Wine Tasting – Not as Hard as it Looks

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“Wine is wonderful stuff. But so many people are put off by the snobbery of it.” – John Cleese

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.

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Different drinks for different things.

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 which 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….

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Nothing against Monsieur Connery, of course. Quick poll, by the way : Who was your favourite Bond? Let us know in the comments!

Forget all that, and imagine this guy instead.

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The thing with wine is, it belongs equally in both places.

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 with the naked eye, 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 step!


– Pick a glass that your nose can fit into.
If you have wine glasses, great! If not, really any glass will do.
Even a plastic cup will serve the purpose, in a pinch : you’re just trying to taste some wine, you’re not making a faux pas at the Queen’s birthday dinner.

– 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. You should be able to find them for under Rs. 1500 (less than $25) combined. And it’s well worth it, I assure you.

But 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.

If these aren’t available where you are, drop me a message, and I’ll recommend something more specific to you. That’s what I’m here for!

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Tried and tested. If you can find a Chardonnay with “Reserve” written on the label, even better!

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.

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Optional step 4a : Be thankful you don’t have this gentleman’s nose.   4b : Be hopeful that one day, you become as much of a legend as him.

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 swirling the wines 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.

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There’s a whole spectrum of aromas you might find, depending on the varietal of grape used. Riesling sometimes even smells of burning rubber, or petrol. Look out for it!

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 more 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 something as mundane (and frankly absurd), as dust.

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Nope. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. You have to try it.

Though, no aroma is absurd when it comes to wine. If you think your wine smells like that the potted plant outside your front door, that’s totally valid. Because it can.

If you think it smells exactly like that incredible cranberry sauce that only your grandmother knows how to make, that’s totally valid, too. Because some wines can  actually smell like that. Someone else might not pick up on it, but that doesn’t make you wrong.

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See? You got this.

If you can narrow down the smells you’re getting, you’re already getting way better!

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A grape like Shiraz often smells a lot like smoke, tobacco, and pepper, along with some red fruit. Next time you try a Shiraz, see if you can spot any of those!

Go ahead and take a sip.  You’ll be tasting the STAAFF”, which stands for :

Sweetness (or lack of it),
Tannins (the espresso kind of bitterness),
Alcohol (how strong it feels)
Acidity (how tart and fresh the wine feels),
Fruitiness, and
Finish (how long the flavour lingers after you drink it).

If you want some more detail on what to expect when it finally hits your tongue, check out my article here.

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 some fancy 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 weird and burnt. Some flowery stuff. It’s not sweet at all (which means it’s dry), it’s super acidic, and I think I smell some fruit in it too, but I can’t be sure. The alcohol doesn’t punch me in the face, it’s goes down pretty easy, and the flavour kind of disappears 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 really just goes up from there.

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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, if not more.

It’s a lot of fun to test yourself, once you know where to start – just give it a try. Even if you realise the process is 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. 🙂

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