It’s unfortunate that the reputation of wine hasn’t worked in its favour in our country – quite the opposite, in fact. It’s also unfortunate that there’s no shortage of snobs in the wine world, who make it a lot harder for everyone else to appreciate the stuff without feeling conscious, or out of place.
Wine is actually very easy to enjoy. It’s not inherently better or worse than beer, whisky, or any other alcohol, just different.
You don’t have to stare at it intently, ramming your nose into the glass, urging it to reveal its secrets. You don’t have to write a thesis about it – just sit back, don’t pay it so much thought, and drink. And if you happen to make some interesting observations along the way, that’s awesome!
Personally speaking, I intend to specialise in wine, so I have to pay a little more attention to what’s in my glass. But for someone who’s not too fussed about it, you really don’t need to get into the finer details of it.
Unless you want to.
In that case, forget whatever you see in the movies – dashing gents in designer suits, and elegant ladies with tapered fingers holding onto exquisite glasses of the finest wine….
Forget all that, and imagine this guy instead.
Now, if you do want to know what’s going on in your glass, you’ve come to the right place. You’ll be able to look out for these things the next time you find yourself with a glass of wine in your hands.
I’m here to tell you exactly what tools you need, in order to taste wine like all the fancy people do.
– A nose. Most people have one. It’s often difficult to spot, but it can be easily found with a mirror.
It’s right there between your eyes.
– A mouth. Often found in close proximity to the nose, it’s a crucial tool in tasting wine. Scientists say that you can find one right above your chin.
This concludes the list of tools you require. Onto the next steps!
– Pick a glass that your nose can fit into.
If you have wine glasses, great! If not, really any glass will do.
– Pick two different wines of the same colour, either two reds or two whites. Even one will do, but having two really changes the game. I shall explain why, soon.
I would recommend starting with whites, they are easier to “taste”. But if reds are your thing, go right ahead with those. Comfort over compulsion, any day of the week.
To help you out a little bit, I would suggest Sula’s 2015 Riesling, and Reveilo’s 2014 Chardonnay. Both whites, and both quite easily available.
If you don’t want to buy the full bottles, the next time you go to a family lunch or dinner where you can order wine by the glass, look out for these wines on the menu.
– Pour your wine into your glass, a little less than half.
– If possible, get yourself to a quiet, friendly atmosphere. Swirl up the wine in the glass to get those aromas out, and just breathe them in.
Don’t be afraid to get your nose all the way in there – the reason we pour less is so that it doesn’t flow into your nose during this step.
– Now comes the interesting part. What do you smell? Remember, there’s no judgement, there’s no laughing, and no pressure. A common phrase, often bashfully mumbled is, “it smells like wine”.
And you’re not wrong. But what does “wine” smell like?
– The answer lies on the label of the bottle.
Not all wines smell and taste the same, and it’s the kind of grape that goes into the making the wine that determines that.
The first one here is made from a white grape called Chenin Blanc. The second is a blend of two red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon (or just Cab Sauv), and Shiraz.
Each grape has its own different aroma and taste, and in a blend, the traits of each grape mix with one another.
– Pour out a glass of the second wine (of a different grape) and take a whiff of that. You’ll know for sure that they’re different.
This is why having two wines helps. Keep gently swirling the wine to make sure all the aromas keep coming out.
– Now just take your time smelling them to see if you can find any aromas you recognise. Over and above the alcohol, white wines generally smell of citrus (like limes), or flowers, or leaves, or grass, or more ripe fruit like pineapples and peaches, or like honey, or things like that.
It really helps to take down notes, on paper or on your phone, or just open a voice recorder and just say whatever comes to your mind as you smell.
If you picked two reds, there’s going to be a lot happening in your nose, which is why they tend to be a little more difficult to decipher.
But you’re likely to get aromas like strawberries, cherries, smoke, meat, some vegetables, coffee, chocolate, and even dust. If you can narrow down the smells you’re getting, you’re already getting way better!
– Go ahead and take a sip. If you want to know what to expect when it finally hits your tongue, check out my article here. You’ll be tasting the STAAFF, which stands for :
– Sweetness (or lack of it),
– Tannins (the espresso kind of bitterness),
– Acidity (how tart and fresh the wine feels),
– Fruitiness, and
– Finish (how long the flavour lingers after you drink it).
The cumulative effect of how heavy the wine feels, along with the intensity of flavour, refers to the “body” of the wine.
– Put the glass down. Let me use a wine expert’s language, for a moment, to describe a wine.
“As I swirl it, I’m getting aromas of… lemon peel, underscored with honey, with a robust hit of burning rubber. I detect some freshly cut grass, some jasmine, some chamomile… on the palate, absolutely dry, with a crisp acidity, and a distinct fruitiness… Medium body, with a short to medium finish.”
Translation : I can smell citrus, honey, and something burning. Some leafy stuff, some floral stuff. There’s no trace of sugar (that’s dry), it’s really tart and acidic, and quite fruity. Not too much alcohol, not too heavy to taste, and the flavour stays for just a short while after I finish drinking it.
Does that sound like a conclusion you could come to?
Is it that far from the other approach? Minus a few impressive words here and there, it’s pretty much the same.
Congratulations! You’ve just “tasted” wine, and hopefully had a lot of fun doing it, too. The more you practice, the more aromas you remember and recognise, and it just goes up from there.
I do sincerely hope this shows you that wine really is for everyone, and not just a select few – and to not be intimidated by people who use a lot of big words when describing their wine. You can do it too, and make just as much sense as them.
It’s a lot of fun to test yourself, once you know where to start. Just give it a shot – even if you realise it’s not for you, you still have a full bottle of wine left over to drink at your own pace.
On that note, I bid you adieu,
Until next time. 🙂