Wine Basics – The Wine Tasting

Basic wine

There’s rarely a day goes by that I don’t get asked an opinion about wine and I always feel honored and a little humbled that people respect my opinion about wine that much.  Recently a very good friend of mine said she would love to take a wine course to learn some basics about wine, but she couldn’t afford it right now.  So from that, I decided to pass along some basic wine knowledge – free of charge!

wine camp

Let’s Call it Boot Camp for Wine!  And let’s start with a basic wine tasting.

The first step in wine tasting is to identify color and clarity.  The color is the easy part.  It’s either red, white or rose!   However, different grapes tend to be different shades of red, white etc.  For example, is your red wine maroon, purple, ruby, garnet, red, brick or even brownish?   Is your white wine pale yellow, straw-like, light green, golden, amber or brown in appearance?   Next… look at the clarity.  I find this step very important.  I like a wine clear, without cloudiness, especially in my whites.  Is the wine dull or brilliant?  If it’s a white wine that you drink on a regular basis, and you find this particular bottle cloudy… it’s probably been compromised.   Certain reds can have sediment, not every winemaker filters the wines.  These wines should be decanted, gently, leaving a bit of the wine along with the sediment in the bottom of the bottle.

The first of the senses to enjoy wine, other than sight of course, is the olfactory sense.  Your nose.  Very important.  It will usually tell you if a wine is ‘off’.  And by off, I mean if it has been compromised in any way.   With the invention of screw caps, this is happening less and less.   Also, in our training to become a Sommelier, we use our nose to identify a wine in blind wine tastings, and it’s confirmed by tasting it.   I always smell a wine.. and you don’t have to be an expert to do this, and people won’t think you’re a wine snob.  I love Pinot Noir, and one of the things I love most about Pinot is the array of aromas.  They are earthy – and I love closing my eyes and actually picturing the vineyard, the soil and the grapes growing.
wine swirling
Most people will smell, then swirl, and smell again during a wine tasting.   Why?  Because the initial smell will give us those up front and most prominent aromas, and then by swirling you vaporize some of the wine’s alcohol and then the subtle aromas come to life.   If you’ve seen this process, you have probably seen a person stick their nose in a glass, so that the rim of the glass circles their face.  This is so aromas don’t escape through the glass.  The smell of a wine is one of the reasons I like a big bowled glass that narrows in at the top.   The big bowl allows the wine to aerate.  After all, it’s been stuck in a bottle for a few years, especially if you are drinking red, and swirling just released all those yummy aromas and flavors.

Then comes the best part… the tasting!  Most people will swirl it around in their mouth because it allows you to take in all the components of the wine.  The tannins, that which makes the mouth water, acidity, alcohol content and residual sugar.  If one is out of whack for you (not exactly a wine term) then you may not find the wine balanced.  One of most desirous traits in a wine, is that it is balanced, and that term can mean different things for different people.   My definition of a balanced wine is where the concentration of fruit, the tannins,  and the acidity are all working together to make a wine delicious.   Balanced wines are symmetrical and tend to age gracefully.  It’s important to me one does not over power the other, unless, it’s what I want.  For example, if I’m eating a big juicy steak, or pasta with lots of cream sauce, I want a wine that is a little heavy on the tannic side.  See what I mean?  I am personally not a fan of wines where the alcohol is over-powering.  Other people love the burny taste in their throat.  Everyone has different things they love about wine, and that’s the beauty of wine.  We all like different things.


And last but not least, it’s the finish.  And what I mean by a ‘finish’ is how long the flavor of the wine lingers after you’ve swallowed it.  You may have read wine reviews or heard people say ‘nice lingering finish’.   This is a very important trait to many people.  You want the beauty of the wine to stay with you for seconds after you swallow it, to continue to enjoy it.   In some wines, as soon as you swallow the wine, a second later the flavor is gone.  And that’s OK too.  It doesn’t mean you don’t like the wine.

Wine home

Here’s what I always say when someone asks me if something is a ‘good wine’!  If you like it, it’s a good wine.  I’ve had people say in the comments section of this blog that I need to improve my taste in wine.  But really, if I like it, I think it’s a good wine.  And the truth of the matter is, I could write about expensive wines all day long, but I like to write my blogs about wines we drink every day.

Till next week, Cheers







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