I promised you a wine course today and so we shall have one!
Wine is one of the oldest drinks in the history of humankind outside of water (beer being the oldest). It was a way to save the harvest. When grapes are harvested, they are good about a week before they mold. One could dry them into raisins, but somewhere along the line a delicious drink was much more practical and was often safer than many water sources. Wine was found to be medicinal, and upon adding medicinal herbs, even more so. Peasants and aristocrats enjoyed wine. It is, in essence, a preservation technique, and an ever delicious one at that!
White wine should be kept around 45 degrees and reds should be around 65 degrees. You can keep whites in the fridge and take them out 30 minutes before a meal. You can keep reds on the counter (never drink cold red wine, it brings out all the alcohol and none of the flavor) and put in the fridge for 30 minutes before serving.
Pour a few ounces of wine into a glass with a stem. Swirl for 20 seconds to release the aromas. I find this easiest by keeping the stem on a table and swirling it this way instead of in the air.
Tip the glass to your nose and smell the inner lower part of the glass. You will smell the terroir and essence of the grapes this way. You might smell raspberries or almonds. Or cherries and cocoa. Or pineapple and pears. Even green peppers! You may smell farm animals, or a musty basement, or brambles of wood. You may taste in images like a farm table in a field on a warm summer day. There are no rules. This is helping you appreciate and identify your wine.
Just like an item sitting in the fridge absorbing the scent and flavor of something next to it, wine grapes absorb their environment. So if you smell farm animals, the vineyard was likely around farms. Many French wines have this light scent. If a fire blew through California one summer, those grapes will carry a smoky essence.
Place your glass on a white napkin and look straight through the top of the glass to the bottom. Look at the colors. Is it clear? Can you see the bottom of the glass? Sometimes a wine maker will not filter their wines and you will see sediment. A crystal clear, ruby color might indicate Pinot Noir. A thick dark violet may be a small winery’s reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
Now swirl the glass again but this time move your nose to the inner top of the glass. Here you will smell what the wine fermented in. If it smells like vanilla, cream, toast, or butter, you can bet that it was in French oak. If it smells of cream with a touch of dill, it was American oak. A bit of tar mixed in with vanilla, Slovenian oak (common in Italian wines). A bit metallic, stainless steel. Some are being fermented in clay vats called an amphora.
Tip your glass sideways over the white napkin so you can see the wine spread out. See the rings? There will be layering colors. They tell you how old the grape vines are. Add roughly ten years for each ring.
Time to taste! Take a sip slowly and let it linger across your tongue. Do the descriptions of your aromas match the flavor? Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t! If you taste dried fruits and a rich, warm flavor, the grapes grew in a hot climate, like Peru. Clearer, lighter tastes often come from rainy or coastal areas.
You can often find the varietal by tasting. Here are a few common tastes in each wines.
Pinot Noir will almost always have hints of cherries and chocolate.
Cabernet Sauvignon has hints of cranberries and vanilla.
Merlot has hints of blueberries, raspberries, and cream.
Chardonnay (if it is oaked- which I prefer) will taste like pineapples and brown sugar.
Riesling will taste of apples and almonds.
Of course, if one has never tasted a cherry, they would never come up with that description, so our taste and aroma adjectives are directly linked to our experiences and our own unique senses. This means that there are no wrong answers. These are things that help you enjoy the wine so much more. You will taste the terroir (where it is from) better if you find a small batch, single vineyard, or single estate wine.
My friend, Rodney, put me up to a blind taste test. He handed me a glass of beautiful garnet liquid. I smelled it. Dried fruit, cranberry, raspberry, brambles, tar and vanilla (I know this flavor combo well) and earth- my tell tale sign that it was grown in my favorite region. I would know you anywhere, my beautiful. “2015 New Mexican Sangiovese,” I declared. And I was right!
A Votre Sante!