The Unofficial Tasting Guide for Wine Newbies
Wine geeks… What do they always talk about? Wine is wine, what could be so complicated?
Tasting and understanding your wine looks like bullshit for some people and I can understand why, the feeling of not tasting what people talk about can be frustrating. We have all been there. It feels like there is one side or the other, being a super sommelier or being completely out of the scene. But the truth is, you can settle in the middle and enjoy and understand what you feel without learning how to become a sommelier in France and growing a fancy mustache. I am glad to tell you, that you came to the right place to start or continue your journey to be a cool wine geek yourself.
This guide will give you the skills to be able to note and analyze the wine you smell and taste. It will make you the smart guy in the room that was blessed with a magnificent palette and a sharp nose. You will recognize the aromas and the flavors, you will mention the year, the soil, the country, whether the vine faced the sun, and if it was on the eastern or the western wall of the mountain! Ok sorry, I exaggerated it. But it will make wine fun.
Some Basics About Wine
Wine is a natural product of alcoholic fermentation when the sugar of the fruits (mainly grapes) is consumed by natural yeast that is on the skin of the grapes and is usually also added to the fermented mass.
The wine is usually fermented in steel barrels. Then it sometimes aged in steel barrels as well. More commonly, red wines are aged in French or American oak barrels.
Wine has been produced for thousands of years as the first records of it are from the area of the Caucasian Mountains, Georgia of this day. In many cultures, wine has a magnificent and even holy role in folklore.
When we talk about wine we like to pay attention to the maker, the name of the wine but more importantly: the country and region, the grapes, and the year. This information gives us a basic understanding of the wine we are facing. For example 2021, Sauvignon Blanc, from New Zealand- will surely be super fruity, Tropical and light. Sauvignon Blanc is very intense and fruity, especially the New Zealandic ones. The year tells us it is not aged for long, therefore it is still fresh and closer to the juice it was.
“Le vin est le lait des vieillards”Wine is the milk of old people.
Different wines are meant to be served at different temperatures. The suggested temperature will usually be mentioned on the bottle. Don’t worry about being super accurate though. Here are the basics:
- Sparkling wines are the coldest at 45F and (7C) to keep the refreshing qualities it holds.
- White wines better are cold as well, around 48F (9C).
- Rose wines will still be served cold but not as white wine, at about 54F (12C).
- Red wines need to be served at room temperature, around 62F (16C). This way you get the deeper layers of the wine, and you leave room for the complexion. But don’t forget where the wine culture came from-Europe. Room temperature in France is not the same as in my home in the south of Israel for example. So don’t hesitate to cold your wine if necessary.
- It is very recommended to leave your aged red wine bottle open for an hour to let in “breathe”, this way you allow oxygen to get in, we will answer why in the next paragraph.
The Glass and Why You Should Swirl
Make sure you drink from a wine glass. Wine glasses are shaped in a way that they pave the aroma more directly to your nose, and allow you to swirl.
When we swirl we penetrate oxygen into the wine. Oxygen has a magnificent role in the process of wine, it is a key element in the fermentation and aging processes. We won’t dive into chemistry here, but you are welcome to do so.
To capture the effect of oxygen, imagine the wine as a ball. When you first open it, it is a spiky ball, as you let it rest and swirl it, it softens and gets smoother, and by that, you bring up the more complex and deep notations.
Swirl, don’t be shy.
Opening the Bottle
Always use a bottle opener and don’t mess around with “life hacks” video tricks.
When you put the pin in the bottle and spin it, please put it in too much. Leave one and a half rounds so you won’t rip the cork from inside the bottle. If so, small cork pieces will drop into the wine, it won’t kill you but it’s better off without it and it’s unprofessional.
Do’s, Don’ts, and Important Facts
- Always start from the lightest one to the heavier one. It means from the whitest to the darkest, and a rose is in between them. You don’t want to shock your taste buds with intense flavors and then try something lighter. You are simply not going to taste it so much.
- Smell more. When you are around doing groceries, smell the fruits, the vegetables, the herbs, and the spices. It will help you to develop a wider spectrum of aromas.
- Taste. Same as with number 2, but now taste it.
- Try to analyze simple raw fruits or vegetables. Even things you have been eating for your whole life can surprise you. Try to grasp the feel of it in the mouth, first bite, and the after-taste.
- To keep track of your process, it is recommended to manage a wine notebook. There you can write for yourself notes that you found when tasting different wines as well as get to some conclusions about the character of different grapes.
- Taking pictures of the bottles you had is another way to keep track of your process.
- Close your eyes. Blocking your sense of sight will help your mind focus on your smell and taste senses.
- Wine is better with people you love.
“Quand la vin est tiré, il faut le boire”When the wine is poured, it must be drunk.
It is all about colors
We have got to the main point of this guide- the skill of tasting and noting.
Noting specific aromas and flavors is not an easy thing to do straight forward. Therefore, it is necessary to take a few steps before you achieve the ever-expanding skill.
This method is easy, intuitive, and fun to apply. To be honest, I don’t even remember where I got the method from, I just remember noticing about myself that before I get specific notes, I just get colors. It is that simple.
Basically, what your mind is doing when you note aromas and flavors, is pointing out connotations it remembers based on past exposure to the senses. Instead of going from A to C- from the trigger of the senses to noting specifically, we will go from A to B to C. from the trigger of the sense-A to the color, our wider connotation-B, to specific notes-C.
Sometimes, your logic might take over. There is a place for it when tasting, it makes sense that red wines will make you think of darker colors and white wines of lighter ones. But notice when you are biased to logic too much, it is an intuitive process more than a logical one.
Follow the Stages:
- Get yourself a simple but quality bottle
- Get the wine glasses out of the dusty wardrobe
- Prepare your notebook to take notes
- Open the bottle gently
- Pour the wine
- Smell, swirl, and smell again
- Imagine the color
- Let the connotations come, don’t rush them, they may be drunk. If can’t point something out still, stay with the colors
- Enjoy the drink
“L’eau fait pleurer, le vin fait chanter”
Water makes one cry, wine makes one sing.
The purpose of wine always was and forever will be fun. Make it a game of yours, and enjoy the simplicity hand in hand with the complexity.