Before we dive into actual tasting notes, let’s take some time to learn the basics. I promise to update often, and I’d love to see comments here about what you may want to learn.
The 5 S’s of Wine
When we taste wine, we enliven our senses. We use the 5 S’s.
- See – Wines have vivid colors, but when you see you look for quality. The ideal wine glass is clear instead of tinted for visual clarity. Hold your glass up against your white napkin and take in the color. If the wine appears cloudy or murky, sending the bottle back is appropriate. If you see gorgeous, clear red or gold move on to the next step.
- Swirl – Why do we swirl? We swirl to get oxygen moving through the wine that has been corked up tight since bottling. We swirl to awaken the flavors. Have you been intimidated by watching an expert create a beautiful whirlpool by swirling the stem? So have I, so allow me to give you a perfectly appropriate cheater. Holding by the stem, set your glass on the table for stability. Place the stem between your middle and your pointer fingers, and move the glass in a circular motion. Gorgeous whirlpool! This is a great way to start knowing how the rotation feels to get that gorgeous whirlpool effect. In time, you will swirl like the experts too.
- Sniff – Don’t be shy – get your nose in the glass. Absorb the aromas of chocolate, tobacco, pear, or berry. Smell is subjective. Finding blackberry in Cabernet doesn’t mean the winemaker added blackberries, and it doesn’t mean you are wrong if someone else smells raspberry. It means that the scent in winemaker’s artistry reminds you of the that fragrance. The earth, the vine and the season brought the berry flavor out of the Cabernet grape, and you were able to recognize the subtleties. This is a great conversation-starter for your date.
- Finally, Sip – Hooray! Get a hearty sip. Allow the wine to coat the different areas of your mouth. Is the wine sweet and fruity? How about dry – does the sip leave you thirsty? That is my favorite – a deep, dry red.
- Now the final “S”. I’ll bet you think I’m going to say spit., right? Heavens, No. Savor the excitement as the wine awakens your taste buds. Swish it around your mouth. Feel the weight as it lingers. Would you describe the wine as heavy? Bold? Light? Maybe delicate? This is known as the body.Enjoy the wine’s finish – this is the taste that is left behind for you to enjoy – the aftertaste. How long does the finish linger? This is known as the length. The longer the finish, the higher the quality of wine. If the experience leaves you as soon as you swallow, you might comment that the wine was rather flat.
Most importantly, wine is subjective. You don’t need to know how to choose an expensive label to enjoy the grape. With a few basics, the mysteries of wine become intriguing rather than daunting.
What’s in a Name?
Let’s start walking through the label. Knowing the label may help you feel more confident when picking out a bottle for a hostess gift, a date, or even business dinner.
Personally, I think the most interesting part of the label lies in the name of the wine (not to be confused with name of the vineyard). Traditionally, European wines are named for their appellations (growing regions) while American wines are named after the varietal (the kind of the grape).
For example, if you would like to bring a French wine to your hostess for a Thanksgiving dinner, you might look for a Red Burgundy. The Burgundy region of France is famous for the Pinot Noir grape. This varietal is rich yet delicate, so the Pinot Noir is a lovely with turkey.
If, however, you prefer to bring along an American wine, perhaps look for a Pinot Noir from Oregon. See how the same grape is named differently based on the appellation? The wine growing regions bring different characteristics based on many factors: the soil, the humidity, the amount of sun exposure, and even the slope of the hills in the regions.
Learning the characteristics in the European regions that drive the naming may be more than we want to tackle with Thanksgiving being so close. Let’s take a peek instead at the American wines. Read the label for specific growing regions.
A wine that lists Napa Valley or Sonoma Valley as the region will be more concentrated than a wine that names Northern California as the appellation. This is because to list Napa as the region, the grapes need to all be grown in that region.
However, a Northern California wine may use grapes from a few growing regions within Northern California. The more generic the label’s appellation, the wider the growing region. Make sense?
Now the real lesson – while the wine from Napa may be considered a higher quality of wine due to concentration, this does not mean the bottle of Cabernet that you grab from Northern California is any less enjoyable.
Remember, wine is subjective. Paying $50 for a bottle doesn’t guarantee that you will like the wine any better than paying $15 for a bottle. With a little bit of information, you can start to make informed purchases. Take your time to get to know what you like. You can find good labels in every price point.