How does someone get better at tasting wine and know how to talk about what they’ve just tasted? It's rather simple, you do just that, taste more wine! If you are new to wine you need to be able to decide between one of two things: do you like the wine or not? From that you can build on some general themes, such as do you like more red or white, dry or sweet, oaked or unoaked, etc.
Some guests that come into the tasting room have never tried wine before or know very little about wine, and that’s ok! We all start somewhere! Now for those of you who have been tasting wine for a while and know generally what you do and don’t like , as servers, we can talk about the wines more in depth and focus more specifically on what the guest is looking for.
The following bits of information can apply to anyone from the newest wine drinker to the more seasoned one. Again you can go as basic or detailed as you want, but these are general things you can think about as you’re going through different wines.
- Look: What do you see? Is there anything about the color that is interesting to you? Do you notice any difference in colors between different wines you try?
- Smell: What do you smell when you put your nose in the glass? Do you smell any intense aromas or are they vague?
- Taste: What do you taste? Fruit? Baking spices? Herbs? Etc.
- Think: How do you feel overall about the wine? How does it compare to other wines that you’ve had? Do you like it? (That’s the most important question) If you do like it, why?
With all of the above mentioned the next thing you can think about are 5 wine traits that will help you dive a little deeper into what you are tasting.
- Do you taste any sweetness? Or maybe somewhere in the middle? Sweetness varys from bone dry to dessert wine sweet and everywhere in between. There are a lot of different factors when it comes to sweetness of a wine and I’ll save that topic for another time.
- Tannin(red wines)/Phenolic Bitterness (white wines)
- If it is a red wine do you feel a drying sensation when you taste it? Red wines with higher tannins will leave your mouth feeling dry. Think about the difference between Chambourcin and Petit Verdot. Chambourcin is less tannic and therefore won’t make your mouth feel as dry; whereas,Petit Verdot is very tannic. After only a couple sips, you can start to feel a drying sensation on your palate. Next time you come to the vineyard, try those two to get a better idea of the difference between the tannin levels.
- If it is a white, do you get any phenolic bitterness? Wait, what is phenolic bitterness? Let’s go on a rabbit trail for a second. If you’re not familiar with phenolic bitterness, think of eating a sour candy, the same tartness and bitter sensation you get in your cheeks, that’s the similar feeling you get when you drink a wine that has phenolic bitterness.
- Does this wine make your mouth water? If a wine makes your mouth water, that’s a good indication that it has a fair amount of acidity. Different wines will have varying levels of acidity. Acid also has another role other than making a taster’s mouth water; acidity is essential when it comes to the wine’s structure.
- When you look at a bottle of wine, it will generally have a percentage of alcohol on the label. Think about Chardonnay for example. In a cooler climate, like Burgundy, France, the alcohol is going to be lower because the grapes don’t have as long of a growing season and the sugars aren’t as high at harvest. Whereas California is a hotter climate and the grapes ripen very well, therefore having more sugars in the grapes at harvest. With that in mind, if you are drinking a wine and feel a warming feeling in the back of your throat, that’s a good indication the wine has higher alcohol.
- How much weight the wine has on your palate. Wines like Vidal Blanc and Traminette are not going to be nearly as heavy on the palate as an oaked Chardonnay or Viognier would be. This is one reason why most tasting lists that have dry wines will go from lighter body to fuller body both for white and red wines.
I hope this helps, and try thinking about some of these things the next time you are either in a tasting room or at home. As an added bonus, anytime you are at a tasting room or wine shop and you have a question, ASK! You don’t know something until you ask, and if the person you ask doesn’t know, hopefully they will try to find the answer for you. That’s how you learn, by asking questions.
Thanks for reading this week’s edition of Out of the Barrel! Cheers!