Have you ever been in that situation when you are asked what you think about a particular wine, and in an effort to appear sophisticated you blurt out one of the few wine descriptors you can think of off the top of your head… ‘dry’, ‘fruity’, ‘sweet’… nope, that’s all I’ve got. Have you ever been caught staring blankly at a wine list in a restaurant, with no idea where to start? Have you ever been lost in a cellar trying to choose a bottle of wine for a dinner party or a gift? If this has ever been you, and you want to understand more about the wonderful world of wine, read on…
Let me offer you some tips that helped me as I first embarked on my journey into the wine world.
- Nobody can tell you what you like and what you don’t like.
First of all, you need to remember that everyone is different, and we all have our own unique tastes. Some people are blue cheese people, some are not. It’s as simple as that. When it comes to wine, this simple fact remains true.
Having said that, as you learn more about the wines you taste, and understand the complex mix of factors taking place to create that wine, your tastes may change. Wine making and tasting is a complex process influenced by many factors, from the grape species, the climate in which the grape grew, the wine maker’s art, to how the bottle has been stored, and even the glass you drink from. The more you understand these factors, the better you will understand your own taste.
- The right glass can enhance your tasting experience
The wine glass was designed to unveil the virtues of wine. You may or may not have noticed that the same wine, or beer, can taste different when sampled in different glasses. An appropriate glass will create the perfect little environment for the wine, where it can open up its aromas and allow you to get your nose in to capture its full potential. It can be used as a tool to oxygenate the wine by swirling it in the cup, and it can concentrate the scents for you. A champagne flute, for example, encourages you to sip slowly, and allows you to observe the size of the bubbles and the way they rise to the surface. The right glass will allow you to use more than just your sense of taste to appreciate your wine.
- Use your senses
When broken down, the art of wine tasting and appreciation is based purely on a sharp sense of observation. Each one of our senses can be used to tell us something about the wine, and even a bit of common sense can tell us a lot!
The sense of sight is usually the first to kick in. When you observe the wine with a white background (perhaps a napkin or tablecloth) the colour and depth of the wine is revealed. Notice, too, those ‘tears’ that fall down the inside of the glass. Each detail is a clue that tells you more about the taste and quality of the wine.
Smell comes next, and the challenge of tuning into different notes can take a lot of practice. What does the smell remind you of? Chocolate? Smoke? Leather? Red fruits? These notes are your next clue about how the wine will taste.
Now take a sip, get that wine into your mouth and swoosh it over your tongue and cheeks! Does it feel sharp? Smooth? Velvety? When sipping, be sure to leave space for air in your mouth, as this will draw out even more aromas. Your tongue has different receptive areas that detect sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami tastes. As the wine moves over the different areas of your tongue you’ll notice these different tastes. Flavour is the combination of taste and smell, so unless you sense of smell is inhibited, it will surely influence how you perceive the wine in your mouth.
Now, you may scoff when I say that you can also use your sense of hearing to appreciate your wine. Have you ever paid attention to the sound of a full-bodied wine when pouring? The bubbles in your sparkling? That cork ‘pop’? Well, if that’s too much for you, don’t worry. Just raise your glass and listen to that ‘clink’ as you relax with your friends or family!
Finally, as you learn more about grape varieties and conditions in different grape growing regions around the world, your common sense will help you infer even more about that bottle of wine based on what the label tells you, even before you open it!
- Take notes of the wines you drink
Once you start diving into the world of wine, your curiosity will prompt you to try every new variety you see, check out different brands, boutique wines, and taste different regions and countries in wine. It becomes quite hard to keep up with all that information! You will soon discover your new favourites that you might repeat over time and you certainly won’t have trouble remembering them. However, it can become challenging to remember that great Shiraz you tasted at that dinner party, or that beautiful afternoon paired with one of the best chardonnays you have ever had and would like to repeat. My advice is to make a note of it! Whether you have a small note pad you carry around with you, or a note in your mobile phone, make a list of wines somewhere you can easily access it. The next time you’re staring at a wine list in a restaurant or searching for a great wine for that dinner party, you’ll be prepared to make an excellent choice.
- Appreciate the context
Wine appreciation is a subjective and personal experience, and there are several factors which might be completely unrelated to the wine that can influence your response to it. For example, your mood, your environment, different smells (food, perfumes), and the people with whom you are sharing the wine. A wine might taste better (or worse) when accompanied with different foods. You may experience a more positive response to the wine if you’re in a great mood or with your favourite people. So, keep the context in mind and pay attention to your surroundings when you’re tasting wine.
With these five tips, you’re already on your way to better understanding and appreciating wine. If you’d like to keep learning, watch this space for our soon-to-be-released online wine appreciation course. For the ultimate luxury wine experience travelling through the wine regions or Argentina with your very own bi-lingual guide, head to our ‘Tours’ page or contact us for more information about your Argentinian wine adventure this September and October.