Many people are intimidated by wine. They view the culture surrounding this product as pretentious and standoffish. While such attitudes do appear from time to time, most people in this industry are warm, inviting and helpful. They have a passion for the product and are eager to share their knowledge with others.
Be fearless and have fun when tasting and experimenting with one’s palate. Dive right in and act like a champion. Invite friends. Make it a party. The more you taste, the more you learn.
And when all else fails, remember that this is an agricultural industry. At the end of the day, it all boils down to: dirt, water and vines.
And so, without further adieu, we offer you: The basic tools to taste and enjoy wine like a champion!
Leave all preconceived notions of wine at the door. No matter the label, the bottle, the growing region, or the price, check your judgments before tasting.
Wine tasting is personal. Take the time to find out what you really like (forget ratings and price points). Only you will be the judge of your palate.
Ask questions. Ask lots and lots of questions. No question is too silly or obtuse. Ask about the winemaking process. Ask about etiquette. Showing interest demonstrates your desire to learn more.
Get a general sense of flavor profiles. This will help you establish a theme as to why you enjoy certain wines more than others. Are you a fan of big, bold red wines? Or do you lean toward more fruit-forward wines? The more you taste, the more you’ll understand why you prefer certain varietals over others.
Taste wine with food. When paired together, food and wine change each other. A rather unremarkable bottle of wine can be paired with some delicious grub and instantly become a whole new champion. Familiarize yourself with what works together and roll with it. Be creative. Adventurous. Daring. There’s never any fault in trying.
Go international. Instead of sticking to the domestic aisle, consider wines from the Southern Hemisphere and Europe. Why does New Zealand make so many Sauvignon Blancs? Grab a couple bottles and figure it out for yourself. What’s this varietal called Shiraz? What about Malbec? Tempranillo? Being adventurous doesn’t have to break the bank; in fact, often times the international brands can be more affordable.
What’s with the swirling of the glass? Give it a go. You’ll soon understand. Your nose will do most of the work when tasting wine; as such, giving the glass a nice, swift, stem swirl opens up the aromas and allows you to almost taste the wine before you’ve even sipped it. (Tip: When swirling the wine, opt to do so with the glass firmly placed on a level surface; push down and around on the base of the stem in a tight, circular motions; this will open up the wine nicely and give you a solid opportunity to smell the “bouquet” of the wine.)
Order matters. Put some thought into the sequence that your wines are served. The general rule of thumb is to taste the lighter, sweeter wines first, followed by the heavier, darker wines last. For example, sparkling wines are served first, followed by – let’s say – a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay, and then a Pinot Noir, Merlot and finally, a Cabernet Sauvignon. Why does this matter? The latter wines are bigger and “bolder” wines; if you were to drink them first, they run the risk of overpowering the softer, white wines, thus distorting your tasting experience.
It’s okay to not like everything you taste. Pouring out wine into a dump bucket is not rude. Not everyone’s palate will be the same.
Take notes so that you remember what you like. They don’t have to be copious or technical. In fact, in the age of smartphones, a quick photo of a wine label will do the trick. Just remember what you liked and why you liked it so that when the opportunity comes to try it again, you’ll be the first in line!
When in doubt, drink beer. No, really. All the winemakers are doing it. Why shouldn’t you?