Wine Tasting Tips One of the fastest ways to develop a knowledge base of wines you enjoy is to taste them. This can be a lot of fun. Go to your local wine & spirits store; gather up a bunch of bottles and head home for a night of tasting adventures. You might have more success if you ask the wine clerk for suggestions, or check out the ratings affixed to bins at the store. Check out wine reviews online (Wine Library TV is a good place to start) or check out what the experts say in wine publications like Wine Spectator. Depending on your preferred learning method, you may find it helpful to do a vertical tasting, which means sampling wines of the same variety but with different vintages. There's no shame is doing a taste test at home alone (just be sure to spit out the wine or you won't be able to remember what you liked and what you didn't!). It is also a great way to spend the evening with a friend or significant other. Okay, so you've got your bottles of wine. Before you start tasting, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the proper way to taste wine. These techniques actually help you appreciate the wineÑthey are not simply to make you look smart (although they undoubtedly do). Tasting Basics "For the home taster, conducting a blind tasting is a great way to focus one's tasting skills, but it's not essential if your objective is simply to learn about the wine," Peter Meltzer, wine critic for Wine Spectator, says in his best-selling book author of Keys to the Cellar. "It's better to first grasp the salient characteristics of different varietals and vintages by sampling a series of related bottles in a pressure-free environment in order to develop personal preferences." Jim Kennedy, President of BaggedWine.com, argues the merits of doing a blind tasting. He says that blind tastings are the best wine to taste the wine rather than the marketing effort behind the wine. "When tasting blind you should only taste one varietal at a time to ensure that the process is not too complex for those at the tasting," he says. "This is intended to be fun rather than giving the feeling of a sommelier test." Wine is evaluated by its color, bouquet, palate, and aftertaste. To fully appreciate a wine's characteristics, Meltzer recommends tasting white wines at cellar temperature (about 55 degrees) and reds at about 65-70 degrees to avoid compromising the wine aromas and flavors. And, if you're truly serious, skip the cologne and perfume, as they interfere with the aroma of the wine's bouquet. Let Your Nose do the Talking Meltzer says to hold the wine glass by its stem (holding it by the bowl leaves smudges, obscures the color and warms the wine). Hold it against a white backdrop to examine the color. Not sure what you're looking for? Look at its hue. Is it bright or flat? Clear or cloudy? "As red wine ages, it devolves from bright red or purple into brick or mahogany, browning around its edges," says Meltzer. "White wine will turn progressively golden as it matures. Wines that are the product of less than perfect harvest will be less intense than those picked under ideal conditions." Next, rest the glass on the table and swirl it. When the wine settles, you should see a clear film on the side of the glass, called legs. You may have seen a wine snob or too making a big show about a wine's "legs" but in reality it's just a measure of the wine's alcohol contentÑthe more you see, the higher the alcohol content. "Swirl the glass vigorously and inhale deeply," Meltzer advises. "Try to detect any 'off' odors." If you smell a heavy cork smell, the wine may be bad. Any scents that are moldy or musty are a warning sign. An oxidized wine, which means it has been exposed for too long to the air in the vinification process or because the cork has dried out, will give off a smell resembling Sherry or Madeira. A barnyard like could mean the wine is spoiled by yeast, and a smell like nail polish remover could mean the wine has a volatile acidity. On the up side, you are most likely to meet with a pleasant smell and there are hundreds of them, including complex fruit smells from blackberries, black currants, and cassis. "Your nose will actually tell you more about a wine than your mouth, because our sense of taste is actually restricted to four categories: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter," says Meltzer. "To minimize the impact of a wine on your palate, slosh it around in your mouth, aerating it by taking in deep breaths at the same time. Ideally, keep the wine in your mouth for at least 10 second before expelling it into a spittoon or slop bowl." Young, mature or brand new, choosing a wine that's right for you Don't worry; we weren't going to leave you to your own devices. If you'd like to try wines from areas other than the most popular regions, here are some tips. David Muse, wine writer and sommelier, likes to try wines from what he calls "exciting regions." "For me right now Austria is producing wines that are of incomparable quality and like nothing youÕve had before," says Muse. "Gruner Veltliner is this luscious white wine that is more ductile than almost anything. It goes with all the typical wine killers: shrimp, artichokes, tomatoes." Looking to impress your friends? According to Muse some good wines reaching maturity include the famed 1997 California Cabs. "The fruit is tempered and their nuances are coming out. I recently had a Caymus Special Select that was overwhelmingly good, and I don't normally like domestic wines. Also, Late 80s Grand Cru Champagne is good. I had a Krug 'Le Mesnil' at lunch from '86 that was lively yet playful." If you want a wine that's ready to serve young, Muse suggests Beaujolais. "Everyone knows by now that Beaujolais is drinkable," he says. The wine is bottled and consumed within months of the grapes being picked. Also, there is a wine from Austria called Jungfernwein, or Virgin wine. This is wine produced from first year vines, newly planted. It lacks complexity, but so do many Sunday afternoons by the pool." For adventurous types, there are some new varietals coming to market. "Portugal is bottling still, unfortified versions of the grapes traditionally used to make Port," Muse says. "They are wonderful, but often high priced. A single varietal to be on the lookout for from Portugal is Periquita. Also, get your hands on Blaufrankisch, made from an Austrian red grape that produces wines similar to Cabernet though not quite as punchy as the US versions." Developing a true appreciation for the flavors, vinification process and complexities of wine takes time. Developing a list of wines you like may take even longer. Building a respectable home collection could take years. Purchasing wine is not like buying clothes--what you see is not necessarily what you get. Wine Tasting Essentials Having a tasting? Here is a quick list of supplies: Wine glasses (make sure you have plenty! Wine charms are a good idea if you are having several guests, so no one confuses his or her glass with someone else's). White table cloth (so guests can examine the wine's color, density, legs) Spittoons (for spitting out the wine). Bowls with unsalted crackers or baguette to cleanse the palate. Tasting sheet for notes. And of course, don't forget the wine! A. Covington is a fashion writer with a penchant for handbags, silk scarves and luxury accessories. She always knew she wanted to be a writer and always loved fashion - and finally found a way to revel in both. Her work has appeared in numerous regional magazines and ezines, including San Diego Magazine, San Francisco Downtown Magazine, Ranch & Coast Magazine and JustLuxe.com.
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