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Wine 101

The thought of selecting the ‘perfect’ wine for a dinner party can be a stressful task. Before I get into the school of thought on selecting wine and tasting etiquette, I’ll let you in on the true secret… Great wines come from with in. If you like it, it’s a great wine! Wines don’t have to be expensive to be enjoyed. The true reason there are so many wines offered in the world is everyone has a different taste. It is okay to find a wine you don’t like, but you are sure to find one you do. Keep trying.

Wine of course starts with tasting. The true pleasure of enjoying wine actually starts when you pour it into a glass. Oxygen is an important player in how the tastes and how it can go bad. More on that in a moment...

The Five S's of Tasting Wine

  (Well, in my opinion there's really six.)
  • See
  • Swirl
  • Smell
  • Sip
  • Savor
  • Swallow -don't forget #6 at home or in a restaurant.  If you happen to visit a winery and are going to be tasting numerous wines, it's okay to spit.

First off let's talk about the cork. When you go to a restaurant and the waiter or server places the cork on the table, what are you supposed to do with it?   The truthful answer is NOTHING. The cork didn’t do anything to you so leave it alone. If you must play with something while you are being served your wine, the cork was placed on the table to be inspected for it’s seal in the bottle.   There should be a nice ring or stain of the wine evenly on the bottom.  If you find that the wine is higher on the cork, the wine seeps close to the opening, this could be a sign of air getting into the bottle prematurely.  You’ll know this as soon as you taste the wine anyway.  A cork is porous be nature.  Air may get in without signs showing on the cork. 

Next, they're going to pour you a taste.  I suggest that you do not forgo the taste.  It's the only way of knowing if the wine has had air intrusion.  This is not to be sure you actually like the wine.  In most cases you are stuck with it until it's gone.  Should the wine have a strong oxidized taste they will replace it with another bottle of the same. 

Seeing the wine:

Hold the glass up to the light.  Make sure it is clear and free from debris.  Some wines are bottled without being filtered.  It should be written on the label, but in this case there maybe pieces of grape skin and stems in the glass.

Swirl the wine:

Swirling the wine in the glass gives it flavor by allowing oxygen to mix with the wine.  "Why did you say wine could go bad if air gets in the bottle," you ask?  Just like things in real life there is too much of a good thing.  Air inside a wine bottle causes the wine to oxidize.  Just like a nail will rust when exposed to the elements.  UCK!  The sip portion is where you would tell if the bottle is 'bad' or not.

Smell the wine:

Sometimes this is referred to as 'on the nose' or 'bouquet'.  These are eloquent was of saying, "What am I smelling?"  The concept is just like smelling your food before eating.  We are preparing the palette for what is to come.  So, setting all adjectives aside.  Do you like the aroma of the wine?

Sip the wine:

Fill your mouth about one third full of wine.  Make sure it covers the tongue from the tip, on the sides, and all the way to the back.  Wines have complex bodies and need to encounter all characteristic your tongue can handle: Sweet, Sour, Bitter, and Salty.  Think about what is going on inside your mouth.  Draw some air into the wine as you sip and as you let it sit on your palette.

Savor the Wine:

This happens before and after the Swallow.  What happen to the initial flavors as you draw in air?  It changes.  You know see how important air can be when tasting.  Think about the flavors that are present: apples in whites? Cherries in red?

Swallow the Wine:

Now, the fun part.  This is where we talk about 'aftertaste' and 'finish'.  Is the palette clean?  Bitter?  The possibilities are endless.