Wine Tasting 101
School's in session, on your terms: We're asking the Valley's top wine gurus to answer all your wine-related queries, tackling them one at a time each Wednesday, so we can all stress less and pour more. Today's teacher: Sommelier David Johnson who's in the process of opening the new Oakville Grocery Co. in CityScape amongst other wine-related ventures.
We realize we've gotten a little carried away without laying down the wine basics, so this week we're going back to the basics with a Wine Tasting 101 from Sommelier David Johnson. Get ready to take notes... Just kidding! Pour yourself a glass and follow along.
UNCORK THE ISSUE: What's the proper way to taste wine?
SPILL THE JUICE: "Enjoy the sight and the aroma of the wine before you taste it," says Johnson. "You don't have to put 10 minutes into it; it's a two-minute process. Build up to it. It's a much more enjoyable and pleasurable experience for you, and that's how you learn about wine."
NOTE THE COMPLEXITIES: 1. Note the look of the wine. "We like color, and we like colors of wine just like we like colors of food," Johnson says. Johnson recommends asking yourself pointed questions about the wine's color, opacity and age that can be answered just by looking at it.
"Certain wine varietals have certain colors and intensities," Johnson says. "Sure it's red, but what color red? What's the intensity level? Can you see through to the other side of the glass? Is there age in that wine, meaning is there rim variation toward the end where it gets watery like aged wines have?"
Click through for the next tasting steps... including the actual drinking of that wine you just uncorked.
2. Swirl the wine in the glass. "If you don't decant or aerate a wine, you want to swirl it to get the aroma and the bouquet of the wine," Johnson says. "Swirling the wine in the glass is volatizing the ethers in the wine as the centrifugal force pulls the it up the edges of the glass."
3. Take a whiff. "It's not necessary to deeply inhale the wine, you're just getting your nose drunk," Johnson says, demonstrating. "Just take in a little burst of the aroma and breathe in with your mouth too." Smell, Johnson explains, is intricately linked with taste. It will give you a preview of what's to come.
4. Take a small sip. "I don't like to make this too noticeable, but I like to sip a little wine and pull oxygen over it in my mouth to really get a taste of the wine first before I gulp it down," Johnson says. "I get a lot more of the wine that way, it's like I'm using scent and taste at the same time."
Hannah E Williams
5. "Have something to snack on, crackers, cheese or bread," Johnson recommends. "When you cocktail wine, it's hard to learn about it. Food helps you know the wine and bring out characteristics in the wine you might miss. Alcohol is a great betrayer of memory and taste."
6. "Spit everything when you're tasting wine," Johnson says. "Socially, drink wine, but when you're really learning about wine and you go to a tasting with 80 bottles on the table: Spit everything."
7. Analyze the wine. "I always run though a mental exercise," says Johnson. "Is this wine stylistically, varietally correct? Is this good wine for the money? How would I describe this wine in relatable terms?"
By the way, Johnson says you don't have to be self-conscious about what you taste: "There is no right or wrong in what you taste in wine. If it tastes like that to you, that's what it tastes like."
SWALLOW THIS: "You won't know if you really enjoy a wine until you appreciate it fully through sight, smell and taste," Johnson says. "You really should hone your ability to taste wine because it's admirable to do so, plus it makes the wine-drinking experience that much more enjoyable: Good conversation when you're drinking good wine is a fun thing to engage in."
Check out Wine School every Wednesday and leave your wine queries for the gurus in the comment section below.
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