For the rest of the wine-wannabe world these quick notes will guide you in the vibrant and fulfilling pastime of wine tasting.
When we were kids, our flavor philosophy was dualistic – good or bad. That is: Hawaiian Punch – Yay!; prune juice – Yuck! Some folks never give up that mindset. Appreciating wine (or whiskey or tequila or even prune juice) is much more holistic. A taster is looking for the entire experience of the wine – its look, its aroma, its changing effect as you savor it. After a time, you will understand every glass of wine as a fourth dimensional work of art – not only a creation here and now, but the idea of it you build in your own mind. Here are some notes for a fun and gratifying wine tasting:
First – no chugging! Though this will get you buzzed faster, by the time the eighth wine comes around (professional tasters may do 25 or more!), you won’t be savoring much. Believe it or not, for large tastings, the vintner supplies a spit bucket where you swirl the wine in your mouth and spit it out. This is a great option for people that don’t really drink alcohol, but enjoy wine tasting.
Second – Have a palate cleanser. A nibble between each glass. This is a way to clean out the effects of the previous glass of wine: a cracker, a bite of bread, cheese is good, too. Many tastings will provide palate cleansers.
Third – Keep a wine journal. Wine tasting, like watching your favorite team play or bird watching, is a deeply personal experience. You don’t always see it the way others do. The sommelier tells you the wine has hints of green apple, and all you get is banana? You want to remember that. Keep a notebook where you record your own notes on the wines you survey. Surely there are wonderful, pre-prepared wine journals online and in bookstores which are fine, but probably cost a bit. You simply need a little notebook and each page goes to a wine. There are also apps, of course. If you keep your info in the cloud like on Google Drive, for example, even better, cuz you can sort and search and other kewl stuff as your wine odyssey continues through the years.
OK, journal in one hand, cracker in the other – you are ready. Well, put down that stuff and grab a glass!
COLOR: Don’t drink yet. Look at the wine – it’s not just red (or white) is it? It is deep ruby, or purple velvet, or light raspberry. There are infinite colors, note how you see this color – it’s exactly like your grandmother’s couch? Write that down.
BODY: How full or light does the consistency of the wine look? Does it seem bold or does it seem refreshing just from the appearance. Swirl it, notice how the liquid runs down the glass. This is called the ‘legs.’
BOUQUET: Don’t drink yet, hang in there. After swirling, stick your nose right in the glass. Allow the aroma, the ‘bouquet’ to waft through your brain. What do you get? Pungent, grassy, fruity, chocolate are all descriptors. There are myriad more. At first, try to connect on your own – even personal sensations: my sister’s pumpkin bread, my first car – after a while you can go to books or online where you can find lists of thousands of descriptors. The finer wine journals have lists as well.
COMPLEXITY: Here is the moment you have been waiting for: take a sip, don’t swallow yet. We have our own terms for the three parts of the experience:
Nose: How does it taste when it first hits your tongue? Spicy, lemony, oaky, sweet, etc. Again there are thousands of descriptors to describe your first taste impression.
Heart: What is the overarching characteristic that dominates the flavor? You will no doubt get several, note them all, as you proceed one or two will come forward. A fine Chardonnay might feature butter and peach. That stuff you used to get at the gas station when you were in high school might feature kool aid and turpentine.
Soul: Once you’ve swallowed or spat, no judgement here, check in with your taste buds. What are you left with? Does the savor disappear quickly, like a fast food burger? Or is there a remaining hint? This is called the finish, and one of the key reasons folks, wine snobs or not, return to a certain bottle. The finish may be entirely different from the Nose, it may be light and perfect for a hot afternoon; it may be like warm bread just right for your reading chair in front of the fireplace.
Finally, here is the best part of wine tasting: it’s time for another glass.