My friend Brandon told me how he used to sell expensive bottles of wine when he was a waiter. He would say, “It’s dry and full-bodied, but with a light, fruity flavor that goes down very smoothly.” “Oh how complex and wonderful,” his patrons would say. He giggled because he was only 19 and had no idea what he was talking about.
Wine tasting can be intimidating. There is smelling, sipping, swishing, spitting, smelling, all before you get to have a real drink. It’s actually interesting to do at home, and it certainly is a valuable exercise in developing a taste for wine. But, most often, you get a glass of wine and you drink it. And then you get another…
The truth is, wine tasting is not as complicated nor as confusing as it seems to be at first. Plus, the more you drink the more you learn. In fact, I read that the ideal time to taste wine is in the late morning when your taste buds are the most sensitive. All the more reason that I should be in the food & wine industry. I could drink professionally in the late morning no problem, and I love learning-by-doing.
Here is the thing: You want to be serious about this, but you also don’t want to be the guy/girl in khaki pants smelling the cork and spitting wine into your water-glass, and then saying “Oh marvelous, it’s a medium, light, full-bodied wine.” Quick advice: If you don’t know what to say about a wine, just say “Wow.” Then wait to see what other people say. You can go with the “Wow, unexpectedly delicious,” or “Wow, who would drink this.”
So find below some basic wine tasting terms and what they mean in real life:
- Smell/Nose/Aroma/Bouquet: In terms of wine tasting, these terms all generally mean the same thing–the sensation of smelling the wine. Practically, aroma relates more to the smell of the grapes and bouquet speaks more to the “wine” itself, or the result of fermentation and bottling.
Any of you who know the difference between trash on day 1 and trash on day 5 might understand the difference. Gosh, what is it with me and the foot and trash and food combination, gross!
- Body: This is the weight of the wine in your mouth. Think of the difference between water and milk, or syrup. Full-bodied wines will coat your mouth and throat like syrup or cream, while light-bodied wines will disappear after you swallow, like water or skim-milk.
- Flavor: Technically, this falls into one of four categories: Sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. But there is potentially a fifth one, Umami, which is Japanese for “savory” and can be found in things like soy sauce, mushrooms, anchovies, and parmesan cheese. Some standard ways of describing the flavors of White Wines are: buttery, fruity, flowery, earthy (think stone, straw, minerals and other things you would only taste if you fell down), and nutty (almond, hazelnut). Some common Red Wine flavors are: fruity (more berries on this side), chocolate, spice (pepper, cinnamon, clove), earthy (think falling down somewhere wet, moss, soil), vegetables (mushrooms, olives, truffle).
- Finish: This is the lasting sensation that the wine leaves with you after you swallow. This can be in your nose and in your mouth. One way to test the finish is to swallow, and then breathe out through your nose. A long finish means you will still feel the smell and taste of the wine, a short finish means you will be left with very little flavor or aroma. Typically, a long finish that is “balanced” or not overwhelmingly one of the sensations indicates a higher quality wine. Be careful here: On the one hand, you want to pick a higher quality wine, on the other hand, you don’t want to be the guy breathing wine out of his nose and then saying “Oh the finish, what a long finish.”
After that, it’s all up to you. Drink what you like, drink what you don’t (just drink it faster). Don’t let anyone intimidate you. There is nothing to say that an expensive, or full-bodied wine is necessarily high-quality. Try to learn, and describe the flavors and you will be amazed what you can taste.
Lastly, I am aware that based on some of the phrasing I used in this post, it is only appropriate to end with
Brass Slammer Lincoln Log Princess Sophia Blue-Veined Junket Pumper Richard Johnson Ralph the Fur Faced Chicken Harry and the Hendersons Russell the Love Muscle you guys are gross, and yes I googled those. Look at what you made me into…