So you weren't raised sniffing Merlots and swirling Pinots. Maybe you just found out that brix aren't only for building houses. Surprise: You're not alone! While it may seem like everybody in the tasting room knows more about wine than you do, they probably just know a few fancy words that, unless you're an aspiring sommelier, aren't really that crucial to talking about what you're drinking. Here's how to taste, enjoy and discuss delicious wine, without the snobbery.
1. Don't overlook its looks (and aroma)
Yes, wine is best when swallowed. No, you can not fully understand what you're drinking if you just guzzle it. So do that thing where you swirl it in the glass, then breathe in through your nose to see what aromas you detect. This is called -- wait for it -- the "nose". As in "this wine has a floral nose."
Next, hold the glass up to the light and look at the wine. In addition to color and sediment, you'll see a couple of things: rivulets running down the side of the glass, and (in red wines) a break in color where the liquid meets the glass. The rivulets, or "legs," tell you about the alcohol content -- the thicker and stronger they are, the more boozy the wine. The clear edge will tell you about the wine's age and texture: As red wine ages, the pigments and acids tend to separate and settle. This gives you a smoother "mouth-feel" and less tartness.
Check it out! You already have three things to say and you haven't even started drinking.
2. Get Slurpy
Once again: Sending good wine straight down your gullet is a no-no. In order to truly understand what you're drinking, you need to be way more gross about it. So take a small sip, hold it in your mouth, and then slurp some air through your teeth to aerate it. Move it around your mouth a bit (like a gentle, wine-y mouthwash) and chew a little. Taste the flavors. Then swallow.
At this point, unless you've been educated in the terminology, your best course of action is just to be honest. What did you taste, other than "wine"? Mushrooms? Berries? Smoke? Bananas? All sorts of interesting flavors might pop onto your palate. Share them.
Also talk about how it feels in your mouth. Is it thicker, like cream, or thinner like skim milk? Velvety or acidic?
3. Ask Questions
This is the fun part, where you don't have to act like you know what you're doing. You are not the expert, and it's okay not to be. Nobody in the world knows everything about wine, so ask questions! If you're at a tasting room, try these:
- Is this a typical example of (insert type of wine here)?
- Was it made with organic or sustainably-farmed grapes?
- What flavors should I be looking for?
- How was it aged?
- What would you pair this with?
That ought to be plenty to get your sommelier started, and before long you'll know more about wine than you knew was possible. You'll also be that cool guy who's laughing over the wine bar and getting served the special reserve, free of charge.
If you're drinking with friends, ask them what they're tasting. Find out if they know much about this type of wine, and what they usually look for. If you're at a restaurant, try taking bites of various foods, followed by sips of wine. You'll be a wine expert, and only slightly buzzed, in no time.
That's it! When it comes to tasting and talking about wine, I really only have one rule: Don't be a snob. Have fun, say what you really think, and remember that wine was created to be enjoyed. So enjoy it.
Photo by John Joh on Flickr.