People have been making, drinking, sharing and enjoying wine for over 6000 years on this earth. It is an age old process with so many nuances; it is hard to count them all. The basics of wine making are simple. To make wine, you grow grapes, harvest them, crush them, press the juice out, let the juice ferment, and bottle it. The reality is that there are a myriad of factors, both within that process and outside it, that affect the smell, taste, color, and body of the wine.
Each wine has its own sense of place and time. No two wines are identical. Factors affecting the end product include, but are not limited to: the grape variety, the soil in which the vines are planted, the weather, irrigation, drainage, the timing of the harvest, the winemaker’s style, the vessel in which it is fermented (stainless steel tanks, concrete vats, oak barrels, etc.), and the amount of time it is aged, either before or after bottling.
Choosing wine and tasting it can be daunting. We have all seen wine aficionados make a great production of opening a bottle of wine, smelling it, slurping it and then announcing a litany of obscure adjectives to describe it. The fact is some people have a very acute sense of taste and smell. For the rest of us, some of that expertise can be acquired.
To begin with, slow everything down when you open a bottle of wine. Pour a small amount into your glass and look at it. White wines are really a variation of a golden color. Red wines can vary from a pale red that is nearly clear to a dark ruby or sometimes red bordering on brown. Brown coloring around the edges of red wine often means it is past its prime. The next step is critical! Smell the wine! So much of our ability to taste is connected directly to our sense of
smell! It should be called smelling and tasting wine, not just tasting! Next, swirl the wine carefully and gently in the glass. Be careful! DO NOT DO THIS IF YOUR GLASS IS MORE THAN HALF FULL! Most especially do not do this if your glass is more than half full and you are sitting next to someone in a white top! Here are the most common aromas you will detect in wine: fruits, flowers, grass, herbs, earth, tobacco, toast, butterscotch, vanilla, coffee, mocha and chocolate. On rare occasions, you will open a wine that is seriously flawed. If it smells utterly disgusting, DO NOT DRINK IT! Chalk this up to experience and open another bottle.
The next step in tasting wine is the part that looks most pretentious, but is SOOOO important. Take a sip of the wine, hold the wine in your mouth and draw some air across it. Practice this at home before you do it in front of people and accidentally CHOKE, DRIBBLE or SNORT it up your nose! Then swish it around in your mouth and finally swallow it. If you ignore this process and take a big gulp, all you will taste are the basic sensations of sweetness, sourness, and bitterness. It is only by connecting the air over the wine with the place in the back of your mouth where your throat and nose connect that you get to enjoy all the amazing aromas hidden in the wine.
OK, now repeat this process. Enjoy, close you eyes, open your mind and discover all the aromas you didn’t know were there before. Please, send me your comments or questions. Next issue, we will explore the infinitely interesting subjects of pairing wine with foods.
Written by Pat Daniel. Permission to publish by Columbus & the Valley Magazine.