We enjoy wine and we want you to enjoy it too. That is our purpose here. Not to critique, berate or elevate or denigrate. Wine should be enjoyed and our experience is that not everyone has the tools to get the best out of it. Once you have it, this knowledge will pay you back in spades in a lifetime of joy, pleasure and connection. On with the show!
A good glass enables the wine to express itself. The Riedel Restaurant or Vinum cabernet sauvignon glasses are great all rounders suitable for a range of red and white. Trust us, you’ll reap the benefit in extra pleasure. Lots of people – us included – also use Zalto Universal glasses as they also work for a range of different wines. Note, it’s super easy to obsess over glassware so we recommend buying a good all rounder and then go from there.
Pour a small amount of wine into your glass, breathe it in gently and take a decent sip. You’re trying to assess whether the wine is faulty in some way, whether oxidised (an excess of oxygen) or reduced (the absence of oxygen – see here for more info) – if the former set it aside and if the latter, it’s worth decanting it. It’s all good if you don’t have a decanter, just use a large, clean glass bottle or carafe, being careful not to disturb the sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
Hold your glass over a light background to assess colour – is it dark, pale or brown? Purple is younger, pale is lighter and brown/orange is typically older. Swirl your wine a little in the glass to get the air in there as oxygen loosens the tannins and brings other flavours forward.
Breathe in the smell of the wine through your nose and mouth as your nose is better at picking up the subtler flavours (eg floral etc) than the palette. Hold the glass an inch or so from your nose to allow the flavours room to express themselves. We feel this is a bit like standing in the right place at a gig to get the best acoustics (more on the wine and music in a future post!).
Take a mouthful of wine, and coat all parts of your mouth and sense the acid, sugar, alcohol (often felt as heat on your lips or throat) and tannin (dry or bitter taste bit like how cold tea or banana strings can dry out your mouth). This isn’t a test so just talk through what you’re experiencing with friends around you and you’ll come to a shared understanding.
Breathe in and taste again and see what else you can pick up. A hallmark of quality wine is balance so taste whether the elements are resonant or dissonant, in harmony or discord? Another hallmark is that better made wines tend to linger on your palette, lower quality up and leave. All of this is secondary to whether you enjoy it. How does it make you feel? Is it delicious? Do you want more? Like food, you either like something or you don’t, the most important thing is to relax and enjoy it, and everything else will come.
Compare with other wines, whether years, producers, regions, or grapes to form a sense of similarities and differences between each. This is useful in helping you form a sense memory, or mental map, which will help orient/understand new wines in the future.
Share with others to see what they think. It’s possible to overthink wine and treat it a little too seriously. That’s not to say the wine and the effort and craft involved aren’t to be given their due; it’s more that wine is about pleasure than a cerebral debate so never forget to enjoy it.