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Wine Tasting 101

By February 17, 2021No Comments


Have you signed up for a wine and cheese tasting led by me and our resident cheese expert lover Eleonora? The theme for our February 20 wine and cheese tasting is Winter Wines and for March 13 is Wines for Easter Lunch.

Gina snd Eleonora wine & cheese

But let’s get back to wine tasting 101. Have you ever seen wine experts during a tasting? They note colors like violet, straw yellow with a glimmer of green, brick red… They swirl and proclaim “cherries, eucalyptus, figs.” Only then do they actually taste the wine. Confused onlookers may arch an eyebrow and wonder, “What’s in the glass?”

wine tasting

It brings me to lunch with Francesco and my in-laws at Da Cesare years ago. Francesco and I were nosing an orange wine with honey and orange blossom scents. My father-in-law Pietro looked at me and said I need to taste that wine! What’s in it?

Pietro was a happy person. He drank mostly home made red and white wine. I sat across from him for an endless number of holidays, Sunday lunches and birthday celebrations. His love of wine was contagious. He could always convince me to have another glass. The wine’s hue and nose didn’t enter into his wine appreciation equation.

I don’t love words like ‘bouquet,’ ‘acidity,’ and ‘tannin.’ Wine knowledge and wine terminology don’t equal the pleasure one gets from a good glass of wine. There are no rights or wrongs in wine appreciation. It’s subjective. Never feel that you “should” like or dislike a wine.

eleonora and gina wine store

That said, here is some basic wine tasting jargon for wine tasting 101, divided in a few steps. Pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine, bring a healthy nose and open mind.

Eyes

Look at the wine’s color in your glass against a white background (a paper towel or piece of paper works well). Tilt the glass to the side so the wine looks like an oval lake. Is it opaque, like flavored water, or cloudy, like ink? Color can give you an indication about grape varieties, age and alcohol content. As they age, white wines generally turn from clear to golden yellow and brown. Red wines with age veer toward orange.

Up next, the swirl. Does the wine cling to your glass like cough syrup, which leaves streams? In wine terms the streams are called “legs” or “tears.” They give us a hint about the wine’s alcohol content and may allude to its sugar levels. Chunky legs generally indicate more alcohol or residual sugar.

wine tasting 101

Nose

Sniff. The line between smell and taste is fuzzy. We smell with our noses and taste with our mouths. When I have a clogged up honker, food tastes like nothing. When a peanut butter cookies are baking, I feel like I can taste them.

Swirling aids vapors and compounds in arriving to your nose. Close your eyes to help. Scents tell you about grape variety, they tell you whether the wine was aged in oak. Smells that we identify come from our life experiences. I might smell cranberries and chocolate (definitely chocolate due to my chocolate addiction) while you pick up nuances of honeysuckle. There are no incorrect aromas. The best way to expand your ‘nose library’ is to consciously smell stuff, whether fruits, vegetables, plants, spices, or even rocks.

Aromas fall into primary, secondary and tertiary categories. Primary aromas come from the grape variety and the climate where the grapes were grown. Most fruit flavors in wine are primary aromas. We’ll save discussing secondary and tertiary aromas for another time. 

wine and cheese with Casa Mia Tours

Mouth

Yes, we finally get to drink the wine. Sweetness, acidity, tannin and body take the stage at this point. As we sip, the liquid’s vapor travels up our retro-nasal passage (remember the blurred line between smell and taste). Swish the wine around, chew on it. Make sure both your tongue and mouth are coated with it to detect sweetness, bitterness, etc… The front part of our tongues is our sweetness detector. Try a dessert wine for a good understanding of sweetness.

Acidity gives wine backbone and crispness. We mostly sense acidity with the edges of our tongue, on the sides of our mouth. A wine with high acidity makes us salivate and sometimes even pucker. Ever bitten into a lemon? Higher acidity wines suggest grapes were harvested early with low sugar, or that the grapes were grown in a cool climate where sugars develop slowly — or both. Wines with low acidity are the opposite: smooth, buttery, creamy.

Tannins are usually a red wine characteristic that can help in identifying grape variety. We sense tannin like a cold unsweetened black tea — it dries out our palates. Tannins come from the skins and seeds of the grape or from oak barrels, sometimes both, and tend to turn softer with age.

Alcohol, which can add body, at times tells us how ripe the grapes that that went into a wine were. Its percentage is tied to the sweetness level of the grapes prior to fermentation. The riper and more mature or sweeter a grape at harvest time, the greater the chance that the wine will have a higher alcohol content (unless the wine is adjusted during the wine making process. We’ll leave that for another discussion.).

On to body: does the mouthfeel of a wine feel like skim or whole milk or cream? In wine speak this equates to light, medium and full-bodied. Body is typically related to alcohol but other processes can intervene.

wine tasting with food

Wine tasting 101: Evaluate

After you’ve tasted, ask yourself these questions. Were the components of the wine balanced? Did they waltz together? What would be your tag line for the wine? Flowery with low tannins, or maybe crisp with no tannins? And finally the most important question: did you enjoy the experience?

I’m looking forward to seeing you at one of our wine and cheese experiences. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

tasting winter wines
tasting italian wines

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