For all its richness and complexity, wine is essentially fermented grape juice. However, much of the pleasure of wine lies in its infinite variety. The five basic types of wine are red, white, rosé, sparkling and fortified wine. Most of the world’s great wines are wines of place, made with grapes of particular vintage and from particular vineyard. Climate, location, soil and grape varieties all affect the quality of wines, as do the various vine-growing and winemaking methods.
How to taste wine
The best way to learn about wine is to taste it. It takes time to describe what you taste, so always take any chance to try new wines.
The first step of tasting starts with pouring the wine into a nice and clear glass. It should be clear so that the color and the clarity of the wine can be appreciated. It should also be large enough to swirl the wine without spilling it, releasing the aromas which are so important in tasting.
Tasting a wine begins with your eyes. What does it look like? Hold the glass against a white background to get a true idea of the clarity and color, which should be brilliant and clear in a red wine, and limpid and bright in a white wine. Wines from hot climates usually have a deeper color than wines from cool climates. Older wines usually have less intense color than young wines. Any cloudiness or discoloration may indicate wine defects.
The next step is to swirl the wine in the glass. This introduces oxygen into the wine, which helps release the wine’s essential aromas. A young wine should be swirled fairly vigorously, while an older wine should be treated more gently.
Put your nose over the rim of the glass and take a long, deep sniff. Really expand your nostrils to take in the smell. Try to think what memory you associate with the smell. You may want to repeat this process several times. What did the wine smell like? Let your imagination loose here and don’t limit yourself to standard terms. Younger wines usually have stronger, more aggressive aromas, while older wines are generally more subdued and subtle.
Fill your mouth about half full and swirl the wine around thoroughly. Two things are happening now: first, more aromas are being released into the nasal cavity, which is where the real tasting happens; and second, you are covering all parts of your mouth, tasting with the whole palate to gain a complete impression of the wine.
SPIT OR SWALLOW
Now you may either swallow the wine or spit it out. Spitting is a must if you are tasting a number of wines in a formal tasting situation. When you swallow the wine pay attention to how it tastes as it slips down your throat. How long does the aftertaste linger? A good wine is all about harmony. The wine should be full of flavor, with all the elements – fruit, tannin and acid.
It is helpful to write down a few notes while tasting a wine. The notes don’t need to be formal – a simple description of your impressions of the wine’s aroma, taste and finish should suffice.
- Acidity – A natural element of grapes, acidity helps carry the lively, refreshing flavors in wine.
- Balance – This refers to the relationship among different elements of the wine, such as acidity, fruitiness, tannin and oak.
- Body – The weight of the wine in the mouth, this is a combination of factors such as tannin, fruit concentration, and alcohol.
- Bouquet – The smell of a wine, particularly a mature or maturing wine that has spent some time in bottle, is called the bouquet.
- Earthy – Reminiscent of the smell of fresh loam and leafy forest floor, this is usually considered as positive term.
- Finish – This is the taste that lingers after you had swallowed the wine.
- Flowery or floral – These terms are used to describe aromatic white wines such as Riesling or Gewürztraminer.
- Oaky – If you can distinguish an excessive taste or smell of oak in wine, it is “oaky” and out of balance.
- Tannin – A substance found in the grape and also in new oak barrels; some tannin is necessary to give wine structure and balance, particularly red wines, but too much can be a defect.
Food and Wine pairing
Pairing the right wine with food creates something greater than the sum of the parts. A complementary wine can enhance and add new dimensions to food. Matching food and wine is fairly recent concept. In the past, people simply served the local foods with whatever wine was available, especially in wine-producing areas – an evolutionary, though not conscious, pairing. Over the years, the teaming of good food with fine wine has become an art form. The next few parts of this topic will explain the basic principles, and suggests wines to accompany foods of categories.
There’s more to matching cheese and wine than you might think. Many cheeses are too strong to match with fine or mature red wine. In fact, white wines are often better with cheeses than reds. Sweet white wines taste good with sharp, salty blue-veined cheeses.
Pairing pasta with wine is easy. All you need to know is what kind of sauce are you using for your dish. Tomato sauce goes great with red Rioja or young Cabernet Sauvignon. Creamy, buttery sauces match amazing with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Pesto sauce is asking for slightly sweet, medium body red wine.
Hanger steak (and all kinds of steak) cannot be paired with any other kind of wine, but red. My favorite wines that make my steak twice good are French Bordeaux and Argentine Malbec. Cabernet from Sonoma makes your steak dinner a classic combination.
There is always something you can learn about wine. If you are a real wine enthusiast, challenge yourself with trying a new kind of wine every time you are in a mood for it. Try the tasting techniques you learn today and try to describe it. Enjoy it slowly, cook yourself a nice dinner and pair them together. Join me next month again, so we can keep exploring together this amazing wine art. But first…wine. 🙂