Wine still has a lot of baggage. By that I mean that there is still a great deal of snobbishness about it, which could be the reason why some people are put off experimenting and expanding their wine tastes. There is also so much choice now in supermarkets and specialist wine shops that it can be intimidating to know where to start. ‘Should I buy the most expensive one‘ or ‘should I buy the one with the old fashioned label and hope that it is a sign of quality‘ are questions you could easily ask yourself when faced with the dilemma of choosing wine.
I remember trying wine for the first time at university. It was a cheap bottle of red plonk, that was just barely drinkable. I’m sure that by holding my nose that would have improved the taste, but being a poor student the alcohol content was more important. It was enough to put you off wine for life. Things have changed a lot over the last 20 years. Wine quality has improved greatly, with the ‘New World’ leading the way and teaching ‘old dogs’ new tricks in how to grow grapes, make and even market the wine. Nowadays cheap wine doesn’t even necessarily mean bad wine, you just have to look at the popularity of Charles Shaw wine, aka ‘two buck chuck’. With a little knowledge about what it is you really like about wine you can easily find very good, reasonably priced, everyday wines between $10 to $15 (£7 to £10)
In my opinion, one of the most pretentious aspects of the ‘wine snob’ is the habit of saying things like ‘this Chardonnay tastes like a newly cut lawn‘. It makes my blood boil as much as the word ‘foodie’. This alone is probably the main cause of putting people off of exploring wine. If someone is trying to start learning about wine and they hear that a particular wine tastes of something like grass, then they may not have developed their nose and taste buds enough to know what it is they are tasting or smelling, as well as the fact they there are genetic difference in all of us, that means that we can experience tastes and smells differently. Taste and smell are the most subjective of our senses and it takes time to learn the vocabulary of aroma and taste.
To someone who has been put off of experimenting with wine, it is probably only because of the ‘wine snob’. However just by learning the vocabulary of wine aromas and tastes can help push you outside the comfort zone of the couple of wines that you have settled on and maybe find something amazing along the way.
How to begin. To start learning about wine, forget about countries, regions, grapes, wineries, Châteaus, vintages, years, terrior and all the other wine terminology. Learning to enjoy wine is just about teaching yourself the vocabulary of aroma and taste, and finding out what particular qualities that you enjoy in wine. Once you’ve learnt this, you’ll be happier choosing wine blind and having a better chance of knowing that you may like it before you buy.
Since we can actually only taste 5 basic tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami), a good thing to start with is getting a hold of a Wine Aroma Wheel. There are quite a few out on the internet to buy as well as to download.
Note: remember to have whatever wine you are trying at the correct temperature. Usually, but not always, white wine tends to be chilled and red tends to be served at room temperature.
How to learn about tasting wine
- Start with a large mouthed wine glass and pour a little wine into the glass
- Swirl the wine around the glass to help release the aromas.
- Stick you nose into the glass and inhale deeply.
- Look at the centre of the Wine Aroma Wheel and find an aroma that you can detect.
- Take another sniff and work outwards on the wheel trying to narrow down what it is that you are smelling.
- Take note of this smell and whether you like this or not.
- Finally taste the wine and notice if the smell matches or contrasts with the taste. To help increase the aroma within your mouth, try sucking in some air through your teeth. Also once you have swallowed, or spat out the wine, then see if any other aromas are present.
- If you are trying lots of different wines without food, then you may want to spit, but this is a waste of good wine. A better thing to do is to rinse your glass and mouth with a little water before tasting the next one.
Don’t worry about trying to identify every smell in a wine. It takes time and practice, and with wine this is a can’t be a bad thing. Also if you try too long to smell a particular wine, your nose will become de-sensitized and you will no longer be able to smell it’s subtleties.
Once you have the words to describe the aromas you are experiencing it will become easier to recognise the features in particular wines that you like. For instance you may find that you don’t like vanilla (oak) in Chardonnay, but you do like the pepper in Shiraz. Your nose is different to everyone else’s, and it takes time and practice to learn the words to describe what it is smelling.