Wine Basics: From Opening to Tasting to Savoring

benefits of red wineWhat got you into wine? Was it the fact that it made you feel sophisticated every time you ordered it or was it the the delicious way it pairs with food? Perhaps the buttery taste of a chilled Chardonnay on a hot afternoon or the deep, cherry taste of a perfectly balanced zinfandel after a long day? Whatever the reason, we are glad you’re here to learn more. If you’re already on the path to becoming a wine connoisseur, learning how to become a wine pairing expert will be better for you. However, if you’re interested in learning the basics – corking, how to hold the glass, tasting – this is the post for you.

Wine is not just a drink, it is an experience.  From your neighborhood 2-buck-chuck to that vintage pinot noir, grab a glass and we will take you through some basics of wine enjoyment.

How to Open a Wine Bottle

Before you get into actually handing or drinking the wine, let’s make sure you can handle a wine bottle first.  Let’s take a look at the proper way to open a wine bottle, old-school style.

  1. Go to your local grocery store and purchase a corkscrew.  Make sure that it has a serrated blade so you can trim off the cover (not doing so could damage the coil).
  2. Hold your bottle of wine firm and in a stationary position.
  3. Using your screw, cut the front, back, and the top of the bottle’s foil.  For safety, be sure to keep your fingers away from the blade and the foil.
  4. Set the screw just off of the center, and insert into the bottle while rotating straight into the cork.
  5. Continue to screw the cork until there is only one curl remaining.
  6. Use your lever on the first and second step and ease the cork out with your hand.

Of course, you could also go easy with The Rabbit (an opener that simplifies the opening process to 2 swift steps) or even easier with an electric one. Either way, everyone should learn how to use a corkscrew.

How to Taste Wine

If you are just learning about wine, you should be aware that there are many varietals available.  Keep this in mind as you taste different types and start to figure out what you do and don’t like. Here are some ways to optimize your experience to get the most out of your wine:

  1. Look at it:  Before you let the wine hit your lips, look at your wine carefully around the edges.  To get a better look, tilt your glass.  When you do so, you can notice that there is a color change from the center to the edges.
  2. Sniff:  Before you move your glass around too much, get a solid smell of the wine.  By doing this, you will be able to compare its smell to its fragrance after swirling. This is called the “nose” of the wine.
  3. Swirl:  Give your wine glass a good swirl. This is primarily done to increase the wine’s surface area by spreading it around inside of the glass. The smell will likely change now as more oxygen gets into the wine to open up its aromas.  While you are swirling, also notice how it runs down your glass.  If it runs down slowly, it is likely that the wine has heavier alcoholic content than wines that run down quickly. There are referred to as the “legs”.
  4. Sniff:  Start by holding your glass a few inches away from your nose, and then slowly let your nose go into the glass.  Close your eyes and let the aromas overtake you.  What do you smell? How does it compare with the description that you were given? Keep that thought in your mind, as the fragrance often does not match the taste.
  5. Sip:  Finally, you can take a sip of wine.  Allow the wine to roll around in your mouth letting it hit all the corners of your taste buds.  While you do this, pay attention to whether the wine is sweet, sour, rich, or bitter.  There are more precise ways to distinguish the taste, but this is an excellent start.
  6. Exhale:  Put your lips together as if you are about to whistle, take some air into your mouth, and slowly exhale through your nose.  By aspirating, you will let the aroma of the wine reach your nose.  This can help you detect any aromas that you may have missed in your mouth.
  7. Sip again:  Time for another sip!  However, this time, take your sip along with some air.  You may notice some subtle differences in the flavor and texture of the wine.
  8. Aftertaste:  After your second sip, swallow or spit, and take some time to notice the aftertaste of the wine.  How long does it last?  Is the taste very different?

Take Note

wine basicsOnce you have finished your wine taste, take note of what you experienced.  This will help you get in touch with what you are experiencing from the wine, and make you pay attention to small and subtle differences between each sip.  Later on, you can reference your notes if you are pairing wine with food, or even with the mood you are in!  Here are some helpful terms to use when describing your wine:

  • Aroma or bouquet:  The aroma of a wine will identify the smell of a wine.  A bouquet will apply to the aroma of older wines.
  • Body:  The body of a wine will be the weight of a wine when it is inside your mouth.  You can describe it as: light, medium, or full.
  • Crisp:  A crisp wine is one with a refreshing acidity.
  • Dry:  Dry wine is not too sweet, but just right.
  • Finish:  In the end, this is the impression that a wine will leave you with as you swallow it.
  • Flavor intensity:  The flavor intensity of a wine will show how strong or weak a its flavors are on your palate.
  • Fruity:  If a wine is fruit, it will have specific aromas or flavors that suggest fruit.  However, it does not necessarily imply that the wine is sweet in taste.
  • Oaky:  Wines with an oak flavor will taste smoky or toasty.
  • Soft:  Soft wine has a smooth feel when it hits your mouth.
  • Tannic:  Tannic generally applies to red wines that are firm and leave your mouth feeling dry due to the tannis in the grape.

Pairing

After you learn how to taste your wine, you can determine for yourself which flavors and textures suit your palate best.  One of the best things about wine is the great way it accentuates food. You can either pair dishes with your wine, or vice versa to create heavenly combinations.   When choosing to pair a food and wine, take these steps:

  1. Take a bite of your food first and chew it thoroughly but do not swallow.
  2. Now, take a sip of wine with the food together in your mouth.
  3. Wait for the magic to happen and decide whether or not they mesh well.

Keep in mind that a “perfect pairing” is usually when both the food and wine together create an even better flavor together in your mouth.

Perfect Your Palate!

This is only the beginning of a lifelong adventure in wine. Once you find out which varietals you prefer, hone in on regions and even wineries that specialize in it. Go to winetastings with friends to expand your palate. Knowing and understanding different wine flavors, textures, and pairings will open up a whole other world that you did not know was possible. Keep your wine knowledge strong by becoming a true wine connoisseur today.