WineInk: A Matter of Taste
Thinking about what’s in your glass
Perhaps the best way to learn what wines taste the best to your palate is to keep a journal of the wines you drink. And the best journal I have seen is the hardcover, pocket-sized “Wine Tasting Notebook” produced by Steve De Long. Each page allows you to enter a plethora of information, ranging from the name of the producer to where you drank the wine and your impressions. There is then a list of wine descriptors and all you need to do is circle the ones that describe your experiences best.
Fill in each page and not only will you know wine better, you’ll likely know your drinking preferences better as well. Find the Wine Tasting Notebook at www.delongwine.com.
In wine, nothing is more important than taste. Be you an occasional imbiber or a well-traveled oenophile, the only thing that really matters about a glass of wine is whether or not it tastes good to you.
But, as I was told by a master sommelier in early April at an educational confab on Italian wines, “There is a difference between tasting a wine and drinking a wine.” That is to say that the act of tasting a wine, of going though the process of taking notes and examining a wine’s various characteristics, is a markedly different experience and exercise than either throwing back a bottle of rosé on a spring eve or sipping a Bordeaux with a meal.
Tasting is more of an intellectual exercise that requires attention and focus with the intent of learning something about what is in the glass. If you are inclined to take the time to, in the rhetoric of the day, be a bit more “in the moment,” you can learn a lot about not just what is in your glass but the broader world of wine, as well. And it likely will enhance your wine experiences.
I recently rode a chairlift with a young artist who tried to explain to me how he looks at the world differently as a painter from how he did before he first picked up a brush. “See that stand of aspen?” he asked, while pointing to the adjacent trees just to our right. “I used to see the forest, now I examine the trees,” he explained. “I look at the color of the bark, the texture of the wood. I try and figure out if they are young or old trees. I look for flaws or markings on the trunks and examine the buds to see what stage of the yearly cycle they may be in. I look at the various veins and branches and think about how I might depict them in a painting. I just look more closely than most people do.”
As he spoke, my mind instantly went to the process of tasting a wine. How, by looking at the color, the clarity of the liquid in the glass, by identifying the aromas of the fruit when you inhale them and paying attention, the textures on your tongue can help you to tell a story about that wine. To paint a picture, if you will.
You may think that you have a limited knowledge or lack of information about wine, but you know more than you might think. If the wine in the glass is white and has bubbles, then I’ll bet you know it is a sparkling wine. That it may be a Champagne or a prosecco or some other global sparkler. If it is pink, then you likely know it is a rosé and you can guess that it is young, fresh and from someplace that has lots of sunshine like Provence. That initial deduction is simple and can help you understand just what you are drinking.
You don’t have to know what the méthode champenoise or saignée (winemaking techniques used to produce Champagne and rosé, respectively) is to begin to think about where that wine came from. You just have to trust in your instincts and the knowledge of the world that you already possess.
Conversely, if you have a glass of red wine you can eliminate virtually every white grape — chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or riesling, for example — the moment you see the wine. Now you can begin the process of determining what the grape may be and where that red wine may have been born. Dark and inky? Maybe a cabernet sauvignon or a syrah. Can you see through it? Hold your thumb behind the liquid and look to see if you can see the finger. If so, it is likely a lighter wine. Maybe a pinot noir or a sangiovese. Maybe it came from Burgundy. Or Tuscany. Or Oregon.
Putting your nose in a glass can offer more clues. And taking a sip, swirling it in your mouth or inhaling air after you swallow will let you learn if the wine has tannins or how high the alcohol levels are. Does your mouth feel a bit grippy and dry? Those are tannins. Does your tongue burn? That’s the high alcohol.
It’s not hard to pay attention to your wine as you taste it. And if you do, you will not only become a more self-educated wine drinker, you are likely to enjoy your wine even more than you do now.
Try painting a picture every once in a while.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.