Once you get past the youthful desire of what I like to call “the buzz effect” of alcohol, there is so much you can enjoy about your alcohol, and in this case specifically, the wine. Wine is a beautiful thing and brings with it all sorts of fantastic experiences. A great wine might be sweet or dry or citrus-y. You might appreciate it’s crispness or its dark spiced flavors.
Maybe you’re just entering the world of wine with the help of a wine club. If this is the case, there are some basics to know about wine tasting that will take drinking past the “buzz” state and even past the “refined-snobbery” state. Once you understand the basics of drinking wine, your drink will carry with it a full sensory experience.
Before you begin your wine experience, though, we need to discuss bottle opening and pouring.
- When you open your bottle, you should remove the metal casing that covers the upper portion of the bottle neck–at the very least, remove it completely below the lip of the bottle. The metal taste can get carried into your glass when pouring and will affect the taste of your selected beverage.
- Never puncture the cork all the way through when you insert the corkscrew. You’ll risk pieces falling off into your bottle and will lessen the protectiveness of the seal.
- With red wines, it’s especially important that you allow for sediment when pouring into a glass. If you’ve got a decanter, it’s a good idea to pour your red wine into the decanter first to remove the risk of getting the sediment into your cup.
- Be sure that you don’t fill the glass full. You’ll need room for swirling and sniffing, so less than half a glass is prefered.
Wine tasting is something that you do with all of your senses–granted, the hearing takes more of a back seat in this arena. When you drink your wine, the first sense you’re going to use is sight.
Tasting Step #1
Assuming you’ve poured your wine into your glass already, you’ll begin by picking your drink up by the stem. This keeps the wine from heating overly quickly and also helps to preserve the clarity of the glass from which you are drinking. Tilt the glass a little to the side and peer through the liquid. Your wine should be clear. Then, look into the glass and notice the surface. Is the surface shiny or reflective or is it more muted or matted? A shiny surface indicates a fresh, crisp, more acidic wine.
You’ll also notice that when the glass is tilted, especially for red wine, that the edge of the wine–where it meets the glass, is more transparent. This shows oxidation. The thicker the line, the more oxidized (and older) the wine is. Oxidation generally makes the wine taste more bitter and more dry, and white wines tend to be more susceptible to oxidation than red wine.
By noticing these details, you’re helping to ready your taste buds for what they will soon experience.
Tasting Step #2
The next step in your wine experience is what I like to call “the swirl.” If you’re really good at “the swirl,” you’ll probably hold the glass from the bottom and swirl the wine. It’s also perfectly acceptable to swirl the wine in your glass by moving the glass in circles on the table or on a countertop.
Swirling the wine has two purposes–to feed your eyes again in preparation for the tasting and to let the wine breathe. After your first swirl, look at the sides of your glass. You’ll notice wine slowly (or quickly) trickling down. These trickles are called legs and generally indicate that your wine is full-bodied and has a higher alcohol level. Some experts say that thicker legs indicate a higher sugar level, but this isn’t necessarily true.
After your second swirl, you’ll want to sniff the wine. Your nose can capture the subtle hints of the wine taste that your taste buds may not be able to distinguish on first or even second sip. As you let the wine breathe, the flavors of the wine become more intense, so it’s a perfect time to take a chance to take in the aroma.
Tasting Step #3
Your final step in tasting is when the wine flows over your taste buds, trickling down your throat. If you really want to get a good taste for the wine you’re drinking, hold it in your mouth and let the juices flow into your gum line and cheeks. Once swallowed, the taste of the wine remains in your mouth a little longer. Take a breath through your mouth and let it bring the flavors to life.
You’ll find that you enjoy the feel of the tingling warmth of the wine as it cascades down your throat in delicious luxury. And that, my friend is the beginning of the taste sensation we call wine–a magnificent beverage that sensually engages with each sip.