You’ve all seen it. Most, if not all of you, have done it. The it is the ritual of tasting wine. Sometimes all that swirling and sniffing looks pretty affected – But the truth of the matter is that engaging with the wine in the glass is the best way to enhance your Sip appreciation. First, a simple tasting ritual can tell you if the wine has any faults that will hinder or prevent you from enjoying it. Then there’s the fact having a regular way to taste the wine in your glass will jumpstart your sipping experiences – kind of like lighting up your tastebuds! Finally, there’s an opportunity to know a bit more about wine every time you raise a glass to you lips, and I think that adds to the overall enjoyment and entertainment we get from this amazing beverage.
So how can we create a tasting process that does those things, and without appearing to be some snooty wine aficionado? The answer is to keep it simple and keep it real. There are five easy steps that I call the Sips Approach to digging wine: See, Swirl, Smell, Sip and Savor. Here’s what they mean:
See. Be aware. Look at the wine in your glass. What you See can tell you a lot about what you’re going to taste and experience. While we all know there is red, white and rose’ wine, within those very broad definitions is a wide variety of shade and texture. For example, if you just poured a taste of chardonnay what do you see? Is it rich yellow or pale straw? Is it golden or honey-like with tint of amber. Typically the richer golden color will tell you that this chard came from a warmer year or region or spent some time barrel aging. And without taking a sip you can anticipate a more peachy or tropical fruit taste, probably with a fuller feel in your mouth. Each wine variety has its own color and texture profile and the more you See and become aware, the more you’ll come to know wine.
Swirl. Yep – do it. Don’t feel intimidated. Swirling the wine in the glass is not only a great way to also See and admire it more, it’s the wine’s handspring out of the bottle. Swirling releases the aroma, essentially aerates the wine so that more of the wine is exposed to the air and flavor molecules are ready for your nose. Also, it can tell us a bit about the alcohol too. Since our taste is driven by smell, swirling the wine in the glass activates the evaporation of some of the alcohol which carries the odor that we will Smell and lets us See the “tears” or “legs” on the side of the glass. Long slow legs indicates higher alcohol which tells us the wine will be more full tasting. Now…
Smell. That’s it, stick your nose in that glass and give it a good whiff! This is a fun one. But it’s also where folks get carried away. Here’s where to keep it simple. When I Smell I try to look for three types of aromas or odors. First anything bad or off-putting. Common faults are cork taint (think smelly gym socks) or acetone (nail polish) or like a Band-Aid and other unnatural smelling things. If it doesn’t smell right it’s probably not right so send it back or return the bottle to the store. Next, the fruit. Each variety has characteristic smells of fruit and I like to smell for a predominant one – not a litany of every fruit I’ve ever had (like some wine reviewers)! Next there are indicators of how the wine was made so I smell for the oakyness (vanilla, toasty or woody) or things like sur lie aging (yeasty or bready), and so on. In future posts I’ll give you a whole list of Smell by different grape varieties and winemaking styles. But start now and trust your nose!
Sip. Yes, you get to actually sip the wine! Here’s where I like to keep it real. Let the wine work around the inside of your mouth, let the aroma work back from your mouth to your nose. What’s there? Don’t try to name everything you experience… pick three, whether they be different fruits, herbal or vegetal qualities, flowers or zippy acidity, woodiness or style, body or astringency, just let the wine live in your mouth before you swallow it. And then…
Savor. This is where the magic happens. This is where it all comes together – or not. This is where the awareness of what you See in the glass, the liveliness of the Swirl, the aroma assault of the Smell and the payoff of the Sip becomes a wine experience. And as you continue to try different wines and practice the Sips Approach the whole world of wine will be more open, more familiar, less intimidating and more entertaining for you.
Have I got you hooked? If so here’s a terrific app to help you along the way. It’s from the University of Adelaide in Australia and it is an interactive way to taste along and keep up with the experiences you Sip. Find it for iPhone or Android: My Wine World (TM) produced by the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, the University of Adelaide.