How Not To Look Like An Idiot When Wine Tasting
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Once in a while, I enjoy a glass of red wine with my current preference being either a dry rose or a Blanc de noir. Hardly able to call myself a quaffer or a sommelier, I felt apprehensive and somewhat intimidated when I was invited to go wine tasting with a friend, Kirsten, who is currently studying her Msc in WINE BUSINESS, in the heart of wine country, in Dijon France! (She was holidaying in the Western Cape at the time). I was concerned that my lack of knowledge and etiquette on matters vino may cause her embarrassment, and, truth be told, I also didn’t want to appear a complete idiot!
This reminds me of the movie, ‘Sideways’ in which one of the characters, Miles (Paul Giamatti), a wine enthusiast, takes his engaged friend, Jack (Thomas Haden Church), on a trip to wine country for a last single-guy bonding experience. While watching the movie, I found myself giggling, almost nervously, at their totally different approaches to wine. Heaven forbid that I would embarrass Kristen, like Jack did to poor Miles, and, was she going to loudly proclaim, “I’m NOT DRINKING MERLOT!” like in the famous scene from ‘Side ways’? Well, thankfully neither happened! This wine tasting scene is also hilarious.
My day spent with Kristen, together with another mutual friend, was an absolute hoot. See more about the breathtakingly beautiful Stellenbosch region in a day guide that I wrote…
Learning about the different wines was fascinating; tasting them was scintillating, but ultimately, the laughter while languishing with friends, was the unforgettable highlight.
I asked Kristen for some advice, and this is what she had to say. I’m pretty sure that you will find these tips as informative as I did. If you are interested in learning even more about the world of wine, visit her website… for now, here are some helpful and fun ways to approach wine tasting… and remember… NO chewing gum! I found Kristen’s tips refreshingly down to earth.
Tip #1: Have fun. No really, ENJOY the experience! It doesn’t matter how much you think you know or don’t know about wine – remember that at the end of the day it’s essentially just fermented grape juice. So no presh – just find something that tastes yummy to you.
Tip #2: Stick your nose right into the glass and take a good long sniff. What do you smell? If you smell wine, you’re off to a good start. Then take another whiff. Does it smell good? (If it smells like a wet Labrador or a rotten egg, you should probably send it back). How strong does it smell? Is it like an elegant English garden or more like a horse’s stable? Does this particular wine remind you of anything? When people say they smell things like earth, coffee, black cherries, green pepper or even mushrooms or gasoline, the winemaker didn’t actually chuck these things into the blend (that would be illegal in most parts, but it didn’t stop Austria from putting anti-freeze into their wines in the 80s).
Essentially, wine is a complex combination of compounds and chemical reactions that have the potential to give off an extensive range of different aromas. Before I got into wine I thought this was all a load of bollocks, but the more I’ve tasted the more I’ve started to recognise the different aromas and how they can remind me of things like freshly cut grass or peaches. Also, the good news is that you can train your nose – so while some people may be born with the extraordinary ability to detect a hint of bruised pear in a glass of Sauvignon, the majority of us have to learn by trial and error i.e. a matter of paying attention over time.
Tip #3: take a big gulp and slosh it around in your mouth. What do you taste? Do you pick up the same flavour that you did on the nose? Or does it taste surprisingly different to how it smelt? How heavy does it feel in your mouth? If it makes you salivate on the sides of your inner cheeks, it means that the acidity is high. If it’s a red wine and it dries out your palate, it means the wine has a lot of tannins (you also get tannins in tea if you leave the teabag in for too long).
Tip#4: did you enjoy it? Write some notes down in a notebook or on your phone – that way over time you can start to work out what you like (or despise!) in a wine.
Mmmmhmm, on that line of thought…I look forward to the day that Kristen has her own vineyard and cultivates a special red ‘Friend Blend.’ I’m hoping that it will be spicy with a hint of chocolate, and of course, a hint of coffee… I’ll clink my glass to that!
I once read a quote that said, ‘The best wines are the ones we enjoy with friends.’ I agree.
Please share your wine tasting tips with me. I’ll be sure to pass them along to my future winemaking friends, Kristen Duff and Gosia Podgorska. If you’d like to check out there informative blog, ww.chalkandcheesetheblog.com
And as the French say, A ta sante!