Now that you’ve got your glasses (wine and glass part 1) and your bottle (wine and glass part 2), let’s pop some corks! Since you already have the perfect setup from which to enjoy your wine, here are some basic etiquette points of tasting in polite company. Salud!
Share your opinion, and learn from those of others. This is a beverage, there are really no absolutes, rights, or wrongs. There is something you can learn from everyone.
Be generous, and humble. Bring or order something you think is delicious, and hope others will think so also. If the conversation drifts towards the wine, entertain it, if not, enjoy that too.
Have fun! Once again, just fermented grape juice. Don’t take it too seriously.
Wear scents, smoke, or show up with pungent substances.. If you can smell it in the air, others will smell it in the wine. Respect the tasting airspace.
Brush your teeth first.. Or really eat anything super strong and lingering. You won’t be able to taste anything, and it just won’t be as enjoyable for you.
Show off. Loud slurping noises? Gross and unnecessary. You can list all 9 Beaujolais crus? Spectac, no one cares.
Opening the bottle
It doesn’t really matter what you use to open the bottle, as long as you’re comfortable with your tool of choice. I like a double hinged “wine key” If it says “Waiter’s Friend” on the package, it’s not, and you shouldn’t buy it because it will break corks… Just remember to cut the foil below the 2nd lip so it doesn’t pick up aluminum residue as it pours, and try not to make a mess of it. If you accidentally break the cork, don’t sweat it, just go back in and give it another shot (it’s all in the wrist). If it goes totally south you can always just filter the wine through a fine mesh strainer or coffee filter.
Seeing, tasting, smelling
I like to tell people that if you are tasting critically you should use all your senses to gather information, starting at the top of your head moving down. You should skip the ears though, as if the wine is talking to you, you might have bigger problems.
So first the visual, tip the glass and look down through the wine as you hold it over a white surface. You are looking for things such as color, intensity, rim/core variation (the difference in color and intensity between the center and edges). These are clues as to how much extraction the grapes received at the winery, how long the wine has aged, and even what type of grape the wine is comprised of. Are there bubbles? Sediment? Haziness? All good clues as to what you might be about to experience.
So now we’re going to smell. First sniff it flat, then give it a swirl – just enough to coat the sides of the glass – and sniff again. Big difference huh? Both sensory perceptions will tell you something about what’s going on in your glass. Incidentally, when you swirl it’s nice if you can hold the glass in your hand rather than scraping it along the table. It takes a bit of practice to do well but it’s another etiquette point. When you’re sniffing, take note of the intensity and of course what types of aromas you’re sensing. In general, more stewed or dry fruits are signs of aged wines, and vanilla, dill and baking spices are signs of oak. If the nose is dominated by earthy smells, chances are it’s from the old world (France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal) while if it’s Fruit dominant it’s probably from the New World (Everywhere else). If you smell strong Vinegary odors, or those of Moldy Basement, Wet Dog, or Damp Cardboard the wine is probably flawed and you should send it back if you’re in a restaurant or return it to the store from whence you purchased. If it’s a question though, it’s probably fine… These odors will be strong and dominating and you will know it when you smell it. Trust your instinct.
Then let’s taste! Look for sugar, the lingering sensation on the tip of your tongue kind of like if you drank apple juice. Just don’t confuse such a sensation with the flavor of apple, which your brain might associate with sweetness even if there is none present in the wine itself. Tannin (Red wine or Rose only) is a sort of a grippy sensation best felt between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. One person said it was if the wine was turning your mouth skin into grape skin – which is in fact exactly what is happening. So now when you swallow, feel a little burn as it goes down… or a lot? That’s your alcohol measure. The sensation is called chemestheis, and it’s your body’s physiological reaction to alcohol. It’s the same slight irritation caused by hot peppers.
And then there’s the acid test: This one is important because it will tell you how food friendly the wine is. Low acid? You’re going to want to keep it away from anything rich, fatty, and of course acidic. The higher the acidity the better it will pair with bigger foods. Similarly, keep a higher acid wine away from fish, salads, and things that have a lot of subtlety but without a pronounced flavor. So here’s the test – Take a sip, swish it all around your mouth so your palate is evenly coated, and now swallow. Wait 5 seconds. Feel that rush of saliva? That’s your acid measure Try and remember it for next time, or even write down your perception, so that you can compare it to the next wine you drink!
So that’s what I’m off to do… I hope you enjoyed my 3 part introductory glass series. For next week we’re going to change directions a bit and talk about some actual wine.