How to Taste Wine and Not Be Annoying About It

I’m sure you can picture a sommelier or a person who considers themself a wine snob. I cringed just thinking about someone calling themselves that. For me, they’re wearing a cable knit sweater and an ascot. They make terrible sucking noises and swirl their glass way too long…like just drink it, am I right?

Anyway, wine tastings can be intimidating when entering a space you aren’t familiar with, and it’s even harder to ask questions when everyone acts like a pompous jerk. Well, I’m here to hopefully answer some questions you may have and teach you something new. While making this a judgment-free zone…starting now. You don’t have to be a pedantic prick to appreciate wine. Ok, that was the last one.

How to Develop Your Palate

In the right space, a wine tasting can be a lot of fun. Everyone throws out aromas that remind them of something from their childhood. Some people taste the candy they used to eat. It can be fun not only to see how other people’s minds work but also can help you pick out nuances that you had never picked up before, even from a wine you’ve drunk your whole life.

There are four main components you are going to look at when you’re tasting wines, and I’m going to go over some of the vocabulary used in wine tasting in hopes of helping you feel more confident in your own abilities.

Look

You can learn a lot about a wine by just looking at it. Does it look red? Then you’re drinking red wine…crazy, right? But really, when it comes to red, there are a number of reasons why a red looks the way it does. Grapes like Pinot Noir or Gamay give off a really light red color that you can see through, whereas grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot have a much darker hue.

Also, the wine producer may let their wine macerate on its skin for as long as they want, or in many cases, what the regulatory body of that wine requires. There are a lot of laws about wine, and I won’t go into any of them.

Another way to learn something about the wine you’re drinking is by looking at its legs, but don’t be a perv about it. When you swirl a glass, there is usually a small amount that clings to the glass and leaves behind subtle streaks (legs) of liquid. The longer the legs stay, the more residual sugars are in the wine.

Smell

There’s a fancy word for this, too, wine people call it the aroma, and some call it the bouquet. I’ll call it aroma so as not to make you immediately click away from this article in disgust.

So this, like just about everything else, is completely subjective. Even the most expert sommelier can’t tell you you’re not smelling what you smell. Every note is an experience that only you had. Every aroma makes you think of something that is unique to you.

That being said, when smelling red wine, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Usually, red wine can smell like red fruits, like strawberries or raspberries, it can smell like blueberries or black fruits, like blackberries or plums. They can smell like fresh fruit or stewed fruit, and honestly, so much more than just that; but if you are just starting out, I would focus on what kind of fruit it reminds you of. And no, you can’t say grapes…cheeky, though! I like that.

Taste

Much like aromas, only you can really say what you taste. Wine is like art, which is why your tongue is called the palate. Please don’t judge me for that one. Again, the fun of wine tasting is letting the wine remind you of something. Some wine makes me think of my grandma’s house; some remind me of some candy I had as a kid, or some song I listened to during the summer. If you say something like that, everyone is going to look at you like you just said something profound. You’re welcome.

Mouthfeel

It’s a gross word, I know. Let’s move past it and talk about what it means. So, kind of what I said earlier about the legs and color. The mouthfeel has a lot to do with the type of grape and the producer’s practices.

First thing, is it tannic or acidic? It might be hard to differentiate between the two. A good rule of thumb an old sommelier taught me was, you feel the acidity while you drink the wine, and the tannins stay with you after you swallow the wine. That dry mouth feeling? That’s the tannins.

Then consider the body of the wine. This has a lot of different factors; but usually, it has to do with residual sugars and alcohol content. Ok…crash course in fermentation. Grapes have sugar; if they get more sun and more water, they have more sugar. Yeast eats sugar and poops out alcohol and CO2…so the more sugar the more alcohol? Mostly yes, but alcohol is poisonous to yeast, so once it hits a certain alcohol content, the yeast dies and any sugar left over is the residual sugar.

Conclusion

Look, there is so much more to talk about when talking about wine. What was it aged in? How long was it aged? Why do different terroirs taste different in the same wine? What farming practices led to the wine tasting different in different vineyards? Why do vintages from the same vineyard taste different?

I haven’t touched on one of these questions, and probably not a whole nother world of wine I haven’t even stumbled upon. But that’s the fun of it. There’s always something to learn, and there’s always another bottle you’ve never seen before. So why not start somewhere? Find a different producer of that type of wine you like. Find something completely new. Whatever, but if you want to learn more about wine, from people who know a bit about wine, please join our fam, over at HBIC. We’re all learning together.

 

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