Wine 101: How to Taste Wine With Andrew Lampasone of Wine Watch
You've heard it before: Wine is like a metaphor for life. As cheesy and pompous as it sounds, it's actually kind of true.
Take the same exact grape, grow it in different terroir -- that's wine-speak for growing place -- with different growing methods, fermentation techniques, or bottling procedures and you're going to end up with a completely different wine.
While the average wine drinker might not be able to notice the difference, one definitely exists. In preparation for our upcoming Pairings event on September 26, we figured you'd like to learn how to distinguish among the finer points of wine.
To help teach you how to taste wine properly and pick up on the individual distinctions, we spoke to Andrew Lampasone of Wine Watch about the basics of tastings.
"Today, winemaking is a little more involved than freak of nature," says Lampasone. "In even the worst of vintages, great wines are made. Technology plays a huge role in the cultivation of vineyards, leading to the creation of the best wines that the Earth's bounty has ever offered."
Though hundreds of publications examine and analyze wines from across the world, there are essentially five basic steps that can help you determine the quality and characteristics of the wine you are drinking if you with visual and aromatic evaluation.
Step One: Look at the Wine
This might sound like an idiot-proof first-step, but there are numerous factors that can be discovered just by visually inspecting the glass. From the color, you can tell the age of the wine -- young or old -- the presence of oak, and even the grape variety or blend.
According to Lampasone, "Red wine appears the darkest in its youth and gets progressively lighter as it matures; red wine in wood also lightens the color. White wine gets darker as it ages, so a wine that has a deep golden caramel color is probably older than a wine with brilliant golden hay color. White wine gets darker if you age it in oak."
Step Two: Swirl
You know when someone orders a bottle of wine and swirls it around after the server pours it in the glass? It's not just for show -- even if it looks superpretentious. In addition to aerating the wine, doing so lets you check out the viscosity. As your swirl it around, residual wine falls down the side of the glass; those streams are called the legs. The thicker they are and the longer they cling to the sides, the more viscous the wine. The more viscous the wine, the higher the alcohol content and/or sugars.
"Hold the glass by the stem and swirl it gently; do not shake it violently, causing it to spill over the edge," says Lampasone. "This technique is the most difficult of the five, and equanimity helps. Hold the glass at eye level to get the best view. A few useful terms to impress your friends: long, sluggish, thick, short, slender, accelerated, leisurely, and scrawny."
Step Three: Sniff
Immediately following the spin cycle is the sniff stage. This is the most important step in tasting, because the olfactory system has the ability to distinguish thousands of aromas. While most people tend to focus on the actual taste of the wine, you only taste four things once you out the wine in your mouth.
To properly sniff the wine, take a deep whiff as it is still swirling around in the glass. Exhale and then take a deep inhale. Repeat a couple of times and take some time to think about the aromas.
While the variations in aromas can change from bottle to bottle, certain varieties are known for exhibiting specific scents across the board, such as cherry in Pinot Noir, ripe berries in Cabernet Sauvignon, citrusy, grassy notes in Sauvignon Blanc, and citrus and possibly oak or butter in Chardonnay.
However, while aromas like cat pee and acetone can be perfectly normal, there are some notes that indicate a wine is clearly off.
Step Four: Taste
By this point, you probably just want to get your buzz on, but the goal is to really get a good feel for the wine in your mouth. Sip in a good amount and let it sit on your tongue, feeling the weight and mass of the wine. Hold it for three to five seconds before swallowing.
"A wine that is very concentrated and viscous contains either a high amount of sugar, alcohol, and/or acid," said Lampasone. "A very light wine is probably low in alcohol, sugar, and/or acid. A white wine that prickles the back of your tongue is probably fairly high in citric or malic acid [associated with green apple]. A red wine that completely dries out your mouth, leaving you speechless, is probably high in tannins -- a compound found in the grapes' seeds and stems that can be very bitter."
Step Five: Wait...
The initial flavors that traverse your palate when you first let the wine sit in your mouth will change after swallowing. There are three stages to the finish.
According to Lampasone, "The finish sets great wine apart from good ones. The first 15 seconds, the essence of the wine will be the strongest and sometimes too strong due to excessive drying tannins, acidity, or alcohol. The next 15 seconds, the intense flavors will begin to diminish quickly for most wines. The following 15 seconds, most of the flavors will be faded and the wine will neutralize your palate. Only the best of wines will be well-balanced through all three stages, and only the very best will gain in complexity and flavor after the initial 15 seconds. After 45 seconds, if you can still taste the wine, try to determine if the acid, alcohol, and fruit are still in balance."
To learn more or purchase Pairings' tickets, visit voiceplaces.com/broward-palm-beach/6th-annual-new-times-pairings-on-thursday-september-26
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.
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