine. So here are the five steps to enrich your wine drinking experience.
Color, Swirl, Smell, Taste, Savor
1. Examine the Color: Hold the wine down (not up in air) at a 45 degree angle against a white background. Different grape varieties have different hues. A white can go from dull to star bright. A wine with higher acidity will be brighter – think Sauvignon Blanc. A white with less acidity will have a duller color – think Semillon or some Chardonnays. Although a red wine, a Pinot Noir will be much lighter than a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. That is the characteristic of the grape. To an experienced taster the color in the wine can give the first clue as to which varietal is in the glass. Color can also give an indication to the age of the wine. Whites and reds behave inversely: white wines get darker as they age whereas red wines get lighter as they get older.
2. Swirl the wine: Is all that swirling really necessary? Absolutely! Why do we swirl? Swirling oxygenates the wine and releases the wine’s bouquet. Swirling can also help you determine the weight of the wine. Look for tears or legs to form inside the glass. The more pronounced the legs = more alcohol in the wine. Alcohol = Body. A little tip on swirling: if you are a novice swirler and fear wine sloshing out of the glass onto your blouse, tie or neighbor, place the glass on the table and, while holding the stem, make little circles. It is effective and it looks cool. Swirling is teaching you about the wine and preparing you to…
3. Smell the wine: Most people do no spend nearly enough time on this aspect of tasting. Of all of our senses that factor into the enjoyment of wine, none does so more pleasurably than olfaction – our sense of smell. Smell evokes emotion & memory. Smell of a cologne or perfume may bring a certain someone to mind. The smell of a roast in the oven evokes memories of Sunday dinners at Mom’s; Elephant Ears – the Fair; freshly cut grass – summertime. So swirl the wine and stick your nose deep in the glass and take a big sniff! Then swirl again and sniff again. Try to identify the aromas you are experiencing. Tropical fruit? Eucylyptus? Green apples? Vanilla? Chocolate? Cigar Box? New box of band aids? Whatever it is, try to identify it. Now it is time to taste.
4. Taste the wine: To many, tasting wine means taking a sip and swallowing. WINE IS NOT AN ALCOHOL DELIVERY SYSTEM! Tasting is something we do with our taste buds and the average person has between 5 and 10,000 of them – all over your mouth, both sides of your tongue, extending down your throat. Many people take a gulp and bypass all those important taste buds. Let the wine warm in your mouth for a few seconds. As the wine warms up, more of the bouquet and aroma are traveling up through the nasal passage then on to the olfactory bulb, and then to the limbic system of the brain. Remember, 90 percent of taste is smell! Is what you taste sweet? Sour? Bitter? Earthy? Many Rieslings, but not all, are sweet because the winemaker may allow some residual sugar in the wine to bring out the grape’s flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is often described as citrus fruit; Un-oaked Chardonnay like Granny Smith apples; Cabernet Sauvignon can be bitter and astringent when young and Pinot Noir is often decribed as earthy, mushroom, wet forest floor.
Just like humans, each grape has its own personality. Take the time to get to know the various varietals and their distinct characteristics. Enjoy them for what they are, even if they are not your favorite. Taste deliberately and always keep.
About the Author: Lisa Poole, Certified Specialist of Wine through the Society of Wine Educators an d Owner of The Vine Intervention, lives in Cartersville, Georgia. She conducts wine tasting seminars, both private and corporate, in the metro Atlanta and North Georgia areas. You can visit her website at www.thevineintervention.net or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-689-2549.