It is a common misconception that to enjoy wine tasting and tours one must be sophisticated and earn at least a six figure income each year. The truth is wine tasting, and the amazing tours of wine producing regions, are designed with everyone in mind – including Joe Bloggs and Jane Smith.
There is so much that be explored when it comes to discussing wine, far more than I could ever write and far, far more than anyone could ever read. None the less, we can still find the time to explore some of the simpler categories of wines that you are likely to come across. Of course, the two principal are white and red. Red wines made using fermented black grapes with their pips and skins still intact, and can be either dry or sweet. A few of the more commonly known red wines are Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and let’s not forget, Pinot
Noir. All of these names come from the varieties of grapes used to make the wine, with around 40 different kinds used in various different red wines.
All wine regions have set standards defining what percentage of any given wine can be any one kind of grape used in its formation. For example, in California there is a solid standard of 75%, while Alsace insists upon nothing less than 100%. Of course, a good number of wines are made from a combination of varietals, a word which is used to describe a wine made from a single class of grape.
White wines are made from either black or white grapes. With over 50 preeminent white grapes ground across the globe three stand out when it comes to wine; the Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and the Chardonnay. Typically, white wine is thought to be more enlivening
and refreshing than red wine. Of course there are many other kinds of wine; Pink wines incorporate Rose and “Blush” varieties. Blush stems from California and is traditionally made using Zinfandel grapes with their peels still intact for a period before being discarded. Rose wine, before it completes its production, is technically an unfinished red wine, although it boasts a fresh crisp taste that is reminiscent of a white wine.
Champagnes and “sparkling” wines can be created using an identical method, however only when made in Northern France are they truly legitimate Champagne. Sparkling wines are produced by adding sugar, along with some yeast, to table wine. The truly classic method, also known as the “Methode Champenoise”, is absolutely excruciating in terms of sheer effort and attention to detail, so less expensive “bubbly” is typically mass produced using a newer, easier method. Then there are the common desert wines, such as Port, which begins its life as a wine fermented from just over 40 different varieties of grape. After a short time fermenting, the must is poured off and the wine, still in its infancy, must be barreled for at least a year or two before it can be bottled and sold. Port generally demands a good fifteen to twenty years of bottle aging before it takes on the form of a sweet, fortified wine typically served with nuts and cheese.
Madeira, another desert wine, is first fortified with alcohol before being heated up, be it artificial heat or being moved up into a attic that is constantly hot during the summers. Initially, Madeira was actually created during the shipping process. It would be placed in the hull of the ship, and during long journeys throughout the tropics it would experience great levels of heat. Sherry is yet another desert wine, and is fortified also. During it’s creation process extra space is left in the barrel in order to a special kind of yeast.
Then we have our fruit wines, which are fermented from any fruit except for grapes. Generally fruit wines make use of blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, cherries and blueberries. They are known to have a particularly robust flavor, largely down to the huge amount of fruit taken to create them. Unlike Madeira, fruit wines are generally fermented in colder conditions to keep the natural flavors of the fruit well and truly in tact. They are often used in place of desert wines or in cooking.
When it comes to the company you are touring with it is vital to ensure everyone is at least 21 years old if you are in the United States. The laws are very clear when it comes to supplying alcohol to underages children, so even if the child in question is your own, if you let them have a drink you will be held entirely to blame if they harm themselves, or anyone else.
If you yourself are hosting a wine tasting party at home there are some supplies you simply cannot do without, such as water in easy access for anyone who is thirsty, along with snacks either intended to cleanse ones palette or else to compliment the wines you have chosen to present. Another bonus here is that having little nibbles around ensure that no one will become overly intoxicated. While tasting parties can become incredibly expensive very fast, you can also arrange one for as little as $15 a head. If you plan on providing your guests with dinner, you should wait until the tasting is complete.
It is easy for people who have never experienced wine tasting to wonder how exactly technique applies to tasting something, wouldn’t you just consume it and taste it the same way you would a steak of an especially good cup of coffee? And to an extent, those people have a good point. Most people are perfectly happy to find one good wine and stick with it, they don’t care about the labels or prestige of a bottle, or in some cases that might deeply disturb a true wine connoisseur, a cask. But of course, those interested in wine tasting know this, but are in it to learn more about the wines they love and to experience some of the more luxurious, and often expensive, pleasures that life has to offer.
Pour a small amount of wine into your favorite glass, generally no more than an inch and a half, then hold your drink up to the light to inspect the color. Red wines can be brownish red, or light and pale, while white wines tend to be a little greener with a hint of brown and color more given time to age. The slightly darker color at the top gives expert tasters the ability to tell the wine’s age; a tint of purple would suggest a younger wine, whereas an orange or brown tint suggests an older one. Swirl it gently and try to tell what kind of body is has; more mature wines will possess heavier bodies.
After swirling your wine gently yet firmly place the glass to your nose. You can either choose to inhale the scent deeply right away, or else take a small sharp sniff followed by a longer one – whichever suits you just be sure to take a moment and absorb the smell before you get to the tasting point. The smell, known as the “nose” or in some cultures the “bouquet”, will ideally be reminiscent of things commonly found in nature. The smell will typically correspond to the taste of the wine, so try shutting your eyes as you take the scent in and imagine where you might find it in nature.
Take a medium sized sip and allow it to swirl around in your mouth; first the front of your tongue to the back, and then side to side, possibly taking a moment if you so choose to try and inhale a little more of the scent, enhancing the strength of the flavor in your mouth. Moving the wine around in your mouth allows you to make use of all of your taste buds. You will probably find that what you first taste will be different to the taste you experience overall after holding it in your mouth for a few moments. The after taste is a vital aspect of tasting wine, and in France they actually have an entire wine rating system based around after tastes, and how long it lasts. (The highest rated wines will always be the ones with strongest and longest lingering after tastes.)
The real point on which to judge a wines taste is its balance. Balance is made up by a wine’s sweetness, tannin, alcohol content and acidity. If it is too unbalanced then you will notice that one of these four things stands out above the rest. With sweetness, it will likely be the first thing you observe; be it because it is too sweet or overly bitter. For acidity, imagine the difference in drinking plain milk compared to drinking orange juice; while acidity makes for a crisp taste if a wine is particularly acidic it will result in a very strong and undesirable flavor. Tannin creates rather a bitter flavor because it actually comes from only the skins and stalks of red grapes – it is used in strong black teas and is commonly found in a lot of un-aged wines, because as wine ages the tannin will tend to mellow. Lastly, the alcohol content of your wine will make it vary from a sweet, soft flavor to something resembling a fire in your mouth. When tasting several wines you should always spit rather than swallow, as it is easy to become intoxicated otherwise, and keeping a clear head is important, especially when reviewing a wine.
Taking notes can actually be of incredible benefit when tasting a lot of wines in a single session. Having your own small library of personal notes on different varieties of wine can lead to you learning what kind of wine to order at a restaurant, or in knowing what kind of wine will make a good impression when you extend an invitation to your boss to join your family for a meal. An easy way of taking notes is to find some little questionnaires online, or to make your own, and fill one out for each wine you are tasting. If you are able to include notes at the time of what the aroma reminds you of it will make choosing the right wine to serve with dinner far simpler, and it will be easier to match on to whichever cuisine is being presented.
When serving wine the temperature will vary depending on the bottle, and some of your guests will likely have their own preferences as to what they believe to be the ideal serving temperature. A safe bet is to always present a red wine at roughly 65 degrees, a Rose or white wine at 55 and all sparkling wines and Champagne at a chilled 45 degrees. As the taste of each wine will vary slightly depending on what temperature it is at when serving, you may want to consider including this type of information in your note taking.
When chilling a wine you need to take a bucket, fill it with ice, then make sure the ice is covered by water; at least enough to submerge the whole bottle. Getting from room temperature down to the proper serving temperature will generally take a typical red wine around 5 minutes, a white wine closer to 10 or so and a good bottle of Champagne at lest 15 minutes.
Before having guests over ensure you know how to correctly pop a cork out; never bend it, and pour out around an ounce wine after opening the bottle to remove any cork residue or debris that could be settling in the bottle. Always remember that a red wine needs some time to “breathe” before being served, so allow it at least an hour to sit open beforehand. When you are pouring, do not allow the neck of the bottle and the glass to touch, and always hold the body of the bottle, never the neck itself. If you wish to hold a small towel or napkin beneath the neck to stop any dripping that is also perfectly acceptable as you will not when observing your own wine being poured in any fancy restaurant. Ensure you do not fill the glass further than two thirds full, although you should be aiming for half a glass for each guest.