Wine Tasting For Beginners

Let’s say you are having a wine tasting party of sorts. A few thousand friends. They are all huge drunks so you decide on a BYOB wine tasting and haven’t really splurged on anything more than the ginger ale to settle the stomach of the girl who will inevitably puke around your toilet. Then you realize what a screwed up move that would be so you remember your new wine lover of a boss and how you want that new promotion in the bending over and grabbing your ankles level of corporate slavery and think Hey! It would be a better idea to host a wine tasting for beginners event for a smaller crowd.

It’s easy to set up a wine tasting. Get a table, put your wine out, have some wine tasting glasses nearby and don’t forget the spit bucket. Though most people that go to tastings are there for the free samples of wine and won’t spit (In the not so P.C. side of the world of wine we call those people lushes, i.e., friends; they tend to show up at every tasting and linger the whole event with wine glass in hand). As easy as setting up wine tasting events sounds, they are often botched.

Some cardinal rules to follow should you decide to host a wine tasting party at your home:

  • DO NOT wear scents. It’ll screw with your ability to smell the wine. People are coming to smell the aromas in the wine, not smell you.
  • The room should be well lit so that everyone can discern the color of the wine.
  • Make sure the room is odor-free. Don’t Febreeze before your guests arrive. Again, it affects the aroma of the wine.
  • Wine tasting glasses are preferred over plastic cups so that the bulb of the glass will trap aromas.
  • Serve white wines before reds. Dry before sweet. And light-bodied before full-bodied.
  • With a flight of wines, you should instruct your guests to evaluate the color and appearance of all the wines first; then quickly smell them to get a first impression. Next, smell in detail, and taste each one.

When a wine snob swirls his wine glass and holds it to the light, shoves his nose in it and takes a big nasally pig breath of the wine before sloshing it around in his mouth, what he is doing is judging the wine. He checks for appearance and clarity to see if there’s anything floating in it. Color, to determine age. Odor, for off scents, aroma and bouquet. And then taste for mouthfeel. It might seem piggish with all the sounds coming from him, but that’s the way it’s done. Indulge yourself. Make some noise. That’s how you learn about wine.

Let’s back up a moment to talk about some of the wine basics I mentioned above.

Appearance of the wine. If you hold your glass to a light source at a wine tasting you will be able to determine if it’s cloudy or not. Cloudy doesn’t mean the wine is bad, just that not all the particles were filtered. Sometime this is done purposefully, mostly to preserve flavor and add complexity. Also, when judging still wines as opposed to sparkling wines, you might see “legs” or “tears” running down the glass after swirling. The more legs, the higher the alcohol and sugar content. LEGS DO NOT REPRESENT QUALITY in a wine. Let go of that one right now.

Color I talked about in my last post, How Your Senses Understand Wine, so I’ll skip that one.

Odor or the aroma is used to describe the scents of the grape used in the wine. Bouquet describes the smells associated in the wine making process and any barrel or bottle aging it might go through.

Taste. Or mouthfeel. Mouthfeel is how a wine feels in your mouth. Think of it in terms of milk. A wine with a big mouthfeel is like regular milk with all its fatty yumminess. A lighter mouthfeel in a wine is like 2% milk or skim…

Now you want to be able to instruct everyone at your wine tasting party on how to taste a wine if they are wine tasting for beginners, so here’s a little wine tasting guide.

The Process of Tasting

  1. Take a sip of the wine and roll it around your mouth.
  2. Slosh around in there to heat it up and release the aromas.
  3. Bring air into your mouth (yes you can slurp) to aerate it and bring out even more of the aromas.
  4. Feel out the wine. Does it have heat? Is it acidic? Is there some effervescence or sparkling sensation?
  5. Now this is when you’re supposed to spit, but if no one is looking, pretend. Then hold your glass out for another sample proclaiming you missed the first go round.
  6. Savor the flavor left in your mouth after you swallow. Does the wine linger? If it does it is said to have a long finish.

Another thing to be mindful of is serving temperature. Don’t chill your whites too much for a wine tasting. Stay above 45° F. Cold will mask aromas and flavors. Typically sparklings and sweet wines should be served between 45-50° F. Dry whites and Rosés between 50-60° F.

Reds should be served a little warmer. Room temperature, so to speak. Which leads you to the question, “What exactly is room temperature?” It’s not whatever temperature it is right now in the room you’re in. If your wine tasting is being held in a sauna, you’ll get odd looks first off, then you’ll get a mouth full of alcohol on your tongue from pouring warm wine. Room temperature is based on Old World practices of storing wine in cellars. So your light-bodied reds should be served between 55-65° F and heavier reds can be served between 62-68° F. If you use centigrade as your measure, go get a math buddy; I can’t help you.

One final word about letting your wine breath before we’re done. The equation is simple. The longer you let the wine breath, the more aroma and flavor you’ll get out of it. And this means more than just popping the cork and letting the bottle sit there for an hour. All you’re doing with that is oxygenating what’s in the neck of the bottle. For a white wine that might be too cold, it’s okay to pour out a couple glasses and let the bottle breath while you sit down for a first course or some chitchat about something snobbish. But it varies with reds. Get a decanter and let the wine splash into it. Decanting will soften tannins (the things that dry your tongue out when you taste some red wines) usually in young reds and more complex wines. Avoid splashing if you’re dealing with an older red or see sediment in the bottle. If there is sediment, just pour slowly and stop before the sediment gets to the neck.

Next time, I will go into the wine basics of common wine faults and off-odors. In the meantime, go out and find a wine snob and out snob him with your new wine knowledge. And deny any accusations that you were at a wine tasting for beginners.

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