A “wine tasting” doesn’t need to be structured. It doesn’t need anyone but you.
You can “taste” wine with friends at a restaurant, and your friends do not need to be a part of your venture. “Tasting” wine is just a “focus” on the wine you are drinking. Let your friends chat-on.
You can “taste” and take part in the conversation at the same time.
Whether dining with friends or at home alone, the steps are the same. Follow these simple steps and your wine knowledge will grow with each glass:
1. Take a moment to set-up your first impression
Hold the wine to a light and look at the color – just a quick look – no long gazing necessary. You are looking for a bright, fresh look or a deep, dense concentrated coloring. Much as you would admire the deep ruby of a adored blouse or the azure blue stripe in a favorite tie, the color of the wine should be appealing. You’ll soon recognize, from the color of the wine alone, how “big” or full-bodied the wine will be.
2. Aerate the wine in your glass by swirling
This is easy to do. Set the glass on the table or counter. Put your index and middle fingers on the foot of the glass – one finger on each side of the stem. Move the wine glass in a clockwise circle. Get the wine swirling. This puts air into the wine. Think of it as “freshening” the wine after its long rest.
3. Pick-up the glass and give it a good tilt toward your nose
Get your nose into the bowl of the glass for a, hopefully, dazzling array of enticing aromas. Tilting your nose to the side and into the glass is a good way to do this – one nostril is sufficient. It’s a bit more delicate than pushing your whole nose, face forward, into the mouth of the glass. Sniff. You may smell vanilla, peaches, strawberries, almonds, blackberries, spices of some sort…and the list goes on. You may not smell anything and that means one of three things: (1) you are not focusing on your ability to distinguish the nuances; (2) the wine has been uncorked too long, or (3) the wine is too old and has “lost its fruit.” There’s a fourth possibility but it applies to world-class wines that are “big, “tight,” and tannic.
Don’t despair if you can’t identify or put a name to the aromas. It takes a while to distinguish individual flavors, even though you have knowledge of them. If you find the aromas lackluster, they may be truly lackluster, but assuming that aerating and sniffing aren’t something you do often, then seriously consider that you’re not yet tuned-in to your own innate abilities. It takes some practice to detect the organic subtleties that the grapes bring with them to the glass. Just keep on “swirling and sniffing” and soon you’ll smell the cherries or blackberries, and sometimes, even the violets or roses. Momentarily “focusing” on the aromas, each time you have a glass of wine, will significantly heighten your awareness.
4. Now taste the wine, but don’t swallow it immediately
Get your taste buds into the process by moistening all the tissue inside your mouth. “Moistening” doesn’t mean “swishing,” just use your tongue to distribute the wine.
5. Swallow the wine slowly, and then draw-in a bit of air across your tongue
Do this by just a small intake of breath (lips slightly parted) and feel it draw all the way to the back of your tongue. The air intake moves the aromas (some refer to them as fumes) upward to the nasal cavity. Now, breathe out through your nose – and think about it – in other words, focus. In the end, it’s your nose that reveals your perceptions.
That’s all there is to it. The process takes only seconds. When you swallow the wine you’ll notice certain flavors; when you breathe out through your nose those flavors should be intensified. Your impressions may be unique to you or, if tasting with friends, flavors that you all agree upon – or do not agree upon. Your sense of apricot may be another’s peach. If you are drinking red wine, you might taste flavors like ripe plums, paprika, pepper, or even oak. White wine may remind you of tropical flavors like pineapple, fig or melon. Each wine is different and each time it may taste differently to you.
After the first sip, “swirl” again. “Sniff” again, and don’t forget to get your nose down into the bowl, as you ponder whether the Louis Vuitton bag at the next table is the real thing or a knock-off.
This swirling-and-sniffing process works well when the wine glass is filled no more than half-full. That’s the proper way to serve wine but, of course, you have no control over this in a restaurant. A 10-ounce glass is perfect, an 8-ounce glass can work, but a 6-ounce glass is impossible for tasting. There’s no way even the tiniest nose can get into the small opening of a 6-ounce glass and if you have a mustache, forget it. Bigger is better when it comes to wine glasses.
Tip: Once the wine is bottled it starts the aging process whether it is corked or uncorked. Wine can be too young to drink, just about perfect to drink, absolutely perfect to drink, still perfect to drink, still nice to drink, or oops!, a bit over the hill.
Wine is a food. It is made from grapes. There’s the soil, the grapes, the rain or the lack of it, the sun or the lack of it, the time of harvest and the winemaker – what a shame to just throw it back and gulp it down.