First Time Wine Tasting?
Getting Into Wine
If you are developing a slight interest in wine and want to further develop your palate, it is important not to over complicate the situation. On a visit to a wine tasting room you might hear some wine snobs commenting how they smell tart cherries in a Cabernet or bananas in their Chardonnay, while you are wondering how the f*%$ can fermented grape juice smell like bananas. Don't panic! It is possible to enjoy wine without recognizing all of the nuances within a certain wine, and if you pursue your interest in wine further you too will begin to recognize the finer qualities of a good wine.
Vines on the Italian Riviera and Lambrusco grapes in Emilia Romagna
Understand the Basics
1. Many novice wine drinkers say they prefer an either white or red wine. Often I hear the ladies say they can only drink fruit forward white wines while dudes seem to be after the red, more robust and stronger wines. A true wine aficionado would not even consider this notion because wines, white or red, offer a different but equally rewarding experience. If you find yourself in a tasting room be sure to try all the wines available to determine which varietals suit your personal tastes. Wine pourers in tasting rooms will always start you off with the white, more delicate, wines and then move across the spectrum to the more heavy bodied reds. Take your time and imagine what foods would go well with each individual wine. Tasting rooms usually provide a list and pencil and it is a good ideas to make notes as you taste.
Tasting Room Etiquette
2. Walking into a tasting room for the first time can be intimidating, especially if you are in a more upscale region like Napa Valley, California. Do not let this discourage you. However, It is important to observe wine tasting etiquette when tasting in a winery. Never slam the wine down your throat in one gulp. This sends red flags to pourers that you are just there to get a buzz. They might be hesitant to serve you if they notice any rowdy or drunken behavior. If you have been tasting all day and you are a bit buzzed try your best to compose yourself. If you taste a wine that you don't like dump it into the bucket provided. Pourers love to see you dumping the occasional pour. This indicates that you actually have a palate. Remember that you are not obligated to like every sip that you try. Never ask them to pour you a full glass. By law it is illegal for them to serve you more than a taste. However, if you tried a nice Chardonnay that you really liked in the beginning of the tasting, do not hesitate to ask the pourer to revisit that particular wine. They are always happy to give you another taste. Wineries are not bars. They exist to sell a product and wine is a product that must be sampled before bought.
Don't Fatigue Your Palate
3. Limit the amount of wineries you visit in one day. After 3-4 tastings you will likely not be able to really taste the wine because your palate will be fatigued. For me, my best tasting experience is usually the second tasting room that I visit. The first tasting awakens my palate and by the second I am usually able to really decipher the major characteristics of each wine. Being in this 'zone' only lasts a short time but makes your visit to wine country completely worth the trouble. It is also a good idea to start tasting early in day. Most people's senses are heightened in the morning which allows peak enjoyment of the tasting experience.
Use Your Nose
4. Let your nose do the walking! The tasting experience starts in your nose. Upon a pour, take the glass by the stem and swirl the glass around a few times. This ritual is not just a snooty way of looking like you know what you are doing. It is essential to let the wine breathe. By tossing the wine around a bit, you are letting the wine come in contact with oxygen which creates a volatile chemical reaction within the wine and releases the wine's characteristics and qualities. Once you swirl the wine put your nose in the glass and take a major whiff. Inhale deeply and concentrate on what you are smelling. Red wines like Syrah and Cabernet should contain scents of berries, currants, leather, and wood to name a few. There will usually be a description of the wine by the winemaker on the tasting list. Read each description and use it as a reference. Talk about each wine with your partner or the pourer if you are by yourself. Vocalizing your thoughts is a good way to learn and remember what you liked about each wine.
Use All Your Senses
5. Tasting wine is really a process that involves almost all of your senses. Your eyes are also an important resource in determining certain characteristics of the wine. Hold the wine up into the light and tilt the glass. Is your Chardonnay golden, amber, or pale? Is that Cabernet ruby red, purple with orange tints on the rim, crimson? Look for different shades in the wine. Visual aspects can give you clues on the variety, age, and alcohol content. After you take a sip, do you see leggs running down the sides of the glass? If the leggs are thick and run slow this indicates a higher alcohol content in the wine. If the leggs appear watery and run down quickly your wine is lower in alcohol.
6. Never be afraid to ask questions. Wine pourers will likely have more information about each wine. They might tell you stories about each variety like the vineyard where the grapes were grown, information about the winemaker and owner, or other interesting facts about the wines. You cannot expect each pourer to be an expert but they usually do have some interesting information to share with you. Upon finishing your wine tasting do not feel pressure to buy wine unless you really enjoyed the wine and can afford to buy a few bottles. Wine pourers should not be offended if you do not buy anything. Upon exiting the tasting room take some time to wander around the vineyards if possible. Enjoy the surroundings and notice the landscape and vines. Wine tasting is a wonderful activity that stimulates all of your senses. If you take your time and don't expect to become an expert overnight you should thoroughly enjoy your experience. Also, be careful driving after a day of tasting. Do not assume that there aren't cops around waiting to pull people over even in remote areas. Don't drive if you think you are over the legal limit.