Wine Tasting for Newbies
Heading to a wine tasting event? MWS contributor, Emily Crichton, explains how to rock it like a pro...
Wine Tasting for Newbies
The difference between “tasting” and “drinking” wine can be likened to the difference between test-driving a car and taking it out for a joy ride after you’ve bought it. During a test drive, one is actively analyzing the aesthetic, feel, performance, and overall quality of the car. On the other hand, a joy ride is a simple, mindless activity, of which the only goal is enjoyment. Similarly, the goal of wine tasting is to analyze the various components of a wine in addition to the sum total of those components, whereas drinking wine….well, I doubt you need me to explain that one. Now, you might be wondering why anyone would want to analyze a wine when they could just drink it?? Because, like test-driving a car, it’s the best way to form an opinion as to the quality and value of the wine, so that eventually, when you’re in the mood for drinking you can tap into your tasting notes and voila! That said, unless you’re like me and my wine-obsessed friends, you probably don’t participate in wine tasting on a regular basis. However, being the chic and popular person that you are, it is likely you will attend a wine tasting at some point in your life, if you haven’t already. Moreover, you don’t have to be a certified sommelier to pull off a perfect ten in tasting. As long as you understand the sequence and basic significance involved in the steps of the tasting process, you’ll be as good as pro.
The Grip- Though rarely demonstrated in the media, the correct way to hold your wine glass is by the stem (while stem-less glasses look super hip, they’re not what the pros use). This is so that the heat from your fingers doesn’t manipulate the wine in any way.
The Pour- One of the most common questions I get when working at a wine tasting is “can I get a little more than that?” The answer is, well.... not really, sorry (unless you’re tight with the person pouring, of course. p.s. flattery helps). Standard tasting portions are 1-2 oz of wine per pour. Believe me, unless the person hosting the event completely failed to do their job, there will be more than enough wines to taste, and you will get at least a few full glasses when everything is added up. Plus, smaller pours are better for swirling, especially if you want to avoid the "oops I did it again" face. You know, the one that appears when you get wine all over your nose/shirt (see below for more tips on the jedi swirl!). Once you have wine in glass, take a moment to look at the color. Like rings on a tree, the color of a wine can tell you a lot about its age and history.
The Swirl- The swirl is done in order to release the aromas in the wine. You need not use too much force, lest the wine will end up everywhere but in your glass. If you're not comfortable with your swirl skills just yet, try it with the base of the wine glass on top of a table or other flat surface. I have no idea why, but I actually think this looks cooler than swirling in mid-air. Hi, I'm a wine geek.
The Sniff- After a few swirls (but not during), put your nose into the glass. That’s right, don’t be shy! Shove your schnoz deep into the glass and take a whiff. Be careful not to take too many deep sniffs in a row as your senses become dulled with repeated exposure to aromas, rendering the act increasingly useless. Take note on what you smell. Is it a type of food? Plant? Mineral? Chemical? Maybe it smells like your old high school gym, your grandmother’s perfume, an extinguished campfire, or something completely unidentifiable, but intriguing nonetheless. If you think this list is weird, just hang out in my world for a while. Winos say the darndest things.
The Sip- Though you may be tempted to swallow right away, a little bit of self-control will go a long way in the analysis of a wine. As you hold the wine in your mouth, purse and open your lips ever so slightly and proceed to take in quick, shallow slurps of air through your mouth. It sounds a little obnoxious, but this act of “gurgling” the wine in your mouth accentuates the aromas and flavors present, otherwise known as volatile characteristics, helping you to better sense them. After a few slurps, gently swish the wine around in your mouth in order to adequately expose all areas of the tongue. Though the tongue officially only recognizes salty, sweet, sour, bitter (and arguably, umami) flavors, the mind perceives thousands more.
The Spit- Depending on how proper (or tipsy) you want to be, this is usually optional. However, I will tell you that the more you swallow, the less apt you’ll be at analyzing your vino. If you do choose to spit, just be sure to do it into a spit bucket and not at your ex who happens to be there with his/her new significant other. Above all, beware the backsplash! To quote the movie “Knocked Up”, that’s how you get pink eye.
The Rinse- Before moving onto the next wine, you may want to rinse your glass and/or your mouth with a bit of plain or sparkling H2O. This not only helps cleanse your palate, but also prevents you from turning that delicious Riesling into a Rosé.
The Verdict- While it can be fun to try to pick out the "top shelf" wines in a tasting, ultimately what matters most is your opinion, not what's on the price sheet. If you like the wine you're tasting, it's in your price range, it's readily accessible, and you learned a thing or two about your palate, well... Shazzam! You've just had a successful wine tasting experience.
**MOST IMPORTANTLY** - Have fun with it! No one likes a furrow-browed, fancy-pants wine snob, professional or not. Now go get ‘em, tiger!