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Wine 101

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Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting


So there you are at a fine restaurant with many of your friends and the sommelier (pronounced suh-mal-'yAy, or wine steward, a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, commonly working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all facets of wine service. The role is more specialized and informed than that of a wine waiter) brings you a bottle of wine for you to try. So he pours a small amount in a fancy stemmed wine glass and hands it to you. He might also give you the cork or place it on the table. Your objective is to ensure that the wine is not spoiled. I have seen some people reject the wine because they made a bad choice, but that’s another story.


You have watched many sophisticated movies where the leading man picks up the glass by the stem and swirls the wine perfectly so that it rises to just below the lip of the glass and held just under his nose so he can detect the aromatic perfume that escapes from the glass. So now you try it and you swirl too hard or don’t move your hand in that rotating fashion and proceed to spill wine on your shirt. Not to worry that you tried to act sophisticated, but wound up looking like a buffoon. It takes a lot of practice to get this right. Try to keep the glass on the table and swirl. That way, if you spill the wine, it will only go on the table cloth. Then you can smell the wine to determine its “nose”. Then you taste the wine and in usual fashion, tell the sommelier that it is fine. Of course, the only thing you actually know is that it doesn’t taste like vinegar. You really have no clue.


So what’s this wine tasting all about anyway

So what’s this wine tasting all about anyway. The sommelier or waiter will pour a small amount of wine in a glass and give it to someone at the table – lets say it’s you. This is to check to see that the wine is the correct temperature, but mostly that the wine is not faulty such as air leaked into the cork and turned it to vinegar. Remember you think that your mouth can distinguish sweet, sour, salt and bitter. In actuality, you taste complex flavors with your nose.  So after your approval of that small amount, your waiter should pour a glass of wine only about ¼ full. Being a wine connoisseur, or at least trying to look like one, first check that the wine is clear. You shouldn’t see any cloudiness or fuzziness. Now look straight down into the wine to see how intense the color is. Young wines are deep red or from thick skinned grapes. Red wine will become paler as it ages.  White wines get a deeper color as they age. Now you tilt your glass 45° and look at it. Notice the color at the rim and in the middle. Wine turns brown with age and it starts at the rim. The glossier the color and the more subtly shaded the color variations, the better the wine.


Now let’s smell the wine

Now let’s smell the wine. First stick your nose into the glass and take a deep whiff. Now swirl the wine – use the table if you need to and stick your nose back in and take another whiff. A strong impression suggests intense aroma and bouquet. Remember the terroir discussion in the winemaking section. We said that the grapes pick up flavors from all around. Try to identify the smell. Do you smell oak, or berries, or floral, or citrus. Go beyond that if you can to identify what berry or flower for example. The aroma is a unique indicator of the wine’s quality and its characteristics. This smelling of the wine is known in wine circles as the “nose” of the wine.


You’re looking like an expert now. Even the waiter is impressed. Now take a small sip and roll it around your tongue. Then take in a small amount of air through your mouth. Try not to dribble out any wine. This allows the wine to interact with air, called swirling and will more fully identify the taste. Now think about that taste. Is it berries, oak, etc. The tip of your tongue will identify sweetness, the upper edges for acidity and the back of the tongue for bitterness or high in tannins. Does it burn at the top of the throat when you swallow indicating excessive alcohol?  How long does it last on your palette? Was it light-bodied like water or full-bodied like cream? What about the aftertaste, also known as the “finish”. This is the final summation of all the characteristics after swallowing the wine. And finally, did YOU like it. This is known as the “mouth” of the wine. Remember that specific wine characteristics will appeal to people differently from a preference perspective. Try to think of that terroir and identify the characteristics. Close your eyes if necessary for your full concentration. Now enjoy the remainder of the bottle.