September 7, 2009
Dragging your feet on this why-did-you-taunt-us-with-one-day-of-vacation-and-then-make-us-come-back-to-work Tuesday? Yeah. I feel you. But fear not!–our Blue Jean Sommelier is here with the first in a two-part series designed to help transform the idea of wine tasting from fussy and intimidating to approachable and fun.
I hope you enjoy today’s post and find it as useful as I did. As always, if you have questions or suggestions for Anders, our fine sommelier, please do let him know via comments below! He’ll be back with Part II next Tuesday, and I will see ya’ll on Friday as we kick off a new food series on BJG.
yours in post-holiday fogginess, Nishta
WINE TASTING BASICS–PART I
Anders, Blue Jean Sommelier
You’re on a date and the question, “What about a bottle of wine?” arises. Your extremely cute companion looks at you expectantly. So, you put on your most knowledgeable face and pick a bottle that sounds enticing. Except then, the waiter pours you a short glass from the newly-opened bottle and once again you are on the spot…
What do you do with that little taste of wine? How do you know if it’s any good? How can you impress your date with your wine knowledge, or at the very least, keep from making a fool of yourself?
Don’t panic–wine is a complex and dynamic little juice, but it can be analyzed in ways that will minimize trepidation and increase enjoyment. We’ll start today with the 4 S’s and continue next week with a Blind Tasting you can follow along with at home!
PART I: STARE, SWISH, SNIFF, & SIP
There is glass of wine sitting enticingly in front of you, so what do you do? It’s time for the 4 S’s: Stare, Swish, Sniff and Sip. First, look that glass in the meniscus and stare it down (Ok, so you don’t really have to stare). Basically, wine can tell us a lot simply by looking at it. Is it red, white or rose? Does it have bubbles? Is it browning on the edges? Is it dark purple or a light garnet in color? Is it clear or hazy?
A couple of guidelines: wines from cooler climes are often lighter in color than those from warmer climates, a browning in color (especially around the edges) indicates oxidation – which usually means the wine is aged, and if the wine is not perfectly clear, that’s alright. Many wines have sediment floating in them and this is typically just an indication that they have not been filtered. If you see little white crystals in the bottom of your wineglass, fear not! These are just crystals of tartaric that have fallen out of solution–if you are feeling adventurous, you can even eat them. They’ll tase, not surprisingly, like acid.
Next up, the ever so fun swishy-swish! DO NOT be ashamed of this step as it is perhaps the most important thing we can do to enhance our tasting experience. When we swirl our glass of wine we are vastly expanding its surface area and volatizing some of its aromatic particles. We are also exposing it to oxygen which can help it open up. From experience I would recommend making sure you have a glass with a nice spherical or tulip shape before swirling. This will also help funnel the aroma of the wine to your nose.
Nice Legs! Everybody talks about them, but what do they refer to? Legs are the streams of wine that course down the side of your glass after swishing. The thing to know is that they are an indication of the viscosity of the wine and therefore its alcohol content. The more plentiful and vigorous the legs the higher the alcohol count.
Bring the glass up to your nose and take a big sniff. What are you looking for? You can read about and study various aroma wheels, but I like to break it down into fruit, floral, earth, and wood. While “fruit” and “floral” are straightforward, “earth” refers to notes that remind me of underbrush, topsoil, minerality, clay, etc. “Wood” refers aromas like cedar, vanilla, dill and coconut that result from the oak that wine is aged in contact with.
Now it is finally time to get your mouth wet. Take a sip of your wine and let it sit on the top of your tongue. Did you taste sweetness on the tip of your tongue? Are you experiencing a puckering sensation from the acidity? Get a sense of the wine’s weight, which clues you into the body of the wine (heavy = full body). Now draw in a short breath over the wine- this will take its aroma up to the olfactory receptors in your nose. Start moving the wine around in your mouth and note any feelings of dryness; this is the tannin in the wine binding with the protein in your saliva and literally drying out your mouth. Make sure you are thinking about any fruit, earth, wood and floral characters the wine might have. Finally, swallow (or spit) and note how long the flavors and aromas linger.
GRAB A GLASS!
Here’s my challenge to you. Find the closest bottle of wine… wait, put the bottle of cooking sherry back by the stove! Grab the closest bottle of palatable wine and pour yourself a glass. Now run through the process doing your best to think about the wine, what it’s telling you and how you feel about it. Take your time, have fun with it. The idea is to build your own wine vocabulary at your own pace.
Flashing back to our date scenario, keep in mind that all you really need to do when tasting wine in a restaurant is to give it a little swirl and a sniff. If it smells clean (we will discuss wine faults later, but for now, just know that a cardboard odor is not a good sign!), smile, approve, and proceed.