how to taste wine

Blind tasting Wine | Almost as Delicious as Humble Pie

Sometimes we all need a thick slice of humble pie to chew on. If you find yourself routinely puffing your chest out or staring for long periods in the mirror at your handsome reflection, I suggest a blind tasting.

wine tasting at FnB Scottsdale

Lots of wines, no labels

Not only are they grounding, but blind tastings are also a great way to test your “wine chops”.  A while back, I attended a blind tasting at a local wine bar.   There were 4 wines, 2 whites and 2 reds.  We did not know the varietals or where they came from– known as a “Double Blind” tasting. We were given only one clue: The wines were single varietals, not blends.

When blind tasting, every part of the wine tasting process needs to be intricately analyzed. Is the wine pale in color, like water? Or is it a deep, honey golden color? When it’s swirled, how viscous does it appear – thin and watery, or cloying and thick? Are the aromas more earthy and woody, or sweet and fruity? When tasting, is the wine heavy with mouth drying tannins or more light and silky? Each identifiable characteristic will act like a piece to a puzzle, helping you more accurately label a wine a certain way.
To make it even more interesting, the wine bar was offering a $25 gift certificate to anyone who could guess all 4 wines correctly.  After all the eager contestants had arrived, we got down to business.
weekly wine journal wine blogThe first white wine was placed before us like a microorganism beneath a microscope. Guests put their noses in the glasses, taking notes, swirling and gazing into the distance searching for analogies. This was repeated several times, as gazes turned to puzzled, contorted facial expressions.
I found the first wine tasted like lemon Theraflu – not exactly appealing. The second white wine was marginally better with a sort of buttery chardonnay mixed with grassy Sauvignon Blanc taste, a somewhat confusing flavor profile for me.  Halfway through the competition and my confidence had already taken a harder beating than BP Oil.
weekly wine journal wine blogNext came the reds. The first red wine had me completely stumped.  It was unlike any red wine I had ever tasted before, and not in an amazingly good way either.  I found it to be one of the single worst tasting wines I have ever tasted and I couldn’t finish it.  The other guests finished theirs, and the girl next to me remarked that she really like it. I thought to myself, “if you like flavors of nail polish and forest fire with a muddy dirty mouth feel and very little in the way of fruit, this is right up your alley.”
The second red wine I liked a lot more; smooth, with decent fruit, light acidity and tannins. My mind went straight to Merlot. Without a doubt, no questions asked.
It turned out to be a Cabernet.  Then the moment we had all been waiting for – the results. While the $25 gift certificate would be nice, it was our pride that we were all hoping to walk away with.
The first white: Pinot Grigio. I could have sworn it was blended with Theraflu.
The second white: a Sauvignon Blanc – I was almost there!
The third of our flight turned out to be a Zinfandel (a poor excuse for Zinfandel, if you ask me).
And finally, the fourth and final wine… a Cabernet Sauvignon. I would have bet good money it had been a Merlot. Maybe they had poured me the wrong stuff?
We looked around the room to find that a few had 3 out of the 4 pegged correctly, but nobody got them all right. No cash prizes, but there were plenty of defeated wine aficionados.
Blind tasting is a learning experience to say the least. Analyzing wine without knowing the brand, varietal, or price point really puts your palate to the test and is the single most honest way to evaluate a wine.  It’s an interesting and fun way to add mystery and intrigue to a wine tasting or wine party, especially if you venture out of the more well known grape, wine regions and flavor profiles.
Have you ever put your palate to the test in a blind setting?  If so, what were the results? Were you pleasantly surprised with your wine wherewithal? Or did you leave with a bruised palate ego?
Edited by Jon Troutman

The Best Way to Learn About Wine is to Taste it, and Lots of it

Mark Tarbell Over the years, a number of people, with little to no wine drinking experience, have asked for my advice as they start their wine education. While wine blogs and internet references have made factual education easier than ever to obtain, the number one educational tool will always be tasting. There is no need to sacrifice your first born in order to learn by tasting Grand Cru. A solid foundation can be built on very short money, and I’m eager to spread that word. I thought rather than answer everyone’s questions individually, I’d compile the following advice for people interested in empowering themselves with some educational wine ammunition.

wine tastingThe first thing I recommend is determine what your monthly “research and development” budget will be. Like I said before and contrary to popular belief, you do not have to spend a lot to learn a lot. I would start out on the less expensive side, perhaps $10 a bottle. Drink that very same bottle over the course of three nights to see its evolution from the time it’s popped until the last glass is poured, about 72 hours later. Many wines can become flat and dull by day three, but this is all part of the education process. Recognizing how the wine has changed, for better or worse, is enlightening. This game plan can cost less than $100 per month, assuming you’re going to be tasting wine each and every night.
Wine listExperimenting with a wide range of wine styles is probably the most essential step. Start by investing in 12 bottles of wine, a “mixed case”, of 6 whites and 6 reds, all different styles.  The basic, most quintessential red and white varietals are a good stepping stone – Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir,  Merlot and Malbec for your reds and Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Gewurzatraminer and Chenin Blanc for whites. I would not recommend spacing these 12 bottles over 12 months. Instead, try at least 1 bottle per week.  In the beginning, the objective should be to expose yourself to as much as possible, discovering what styles excite us… and which leave us flaccid. Once the 12 wines have been polished off, move onto more esoteric grapes and other styles of sparkling and dessert wines.
You’ve no doubt seen movies, TV shows, or your more wine-smart friends tasting wine.  They sniff the wine, gargle it, seemingly getting off to it. After tasting, you wonder if they need a post-coital cigarette. What the heck are they doing?
champagne glasses

Cheers!

Why not just drink it already? Understanding that our sense of smell is how we percieve most of what we taste is very important in wine tasting. The wine’s aroma is often times just as important as the taste. Take several sniffs, searching for essential characteristics that will give you hints about the wine’s style and production. Do you get aromas like butter, cream, vanilla or smoke? These are all indicators that the wine was aged in oak. Does it smell like jammy, sugary fruit? This might be an indication that the grapes were grown in a warmer, New World climate.

Arizona wine cheers

Wine is best shared with friends

Finally, we’re ready to actually taste the wine. Take a sip, holding the wine in your mouth, suck it back and forth between your teeth like mouthwash.  This may seem odd or downright inappropriate, but what you are doing is “Priming” your palate.  Forget what your mom told you about playing with your food, this method is the best way for analyzing all that a wine has to offer. It’s important to get the wine into all the far corners of your mouth.  There is a sort of memory to our palates,where the second sip activates the memory of the first sip, and even though the second sip is much quicker than the first, it almost has the same effect.  If you do not prime your palate on the first sip, the second sip might be somewhat unremarkable.

thinking about wine

reflection

After swallowing (or spitting it out), genuinely reflect on what you’ve tasted. Again, you’ll want to look for specific flavors that will tell you about that wine’s origins. Does it make your mouth salivate or slightly pucker? This is an indication of high acidity. If it’s dry and leaves your mouth feeling like sandpaper, then the wine is probably rich in tannin. Finally, use your past experiences to draw conclusions – don’t try to use fancy jargon if you’re not comfortable with it. Cassis, quince and minerality are often tasting notes used by “the pros”. But if a wine tastes like your grandma’s blueberry pie, don’t hesitate to say it. There are no “rights” and “wrongs” in wine tasting. The more you taste, the more readily you’ll be able to identify descriptors.

Perhaps the most essential step for future reference is taking notes. Taking notes will reveal certain things about your palate. If you routinely enjoy wines with peach and apple characteristics, you might notice a trend. Maybe these are all wines made from a specific grape varietal or country, and you’ll know to buy them in the future.
You are armed with notes on which wines you liked, which were just okay, and some that were “less than okay”. Over time, you will probably have determined whether you have a preference for reds, whites, sparkling or dessert wines. Knowing your preferences among a wide range of wine styles is the most essential step for making an informed purchase.
There you have it – the key, introductory essentials to personal wine education.  For some, this may seem common sense. We can all read text books, blogs and wine forums until our eyes bleed, but there’s no replication for actually tasting the stuff. Experiencing wine through experimentation is not only educational, but the most hands-on, fun way to learn. After all, it’s supposed to be fun, isn’t it?
How have you learned about wine so far? Have you tried any of my tips above? If you’re a seasoned wine drinker, how have you explained the learning process to others?  Did anyone ever provide you with an invaluable piece of advice that you still follow to this day?