So you’re about to walk into a wine tasting room. Maybe you’ve never been, maybe you’ve done this before but never been quite sure how it’s supposed to go: do I have to swish and spit, or what? It’s kind of overwhelming. There’s so much to know about wines, right? Well, yes and no. Enjoying your time tasting wine doesn’t have to be complicated.
This piece (my first appearance as a guest blogger) first appeared on the Zephyr Adventures blog page on November 8, 2012. Zephyr organizes hiking/biking/beer and wine tasting adventures both in the U.S. and abroad, and publish a monthly blog about their travel experiences.
You can see this on their site at http://www.zephyradventures.com/blog/wine-tasting-101/ .
My thanks to Kevin McPhee, who let me take his picture for this piece.
You’ve got the Zephyr staff managing things for you – getting you there when there aren’t hordes of people crowding the room, choosing which vineyards to visit – so you’re already set for a great experience. If you have the time beforehand, look up a bit about the region you’re visiting – what kind of wines they’re known for, what the growing conditions are like. It’s fun to know a little about your hosts when you arrive. And hosts they are – many winery and vineyard owners live on premises; they at least work there every day, lovingly raising their grapes to become the best wine possible. Winemakers are rightfully proud of what they do. If you like it, let it show.
If you know what wine this vineyard is best known for, make sure you try it! But also try a variety of others they have available. Get a sense of what they do really well. There’s always the chance that what they’re best known for isn’t what you’ll like best. If they give you the opportunity to try the same wine made in different years, take it. You’ll get to see how the wine changes over time (and decide whether you want to keep a bottle for aging at home).
Good wine is the sum of its parts. The taste is complex, and your nose and each part of your tongue it touches may pick up something very different. Everyone’s sense of taste and smell is different. So here’s an uncomplicated guide for how to make a new acquaintance with a wine:
Give it a look: hold it up where the light can shine through. Enjoy the color, see the subtle variations from the edges to the center of the glass. Whites should be straw or golden colors. Reds can be red, ruby, or even purple. They can range from clear to opaque. The tasting room staff will probably serve you whites first (assuming they make some). Relax, enjoy the light show.Check out its legs: tilt the glass a little, then straighten it back up. See those slender lines of liquid that slowly drip down the inside of the glass? They tell you about the alcohol and sugar content. Sweeter, more alcoholic wines have thicker, slower legs.
Make contact: start by smelling the wine. Swirl it a little in the glass to release the aroma – maybe ten seconds – then lightly and quickly smell it. See what you notice, what it reminds you of. Fruit, like cherries or apricots? Roses? Nuts? The label (or the helpful staff) may tell you what you can expect, but that may not be what you notice
Taste it: a tiny sip will do. It may taste different in the front, middle, and back of your tongue, and different again going down. What does it feel like? Is it smooth? Kind of crisp? Do you notice woody or smoky flavors (probably from oak or cedar aging)? Do you taste the same thing you smelled? You may or may not. That’s part of the fun.
Afterglow: after you swallow, exhale lightly through your nose and mouth. Notice how long the flavor lingers and whether this wine leaves an aftertaste. Do you like it, or is it bitter or “hot” (alcoholic)? This is probably the best moment to think about what food you’d like to be eating with this bottle of wine.
Don’t be fooled by its age: older is not necessarily better. Every wine has a peak, and they’re all different. For example, generally you can enjoy whites 2-3 years after bottling, but higher-end whites can last ten years or more. Some wines don’t keep. Find out when that wine you loved is at its prime. It may be best to drink it as soon as you get it back home.
There isn’t any impression a wine is supposed to leave, and everyone tastes and smells differently. Wines will vary for each individual. Your surroundings, your comfort level, the food you just had for lunch, even the time of day can influence what wine tastes like to you. Try them in different settings if you can. If you’re the note-taking type, keep a log of what your day was like along with what you thought of the wines you tasted. If you’re traveling, that can turn into a lovely record of your trip!