Culture: How to go wine tasting like a pro
Ever attended a wine tour and describe a red as if it were your favourite perfume? A luxurious and sensual tone of rich, dark accords and an alluring potion of black orchids, and spice. You guessed it… Black Orchid. You practically had your friends eating out of the palm of your hand when you describe the white as a vivacious, woody tone laced with bursts of citrus, incense, pine and orris. Only your tour guide also happened to love Gypsy Water and the pine just gave it away.
So here is the thing, if you love wine but your vocabulary consists of red, smoky and more please, then this article is for you. We first got to talking Little Joy Wines over a recent dinner date with friends and soon realised that while the boys were busy dissecting every single tone and flavour, our input consisted of ‘third glass’, yes’ and ‘delicious’. Not to be outdone again we thought it was only natural to reach out to our new favourite boutique label and ask for a few hot tips and tricks on discussing wine like a pro.
Next dinner date – bring it on we say!
Not sure how to describe a red wine. Fake it with these three words…
90% of the time using technical words helps no-one! We think it’s best to stick to things that are immediate and relatable. What is the weight of the wine? Light, medium, full? This is always a good starting point.
Then talk about the flavour. Do you get lots of fruit? Do you get cherry, plum, blackberry? Or are you getting lots of spice? Pepper, nutmeg, vanilla?
Lastly, what setting does the wine belong in? Is it a fun and fruity style that you want to drink all night with friends? Or is it smooth and serious, more suited to a long- overdue D&M?
A white wine should always be described using…
We strongly believe in setting a tone and a scene for drinking wine, and this is how we like to describe wine.
White wines are often quickly categorised as ‘warm weather’ wines. But there are so many different ways of describing a white wine. Does your Chardonnay evoke a sunny afternoon in the Napa Valley? Can you taste the subtle salinity of your Albarino and feel the Spanish breeze? Or are you smelling the Amalfi Coast’s famous citrus as you sip on your glass of Prosecco?
The beginners’ terminology to know before a wine tour includes these 5 words…
Aroma and bouquet: A wine’s aroma is derived from the grape variety. Not to be confused with a wine’s ‘bouquet’ which relates to the winemaking process of fermentation and aging. Smelling a wine will open up a world of characteristics and notes that you simply wouldn’t get through tasting the wine alone!
Body: The body of a wine is normally divided into three categories: light, medium, and heavy. Generally speaking, the lighter the body of a wine, the lower the alcohol percentage. Alcohol is the primary contributor of a wine’s viscosity and is largely responsible for the heavy or light mouthfeel you get when drinking wine.
Mouthfeel: This refers to the texture of the wine in the mouth. Is it soft and creamy? Or maybe it’s crisp and sharp? This can be a strange concept to wrap your head around at first – it’s all just liquid, right? But in fact, the mouthfeel is hugely important in how you enjoy wine. If the wine is overly tannic and hard it will leave your mouth dry. Think of a red that you swallow and instantly turns the insides of your cheeks chalky. That’s a hard, tannic wine. Now think of a wine that gives your mouth a velvety and silky sensation – delicious!
Length: This refers to how long the flavour of the wine persists on your palate after you’ve swallowed. A wine is typically described as having a long, moderate, or short. Length can be a positive or negative characteristic depending on the preference of the taster.
Vintage: This refers to the year that the grapes were harvested. If the wine is NV (Non-Vintage), it means that the wine is a blend of different year’s harvests. A Non-Vintage wine is common with sparkling and champagne varieties as the wine-makers have often perfected a recipe for the harvested grapes and can therefore offer a continuous flow of the good stuff!
Wine tasting manners look like…
Don’t be afraid to spit! Unless you’re at a lunch or launch and you’re being poured whole glasses, swallowing the wine at a tasting tells the wine maker you’re only there for the booze, not to learn about the wines themselves. Always accept all wines if they offer them, you may not like Pinot Grigio, but if its part of their vintage, it’s respectful to try it anyway. If you don’t like the wine, that’s fine. Don’t buy it, but don’t tell the wine maker. You wouldn’t pick up a dress and tell the designer that you don’t like their work!
How do you actually wine taste…
It might sound obvious, but there are a few simple things you can do to make it easier to start with: don’t brush your teeth before you taste, don’t eat anything highly salty or spicy before you taste, and avoid strong perfume or scents as it can affect your ability to smell the wine properly.
Start with the lightest wine on offer and work your way through to the heaviest of most full-bodied. The wine maker will be able to guide you here. A Pinot Noir could be lighter than a textural white, so it’s really a matter of asking.
When the wine is in the glass, start by swirling the wine around, tilting the glass back and forth to open up the wine. This releases the aroma, similar to stirring a sauce. Don’t be afraid to take a nice deep sniff of the wine and enjoy the aromatics.
Now comes the sip. It’s important to take a big enough sip to allow you to get a full experience of the wine. Let the wine coat your mouth, covering as much surface area as possible to allow maximum exposure to its characteristics. If you are at a wine tasting, spit the wine into the vessel provided. It’s good to have sips of water between tastes to cleanse the palate. If you’re enjoying a full pour, swallow and notice how long the taste lingers on your mouth.
Lastly, what is wine appreciation all about…
We think it’s important not to take it all too seriously. Wine appreciation is just that. Appreciating it for what it is: one of life’s little joys.