The first wine tasting I ever attended was at the Irish Pub where I worked in college, which specialized in imported beer & amazing Irish whiskeys. You can imagine how it went. Let’s just say that this was the first time I heard “cat piss” and “garden hose” as descriptions for flavor profiles, and my coworkers decided it would be cool to drink the dump bucket when the wine rep concluded his spiels.
I apologize. I did not start with this story to make you all gag, but I wanted you to have a little info on my background so that you could understand my dilemma when I started tasting and learning Blue Plate’s wine list. You see, Blue Plate’s owner Elli Roustom is a very learned wine woman. She strongly believes that her staff should know the flavor profiles of her entire wine list and be able to recommend wine to guests without any B.S. (she knows good wine folks see right through the bullshit anyway 😉 ).
So, when we started our bi-weekly wine tastings leading up to the holiday season, I pretty much needed to learn it all. I don’t mean our wine list. I mean wine.
I hope that some of you are snickering behind your plump Cabernet glasses, wondering how a 28-year-old woman could know so little about this illustrious drink, because I DID ask a lot of, ahem, dumb questions during these tastings. Luckily, Elli & our wonderful wine reps were happy to answer these questions, and so today, I’m happy to share a bit of beginner knowledge about HOW TO PROPERLY TASTE WINE.
The first step to a proper tasting of wine is a simple examination (with your eyeballs alone). After filling your glass to just above its curvature (NEVER fill a glass to the top as the wine needs room to breathe!), lift & tilt the glass to a 45 degree angle.
Determine the wine’s:
- LIMPIDITY: Are there particles floating in the wine?
- COLOR TONALITY: Is it straw colored or more golden? More ruby than rust?
- HUES: Does the edge of the liquid have a gradient?
- LIVELINESS: Is the wine bright or dull?
Next, swirl the wine in your glass to discover its consistency. If it flows smoothly & freely, it has less alcohol and structure. If it is more dense & viscous, the wine will be of higher alcohol & complexity. When you stop swirling, you may see transparent glycerine “legs” running down the side of the glass. More legs generally means more alcohol, and vice versa.
Now, we use our noses. Smelling wine is very important (and very interesting!) because scent is dependent on your own experiences. Basically, everyone smells things differently, and you will often find various scent comparisons being thrown about by different people during a group tasting.
When smelling a wine, stick one nostril on the rim of your glass (because you can’t smell with both at the same time, I’m told… I can’t make this shit up!) and sniff swiftly & purposefully.
Be aware of the wine’s:
- OVERALL INTENSITY: How intensely does the odor hit your nostril?
- COMPLEXITY: What is the extent of the scents in the glass?
- FINESSE: Are the smells clear & elegant?
- SPECIFIC ODORS: Can certain smells be identified, such as fruity, floral, spicy, etc?
Be sure to smell your wine when it has been sitting still and after you swirl it (and with both nostrils, but one at a time! 😉 ) because the swirling can cause more aromas to be released.
Okay, cool…but can we taste it yet? Yes, young grasshopper, now you are ready. Take a sip. (Some people “chew” their wine. That may be covered in the intermediate course?)
The first thing you need to observe is the wine’s softness:
- SUGAR: Is the wine dry or sweet (or excessively sweet)?
- ALCOHOL: Is the wine light or alcoholic?
- SOFTNESS: Is the wine sharp or velvety?
The next thing you think about is its hardness:
- ACIDS: Does the wine taste flat or fresh?
- TANNINS: This feeling can be hard to pin down. Basically, after you swallow, does your tongue feel dry (more tannins) or not (less tannins)?
- MINERALS: Is the wine tasteless, tasty or salty?
After these assessments, you can go on to determine its:
- STRUCTURE: (also referred to as depth or body) How do all these previous assessments fit together?
- BALANCE: How do the wine’s softness and hardness complement (or combat) each other?
- INTENSITY: How smack-you-in-the-tongue is the taste of the wine?
- PERSISTENCE: Does the taste linger on your tongue?
- QUALITY: How good (or bad) is it?
- MATURITY: Did you open the bottle too soon, too late, or just at the right time? (cue Goldilocks joke)
And finally, Your Opinion
So… Did you like it?
That’s really all that matters in the end. Everyone’s taste buds (like our nostrils) are different, and it really comes down to this simple truth. However, knowing how to properly taste wine can make you appreciate and enjoy the event more.
Keep an eye out for more blog posts with wine wisdom to come, and have a happy Monday! 🙂