Tasting and enjoying wine requires no special talent or tools other than a clean wine glass, an open mind and the willingness to pay attention. Let’s talk about the wine glass. The most important things about a wine glass are that it has a classic tulip shape and that it’s clean. It’s important to smell the glass before you pour. If the glass smells like the inside of your cabinet or has any noticeable odor then it’s best to clean it and let it dry and cool to room temperature before using. The glass is really a vessel for smelling and you won’t get an honest impression of the wine if the glass is not clean.
As for serving, pour some wine into the glass until it reaches the widest part, usually about a quarter to a third up from the bottom of the bowl. Now swirl the wine around the inside of the glass. We want to aerate the wine a little bit and we want to coat the inside surface of the glass with wine. Take a sniff and notice any impression that you get from the wine. It could remind you of anything—a fruit, flowers, earth, a vegetable or spice—anything. The impressions that you get are unique to you and completely valid, so pay attention to that. Smelling is a preview for your palate as a lot of the sense of tasting happens in the olfactory receptors in your nose.
Next you get to taste the wine. Take a sip. You may hear experienced tasters talk about the “attack” the “mid-palate” and the “finish.” That’s just a specific way of thinking about the beginning, middle and end of the tasting experience. Pay attention to how the wine tastes and feels throughout the entire time it hits your tongue and during and after you swallow. See if any of the aromas you noticed earlier come through to your taste buds. Are there new flavors emerging or changing, especially in the finish? Wines that give more flavors and have a longer and more persistent finish are considered to be finer wines, offering greater expression and complexity.
Don’t put too much value on your first sip and initial thought of the wine. Sometimes the wine (and the taster too) need to open up a little bit and your palate may have been in an unreceptive place when you started. Waiting until you’ve had several tastes of a wine or are even into a second glass before forming a sound opinion is smart. Knowing that the wine is from a certain winery, grape or region will have some influence on your expectations. But try not to have too much of a presupposition about the wine before you taste it. I find it much more constructive to have an open mind, let the wine come to you and see what it has to say.
Having the wine with some food changes the entire relationship, but it’s still just a matter of paying attention to how the flavors and textures combine. Doing this over a period of time, such as during the course of a meal, and really being aware of how the wine reacts, can enhance your experience. Drinking wine is as much a cultural act as viewing a painting or sculpture, listening to music or taking time to notice the sunset. It’s worth slowing down to enjoy the experience.
Michael Amendola is wine director at The Village Wine Merchant in Sea Cliff. Learn more about wines at www.villagewinemerchant.com.