This is the question. How do we drink wine? I mean how do we really taste, savor and fully appreciate wine? It sounds strange, but there is actually a methodology and approach that can deeply enhance our enjoyment of wine.
Here’s an analogy. If one considers artistic talent or writing skill, there exists a person’s natural ability and then there is the development of that natural ability. For example, we all study composition writing in school, and we’re all taught the fundamentals of organization- introduction, body, conclusion, thesis statement, etc. We’re directed to use proper punctuation and grammar, encouraged to use the active rather than the passive voice, avoid run-ons and fragments, and broaden our vocabularies. We’re then instructed to practice and write and practice more and write more. And then the sky’s the limit. Creativity and poetic license allow you to soar, executing linguistic back handsprings or literary take down moves (without the choke-hold, of course).
The same holds true for wine appreciation. Our sense of smell and taste vary, as does our exposure to different kinds of cuisine and beverages. But if we take our natural sensory abilities and build upon them, our appreciation will develop immensely. If we are provided with some fundamental knowledge about wine and plenty of pleasurable experiences, we can enter a realm of wine appreciation where a delectable meal will be enhanced immeasurable by a quality wine.
To further clarify, increasing our level of wine appreciation can be compared to art appreciation. Vocabulary and background are crucial. If we know about perspective, paint choices, brush strokes, the interplay between light and shadow, and a little about the individual artist and his contextual period, we’ll have a more complete understanding of the art piece we are observing. Similarly with wine, if we develop a basic understanding of how wine is made and aged, a familiarity with different wine regions and grape varietals, and are equipped with the requisite vocabulary to describe a broad spectrum of aromas and flavors, we’ll appreciate the nuances of wine more fully.
To the uninitiated, some of the descriptions of wine’s aromas and flavors do seem ridiculously obscure. Do we really know what jasmine and lotus leaf smell like, or are we familiar with the taste of wet rock, Virginia tobacco, or hazelnut-coated persimmons? The truth is, though, the more extensive our familiarity with different tastes and smells, the more refined our ability to distinguish the finer points of different wines.
Now that we’ve laid the groundwork, let’s explore some of the fundamentals of wine appreciation. We’ve all come across the famed “four s’s” of wine tasting, most commonly described as see, smell, sip, and swallow. On the advice of an accomplished connoisseur, replacing swallow with summarize is more helpful.
See. Hold the wine glass up to the light or against a white background. If the wine is red, how would you describe it? Is it a deep, ruby red? Is it inky and almost black? Is it lighter and brighter? Does it have tinges of brown? When you tilt the glass, does the color seem to recede to the center or remain equally concentrated throughout? The answers to some of these questions provide valuable information about the age, complexity, and even freshness of the wine.
Smell. Before you smell the wine, gently swirl the wine for a few seconds, to break up its natural aromas and flavors. Place your nose deep into the glass and take two or three quick sniffs instead of inhaling deeply, which can overwhelm your olfactory sense. What do you detect? Any spices? Dark or light fruit? Any florals, botanicals or woods? Remember, there is no right or wrong, your nose knows.
Sip. When you sip the wine be sure to allow it to coat the entire surface area of your cheeks, tongue, and palette. Swish it around as though you are gargling. Also, and this is incredibly important, inhale air while the wine is still in your mouth to maximize your experience. Don’t worry about appearing foolish. At any wine tasting event, the slurpers and the gurglers are usually the real experts.
Summarize. After you swallow the wine take a few moments to register what your senses detected. Review the wine’s aromas, tastes, texture, body, its complexity, and your overall impression. Did your experience change from intro to the middle and through to the finish? How did it compare with other wines of the same varietal you’ve tasted in the past? Summarizing your thoughts provides completeness to the experience and helps sharpen your descriptive powers.
Always bare in mind, there is no real beginning or end to the study of wine. It’s a fun, life-long process and the more you explore and experience, the more enjoyment and satisfaction you will have drinking wine!