Simply drinking wine is easy and straightforward: open the bottle, pour, and enjoy. For the wine enthusiast, however, truly understanding wine can be a formidable task. Learning to appreciate wine does take a bit of dedication, effort, and training. Similar to appreciating music or any art, the pleasure that you receive is usually equal to the time and energy that you expend. Fine-tuning sensory skills will increase one’s overall understanding, as well as enrich the entire experience.
Americans have never been so passionate about exploring wine as they are now. While there is no magical, right way to learn to taste wine, we whittled down a time-tested guideline to take some of the fear out of tasting and get even a novice headed in the right direction. Take a moment and avoid any distraction, pour a glass and take note of the wine’s appearance, aromas, flavors and finish. Try your approach and follow it. Routine works and everyone is different.
A wine’s depth, clarity, and intensity of color are not only an indication to the specific grape-type, but also may help to define the age of the wine. White wines range in hues (youngest to oldest) from a colorless white to pale yellow and gold, then, to a yellow-brown, while reds may be purple, to deep ruby, to brick red and finally to reddish-brown.
When evaluating a wine, sense of smell reigns. Believe it not, our sense of smell is more acute than the our sense of taste. In order to get a good complement of a wine’s scents, first expose the wine to oxygen by swirling it from the stem or base of the glass. Then, close your eyes and take a good sniff to release the bouquet.
Most of our ability to describe aromas is derived from sensory recollections. We activate our memories, recalling scents from particular experiences. Like the flowers in your garden or the briny smell of an ocean breeze. Don’t hesitate to memorize or make a few notes during the process. It’s best way to discover your own preferences. Some aromas to look for in whites: lemon, grapefruit, pineapple, peach, vanilla and green gras. In reds, look for: strawberry, cherry, plum, mint, black pepper, coffee, smoky oak and chocolate. Yep…chocolate!
When sipping wine, what you believe you are tasting, you are actually smelling. The most important taste sensations are sweetness, sour and bitter. Residual sugar after fermentation is the only sweetness that you taste in wine. Sour or tartness indicates acidity, and bitterness signifies alcohol and tannin, which frequently occurs in wines aged in oak. Take a reasonable sip, roll it around in your mouth, exposing it to your taste buds. To further release flavor, lightly breathe in over it before gently swallowing.
A wine’s finish relates to the sum of all its components. It’s the overall taste and balance of all its workings that linger in your mouth. A wine’s intensity and persistence of flavor reflect its quality, as well. The best wines continue to make an impression for several minutes. Take a few moments and focus on your impressions: Is the aftertaste pleasing? What is the most accented component? Is there a balance with the fruit and acidity? Trust your palate!
A memorable wine displays drinkability, a balance of its key components and usually inspires a second glass. Like art, wine is also subjective, so drink what you like, but continue to taste and discover new wines.
Image Credits: Adam Birnbaum