The defining moment? Or the long, love affair that has brewed over years?
Either way, most people could probably tell a story about when they first became aware of that ‘something special’ with the vino they were sipping.
The fact is, that wine emulates flavours and aromas that exist outside the humble grape.
Ever heard someone say that a red wine has ‘black cherry undertones’ or ‘a hint dark chocolate’? They are right, for the most part. Dark chocolate for example, has some very unique chemical compounds which make it taste and smell the way it does. These same chemical compounds are present in some wines and YOU CAN taste them and smell them! Accepting that it is not the equivalent of having a piece of chocolate in your mouth is also important for beginners to understand.
Having a wide repertoire of smells and tastes stored in your brain also helps to put your finger on that certain taste or aroma when you come across it. If you don’t know what a pineapple smells like, you won’t make the connection when trying a Riesling, Pinot Gris or Chardonnay to name a few, it’s an aromatic character that pops up quite regularly in white wines.
If you have not had this eureka moment with wines yet; and are wondering what all the fuss is about with this alcoholic beverage, I am going to enlighten you on the very first steps in how to taste wine and discover its allure for yourself.
Find 3 Wines
You could try three completely different types of white wines, like a Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Viognier. How well you pick up on varietal characters is different for everyone, you may be able to do it with a few wines of the same variety; or, require big, bold variations in wine styles to pick up on the notes for the first time. Setting up wines for tasting like this, is called a ‘flight’.
I would suggest Sauvignon Blanc, it’s generally a dry (non-sweet) white wine and the flavours and aromas associated with this variety are quite narrow, but very pronounced.
The aromatics of Sauvignon Blanc include; capsicum, fresh cut grass, passion fruit, tomato leaves, melon, green pea and asparagus. These bold aromas are easily recognizable as we have all had some exposure to these aromas at some point in our lives.
The wines you choose don’t need to be the most expensive, or highest rated wines with the most awards, or bells and whistles, just three types of white or red wine.
Set the Mood
And by this I don’t mean you ‘changing into something more comfortable’, I mean, making sure the wines are comfortable, the same temperature, without getting too technical, refrigerate white wines to about 10-12 degrees Celsius, or just standard refrigerator temperature, just make sure they are the same temp, and definitely not over 20 degrees. Red wines can be warmer, 14-18 degrees Celsius.
Secondly, serve all three at the same time into proper wine glasses, no coffee mugs. The standard wine glass is designed specifically for the consuming and critiquing of wine, use separate glasses for each wine.
Make sure you are free of distractions, like loud music and your environment is conducive to thinking and pondering flavours and aromas. You also have to clear your palette; i.e. not having just brushed your teeth! Have a glass of water handy to rinse between each tasting helps restore the PH levels in your mouth and clear the taste buds.
Have a Sniff
Swirl the wine in your glass, this aggravates the volatiles (aromatics) and makes the vapour rise to the top of the glass. Put your nose in the top and take in a short, quick sniff, exhale, and then a sniff again slowly.
Think about what has just gone up your nose, you will notice the alcohol first as a beginner, it’s a common smell that you will have to get used to and the trick is looking beyond it, or smelling beyond it.
After a few seconds, swirl and have another longer sniff.
You may notice aromas here, or you may only smell ‘wine’. Fear not, pick up wine number two and repeat for all your wines, no tasting, just sniffing.
After you have sampled the aromas of each of your wines, you are probably aware that they don’t all smell exactly the same.
You may not know it, but this small observation of your wines (even if you smelled only a minor variation) is the catalyst to what can become your own intimate relationship with with wines that enhance and seduce you for all time. Now you know those wines you just had your nose in; did not all smell the same, the next step is…
What’s that Smell?
Take each glass of wine and give it another two or three short sniffs, you can most likely smell something as a primary aromatic, the key is to put your finger on it. Smell like someone has just mowed their lawn? Or like someone cracked open a crisp bell pepper, right under your nose? Or it smells like there is lemon juice in there?
Well, there’s no lemons, bell peppers or grass clippings in that glass, so how is that possible?
How do you feel about what you’ve just smelt? Are you excited? Curious? Do you feel reminded about a time, place or event? Do you feel like you have smelt something in that glass you have smelt before, somewhere?
For some individuals, this feeling can be instantaneous and intense. Even if it’s not an awakening of sorts, the gradual exposure to new sensory experiences with wine; can create a similar affinity in the long term.
Write down any notes you can on each wine, start small, like “acidic, a little sweetness, light”.
So you have sniffed your wines, and you have written a few words about each, it’s time to taste them. Swirly the glass of each wine and take a sip, enough to coat your whole mouth, but not a mouth full. Swish it back and forward and either swallow or spit it.
The most important factor for wine, regardless of how much it costs, where it was made or who made it, is whether you ENJOY it.
Is the flavours pleasant to you? Is it too sweet? To acidic? Does it taste smooth to you? Is the flavours right to you?
You will probably enjoy one over the other two, even if you’re not sure why, you can isolate your favorite, and try to write down why it is better than the others. Common descriptors will be just fine, no need for lengthy tasting notes like ‘similar to eating a cold, crisp, Granny Smith Apple, cut and eaten off a sharp stainless steel blade’. Keep it to a couple of major descriptors, sweet, bitter, astringent (that dry tongue feeling), and acidic. Verbalizing sensory experiences can be tricky, so as I mentioned, keep it super simple at the beginning.
Between tasting your wines, remember to rinse with water, or eat some unsalted crackers to naturalise your palette for the next wine.
Finish making notes on your wines and put the wines away, if you don’t feel like drinking the one you like the best!
Try the tasting process again, with the same wines in a few days, and make additional notes, have the wines changed? Does it remind you of when you sat with them a few days prior? Do you enjoy them more or less? Do you think about how the wine was made? And where it is from?
Did You Fall in Love?
Whatever the case, falling in love with wines happens if what you are drinking has a pleasant mouthfeel and tastes delicious to you. These are tactile sensations, and that enjoyment can be broken down into specific sensory characteristics. There is a whole world about defining attributes of wines, the weight on the palette, length, its finish and its structure. All this is, is deconstructing the experience you are having in your mouth.
The bottom line is, wine is a very seductive consumable, it changes over time, no two vintages are the same, how, why and when we drink it can evoke different thoughts and emotions at different times. This is why people love it, and to think it is all the product of such a simple little fruit, to be infinitely complex, dynamic and delicious. This is also why categories and break it down for evaluation.
Getting started with the world of wine can be a little scary, but starting at the top, and developing your relationship with wines on a personal level is ABSOLUTELY the beginning if you want to explore it further. Hopefully it has aroused something in you, that you want to find out more.
If you are having trouble picking out some wines to start out with, wine tastings are often held at vineyards and cellars. They are a great and inexpensive way of sampling wines and broadening your palette. The wines may be a flight for a style, region, variety or horizontal (vintages over the years). You can taste and smell how wine changes and differs, what you do and don’t like.
Have you experienced a magical moment with wine yet? How did it happen?
***Grabbed rom: http://www.wineturtle.com/how-to-taste-wine/