Wine 101

Wine Tasting

Unleash Your Senses of Sight, Smell & Taste in Wine Tasting!

Blind Tasting is the Best! Discover & Explore Wine Tasting with Your Senses FIRST & FOREMOST. You do not want to rush the experience or confuse your senses by reading the bottle or tasting notes first. For instance, if you read in the tasting notes that you will taste strawberries that is where your focus will be and NOT on the TASTE, BODY, or FINISH of the wine. You will be denying yourself the overall experience when tasting wines.

THINK ABOUT NOTHING & JUST LET YOUR SENSES TAKE OVER DURING THE WINE TASTING EXPERIENCE!

See:  Look at the color and clarity of the wine. Color & Clarity may indicate 1) grape varietal, 2) how the wine is made, and 3) how the wine is aged. For example, a Chardonnay aged in an oak barrel will be more gold in color than a Chardonnay in a stainless steel tank.

Swirl:  Releases the aromas of the wine and coats the glass. You do not want a full glass when swirling or things could get messy, especially with red wine varietals. You are suppose to sip or spit the wine not wear it!

Sniff:  Get your nose right in the glass and sniff. Smelling is just as important as tasting. What do you smell? Share with others what you smell – sometimes can be quite interesting. Do you smell fruit, floral, butter, spices, herbs???

Sip:  Take a sip and swish it around in your mouth – please note that you do not need to swish with gusto or with a good amount of noise – the more subtle the better, especially when you are in a tasting room. What do you taste? Share with others what you taste – sometimes can be quite interesting. What are the aromas and flavors? How does the wine feel and taste in your mouth?

  • Is it sweet or spicy? Is it smooth or tart? Is it crisp or bold?
  • Is it light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied? Think about the weight of the wine in your mouth – delicate, well-balanced, or heavy.
  • Is there a pleasant, lingering aftertaste or not? This is called the “finish” of the wine.

Savor:  You can either sip or spit depending on how much wine tasting you plan to do. Do not rush the wine tasting experience – take your time to taste and savor what you are tasting. Too much wine tasting can become palate overload and then nothing starts to taste good.

Basically the 5 S’s comes down to if you like or loathe a wine that you are tasting. Tasting different wines assists you in broadening you palate and knowledge of various wine varietals as well as wine regions. Remember to taste and taste again – a 2007 wine varietal may be more palate pleasing than the same wine varietal from 2009 – not everyone likes brussels sprouts on the 1st try!

You drink what you like!

Wine Tasting is Play Time for Grown Ups!

Who does not like to play with their food. Wine tasting is an experience all on its own and it does not matter how much or how little you know about wine. In tasting wines you become more knowledgeable about wine as well as broaden you palate. The fun and excitement & the overall satisfaction comes from finding a great bottle or a winery that you will go back to again and again.

You can go to a wine bar, tasting room, winery, hosted wine tasting party, taste at home – the possibilities are endless. I enjoy wine regions that offer visitors tasting rooms in a central location – just park, adventure, & experience what the region has to offer. If you have the time break away from the tasting rooms and check out a winery or two – this adds another layer to the wine tasting experience. There are wineries that have it all – tasting room, restaurant, lodging, spa.

Another way to add another layer to the wine tasting experience is to go for an olive oil and/or vinegar tasting, check out a local restaurant or farmer’s market to sample the meat, veggies and fruit grown in that wine region, or check out a wine bar or local bar that offers regional wine selections.

Get Friendly with the staff members, locals, visitors while out wine tasting. Sometimes that is where the best recommendations come from in what to see and do while visiting an area. Adds to the overall experience too!

Wine Tasting is about being playful and having fun tasting wines.

Wine Selection 

Now have a Total Wine in town. Sometimes you need a little assistance when selecting a bottle of vino to purchase. Be it extra description signage or a helpful salesperson. I can find great deals on wine at my local grocery store – purchase x number of bottles get a discount – usually do not get the extras though. I enjoy wine and have some knowledge about wine, however; I do feel lost at times selecting a bottle, especially for a special occasion.

Total Wine is about wine and the majority of the space in the store is devoted to wine. Grocery and Liquor stores are limited in the amount of wine that is stocked and what is stocked. Total Wine is a fun place to explore different wine regions and wine varietals at reasonable prices. An important aspect of selecting wine is determining the turnover of the stock available to purchase. Some stores are able to move the stock available more quickly than other stores as well as taking the time to move out the old and bring in the new. This ensures that the wine you are selecting to purchase will be of quality stock – no one wants to experience cork taint or rancid wine but it can happen.

You have your go to favorites, but sometimes you want to explore different regions or varietals to broaden your knowledge or palate. That does cost money and you want to make sure your selection is worth drinking – do not enjoy dumping vino down the drain but it does happen. Look for flavors that you like – crisp & fruity, berry and jamminess, robust and spicy. Stores do offer wine tastings – one way to taste new wines and most times can purchase what is being offered at a discounted price.

One thing I cannot seem to get the hang of doing is keeping a wine journal – a small journal or notebook to jot down what you have tasted and if you liked it or not. However, I somehow manage to keep track of the various wineries I have visited.

If you break out in a sweat and get stressed out when selecting a bottle of wine remember to have fun with it. Step back, look at the wine bottles and pick the first one that catches your eye. I like looking at the different labels and names of the wine bottles.

Wine Selection = Experimenting, Broadening Your Knowledge and Palate & Experiencing Great Vino!

Selecting a Bottle of Wine

Does selecting a bottle wine give you a high or leave you cowering in the “Miscellaneous Reds” section? Are you confident or lost when it comes to selecting a bottle of wine? Do you watch what other people are selecting or try to look like you know what you are doing? There is no right answer – more than likely bounce between being confident to having no idea to somewhere in between at times.

Regions, Varietals, Descriptions – Oh My

Selection Tips

  1. Do Not Panic
  2. Do Not Get Overwhelmed
  3. Repeat 1 & 2
  4. Ask for Assistance

First, do not panic, do not get overwhelmed – get comfortable and enjoy the experience. Second, check out the interesting names and labels on the wine bottles (great calming technique & FUN!). Third, ask for assistance. Remember if there is no one around to ask for assistance do not give up try another place to shop for wine. Find a store that you like to shop for wines in and then find a salesperson or manager that is knowledgeable and that you want to interact with.

Another idea when you find a store you like to shop for wines in check out their wine tasting events. You can also attend other wine tasting events as well as winemaker dinners or dinners that pair each course with a different wine.

Just a suggestion. I recently setup a profile on Total Wine’s Website and the main reason I did this is that I can store the wines I like in my profile. Like an online wine journal, since I am horrible about keeping a wine journal. Another cool feature of setting up a profile is being able to order online, pay & simply walk in and pickup. I do not have to spend a good amount of my own time hunting down the bottles of wine I want to purchase. I realize Total Wine does not carry some of the wines I like, but keep account of those wines in my blog.

In broadening your palate for wines makes it easier when selecting a bottle of wine. You have the knowledge if you like oak or sans oak Chardonnay, a dry or sweet Riesling, a fruity Pinot Noir, or a robust Syrah.

Sweet Wine Recommendations

I have been recently asked about Sweet Wine recommendations.

ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SWEET WINES???

There are four different Sweet Wine varietals to experiment and taste. The fun part is tasting the different varietals to discover that “Go to Favorite”. The more you experiment and taste, the more you will learn what is palate pleasing to you.

Sweet Wine Varietals

  1. White Wine Varietals
  2. Rose Wine Varietals
  3. Red Wine Varietals
  4. Dessert Wine Varietals or Port

#1 – White Wine Varietals – Muscat (Moscato), Riesling, Gewurztaminer, and Viognier

White Wine Varietals will either state Sweet or Off-Dry. For example, Fetzer and Chateau Ste. Michelle make some great tasting Riesling & Gewurztaminer wine varietals.

Tip:  I have found that a too chilled sweet wine tends to lose its overall aromas and flavors as well as can result in a bitter finish. Experiment with how you serve sweet wines. I prefer a slightly chilled sweet wine and at times serve just at room temperature. In knowing how to serve a sweet wine will enhance the overall wine tasting experience.

#2 – Rose Wine Varietals

Rose wine varietals can be blush or pink in color. These varietals are produced from red grapes – the skins are separated from the juice during the winemaking process – none or less tannins than red wines. The more popular rose wine varietals are White Zinfandel, White Merlot or White Cabernet. Wineries continue to come up with new Rose wine varietals using different types of red grapes. For example, Drytown Cellars in Drytown, California has a great tasting Rose called the Deedee Bubblegum – great taste, pink in color & just an overall fun wine.

#3 – Red Wine Varietals – Beaujolas (French), Shiraz (Australian), Syrah, Pinot Noir or Zinfandel (American)

Remember:  Look or ask for Fruity red wine varietals – Look or ask for Sweet could end up with a Dessert Wine or Port. I added the Pinot Noir varietal due to its versatility as well as fruitness. I really enjoy the Syrah and Zinfandel red wine varietals in Amador County right now.

#4 – Dessert Wine Varietals or Port

Look for Dessert, Late Harvest or Port. These wine varietals are made by allowing the grapes to hang on the vine longer. For example, a Sweet/Dessert Muscat or a Late Harvest Riesling. Port is a “fortified” red wine where alcohol has been added making it higher in alcohol. Serve with fruit, cheese or chocolate – you could also serve over ice cream.

What are your Favorite Sweet Wines? Any Recommendations? Please share your favorites and/or recommendations.

Wine Pairings

Wine pairings can be simple, complex or somewhere in between. I enjoy tasting new wines and finding favorite go to wines. I recently hosted a couples dinner party and paired the beef, chicken and shrimp with Riesling and Pinot Noir wine varietals – sometimes will pick out a red blend too.

Sometimes the wine pairing comes from what you like to drink. Other times it comes from doing a little research in pairing the appetizer or salad with one varietal, the main course with another varietal and the dessert with another varietal. More than likely there will be some trial and error with wine pairings.

A white or red blend are versatile when pairing with food and will assist in keeping your wine budget in check. Do not over think – your guests will find something favorable to drink out of the choices provided. Part of the experience is trying new wines to broaden your wine palate – remember to keep an open mind and have fun with food and wine.

By all means if you want a specific wine varietal for a get together – purchase away. There is no right or wrong when pairing wines with food. If you want to serve a red with salad or fish or a white with a steak – go for it – drink what you like and usually the wine will compliment the food just perfectly. I find myself experimenting with different wine varietals to go with pizza – mostly reds – maybe a white down the road. I also look for wines that can be sipped with little to no food – like to enjoy a glass of vino before or during the prep of a meal.

Experiment, Taste and Taste Again, Enjoy & Have Fun with Vino!

Wine Descriptions

Are you ever at a lost for words when it comes to describing a wine you tasted? Taste, Taste & Taste Again! With some practice you will learn how to taste wine and how to describe the wines you taste. Also, in tasting wines you will broaden your palate and discover which wine varietals are more palate pleasing for you.

This post needs a Disclaimer! This post is intended to inform and educate you on wine descriptions. Feel free to come up with your own descriptors – there is no right or wrong way to describe a wine you taste. It is simply learning and being able to communicate YOUR IMPRESSIONS about a wine you tasted!

Words to Describe a Wine

Wine Descriptions are TERMS used to describe wines when wine tasting!

Some Basics

Acidity – refers to the amount of acid in a wine – gives lift and intensity to wine – no acidity wine tastes flat and too much acidity can just be too much, bitter, tart.

Aroma or Bouquet – the Nose – basically what the wine smells like – there are multiple aromas in the various wine varietals out there to taste.

Balance – Perfect Harmony – the structure, fruit, alcohol, secondary flavors are in balance – a sense of elegance and completeness to the wine.

Body – the Mouth – the size or heft of the wine in your mouth. For instance, light-bodied wine glides over your palate softly (little to no weight) whereas a full-bodied wine may feel heavy and big in your mouth.

Finish – Aftertaste – should have a long finish that lingers pleasingly on your palate – good flavors and sensations in your mouth. Think of it this way – with a good finish you will want to take another sip whereas with a bad finish (short, off flavors) you do not want another sip, not appealing.

Structure – components that tend to support the body of the wine, holding it together, giving it lift and intensity (i.e. alcohol, acid, tannin).

Aromas

  • Berry
  • Earthy
  • Floral
  • Herbal
  • Mocha
  • Smoky
  • Spicy

All traditional wines are just made from grapes. However, those grapes, depending on the type and where they are grown, can develop complex aromas, often imitating various other aromas. Grape wines grow in dirt, so you may have aromas resembling earth or described as earthy. Wines can have smoky aromas either from their own characteristics or from oak aging (oak charring can introduce a smoky, roasted aroma). Some white wines are now being produced sans oak – instead of being aged in oak, held in stainless steel vats. Some popular spices are cinnamon, nutmeg, clove or pepper.

One last aroma and it is an interesting one – Barnyard. A wine having barnyard aromas like barnyard animals or manure. A little stinky, but not always a bad thing. May add a little complexity to the wine. I can say I have tried and failed to drink a Syrah with barnyard aromas – I have a unique sense of smell and just could not get past the smell. The people who could get pass the smell and tasted it said it was a pretty good Syrah.

Common Wine Tasting Terms

  • Chewy
  • Complex
  • Creamy
  • Dry
  • Jammy
  • Minerally
  • Oaky
  • Silky
  • Sweet
  • Tannic
  • Velvety

First of all do not confuse dry with tannic and vice versa. Basically dry means the opposite of sweet (no residual sugar) whereas tannins (a compound found in grape skins and stems) have a mouth drying feeling. Red wines generally have much more tannin than white wines.

Sweet can have different connotations too. Sweet can mean that there is residual sugar in the wine as well as to describe a characteristic of the fruit in the wine. For instance, a wine that has ripe, fruity flavors may be described as sweet.

Complex versus Simple. A Complex wine has various aromas and flavors that compliment each other whereas a Simple wine is more straightforward with aromas and flavors, not as much depth and complexity.

Every one of us has a different experience when it comes to tasting wines and that is what makes the experience unique. Explore different wine regions – Taste different wine varietals – Just have fun tasting wines! Cheers!!!

Wine Fun

Wine Mathematics

I realize that wine mathematics sounds like an oxymoron, especially when drinking wine. I just think it is interesting that you need 4 clusters of grapes to make 1 bottle of wine and that it takes 1200 clusters to make 1 barrel. I know too much thinking and not enough wine drinking!

1 grape cluster = 1 glass 75 grapes = 1 cluster 4 clusters = 1 bottle 40 clusters = 1 vine 1 vine = 10 bottles 1200 clusters = 1 barrel 1 barrel = 60 gallons 60 gallons = 25 cases 30 vines = 1 barrel 400 vines = 1 acre 1 acre = 5 tons 5 tons = 332 cases

Skip the Math

I find the process of making and producing wine interesting. The tour at Firestone Winery last year was very detailed from the cork tree to the grape vines to preparing the grapes to the making of the wines to the aging of the wines and the barrel room. I would love to see how wines are blended as well as the actual bottling process. I feel in knowing more about this process you broaden your wine knowledge and add another dimension to the overall wine experience. For the wine drinker it is pretty straight forward – find a corkscrew, open, find a wine glass, pour & enjoy!

CHEERS!


3 responses to “Wine 101

  • tita buds

    I just came across this, Renee, and am sending it to my Instapaper account so I can read and digest the lesson in my Kindle. Thanks very much, this is going to be very helpful. 🙂

  • AlcoholTourism

    For sweet wines, we have also encountered them called sticky (in Australia) and of course ice wines. The Aussies love their sweet dessert wines, and our favourite sweet wines are the stickies and ice wines from Tasmania- smooth, not sugary, rich and complex. Definitely try one if you can.

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