There’s a process to tasting wines. And yes, it requires spitting. The more you taste and smell wines, the more you start building up that food memory we have been talking about. More importantly, it helps you to understand what you like. I took a wine class in which I tasted 72 wines over 6 sessions. The result?  I really understand my palette more. I love acidic wines. I really like fruit-forward wines. I hate tannins in red wines. And I mean it. I got to a point in the Italian wines portion where I could not go on, even after eating cheese with the wine. Are you listening to me?? Dana could not smother something in cheese and be okay!! My palette was speaking to me loud and clear.

So to start, as with cheese, it’s a great idea to taste wines that are from the same region, or are of the same style, so you can start to tell the differences between them.

White wine should be slightly chilled, and red wine should be a little above room temperature. This allows the smell and taste to not be muted by the cold or too mellowed out by the heat. And each glass should have a taste of wine in it. Sorry, drunkies, you don’t need an entire glass…At my visit to Bin 36 in Chicago, and Bin 38 in San Francisco (real creative names, huh?), we were able to get ½ glasses, which was perfect for setting up our own wine flights. Now of course, we couldn’t spit, but besides that, we were doing the following:

  1. Look at the wine for a few things:
    1. Clarity: How clear and sparkling is the wine? Sometimes wines can appear dull, which can be an indication of age (sediment), or of the process with which it was prepared. Some wines have all of the grape solids removed to make a perfectly clear wine. Some wine traditionalists feel the solids give flavor. Just a personal preference.
    2. Color: The color of a wine can tell you a lot about it. First, determine if it’s white, red or rose. Just to throw you off a bit, there are also white wines made from red grapes (blanc de noir) that can range from clear white to orange-y/pink. Red wines go from purple-y to red to orange/brick as they age. White wines go from green/yellow to yellow to gold to amber. You can determine where in the scale the wine you’re drinking is. Typically, wines aged in wood have a faster deterioration of color, because the porosity of the wood leads to oxidation and color breakdown.
    3. Opacity: This refers more to the density of color. Does it look kind of watered down? Or more packed color in the wine? This gives hints to flavor profile. Also look for the “water line”. This is basically how much space there is from the top of the wine to where the color starts in the wine. The older a wine, the larger the water line because of the color breakdown.
    4. Swirl the wine and smell it. Swirling the wine helps to release the scent.
    5. Smell the wine for a few things:
      1. Off odors: This is where you want to see if the wine smells funny. You may be able to smell sulphur aromas, the remnants of a bad cork, whatever. You guys are smart – if it smells funny, don’t drink it.
      2. Aroma:  So a wine that is younger is said to have an aroma. Younger wines smell like fresh things – blackberries, strawberries, apples, pears, peaches, fresh herbs. Yes, you can really smell these things. You have to build up your food memory and really commit to memory the taste and smell of everything that you eat. That way you’ll be able to recognize the smells and tastes. You may also smell wood, if the wine has been aged in barrels. Note: you can’t smell sweet. So it may remind you of a ripe apple. That’s not really smelling “sweet”….
      3. Bouquet:  If a wine has an older smell, it’s said to have a bouquet. This means that it smells, well, older. It may smell like dried flowers and dried or slightly bruised fruit. You may smell wood as well (these wines are more likely to have been aged in wood), and maybe some oxidation (a kind of metallic smell) that is caused by exposure to the air during aging or a bad cork. You know how you open a bottle of wine to drink a little later in the week, and it tastes different? This is due to oxidation.
      4. Taste the wine
        1. Weight: This is related to what we discussed with cheese in terms of “mouthfeel”. How does it feel in your mouth? Is it heavy? Light? Watery? Thick?
        2. Taste: How does it hit your mouth? Pay close attention to this. The tip of your tongue tastes sweet. The sides of your tongue sour, and the back of your tongue bitter. So where on your tongue are you really feeling it? Usually really acidic wines make the sides of your tongue sing. And then the bitter ones, with tannins, you feel at the back of the tongue, but you feel an all-over scrape-y feeling. You know like when you taste tea that’s been steeped a bit too long? That’s the feeling.
        3. Flavor: So this is where those things you smell come in to play. What’s cool is that when you smell a wine that smells like bruised apples and pears, you can taste these things. Here’s where you can taste if a wine has residual sugar (sugar that sticks around after you taste it) and how the things you smell translate into tastes.
        4. Finish: Finish is related to how long it lingers in your mouth. Some wines have a long finish, and stick around for a while.
        5. Swish it around your mouth and spit. Honestly this is the only way you’ll really taste the wine. Not to say that after you taste it you can’t drink it, but try this first if you can.