Enhancing Your Enjoyment of Wine
We'd like to share some insights on the
delights of tasting and imbibing wine.
There are so many aspects of wine to appreciate!
First of all, we encourage you to approach wine -- and drink it
-- in the way that's most comfortable for you. We're offering these
thoughts, reflecting on a couple of decades of joyous professional
(and personal) experience with wine, in the hope of making it easier
for you to "get more out of" and "get more deeply
into" every sip, every glass, every food and wine combination.
Wine can sometimes seem mysterious. We'll
begin by being a bit analytical -- noting a few different facets
of wine, to point your attention in directions you might not have
explored. But ultimately we urge you to let go and focus on the
overall presence of a wine -- simply, intuitively getting involved
Focus on What A Wine Tastes Like
Noting what a wine's aromas and flavors remind
you of will likely make it come more alive for you as you drink
it and as you enjoy its interplay with the foods you're eating.
And this way of paying attention to the wine will certainly
make it easier for you to remember it later and to describe to a
sommelier or wine merchant what you like in wine. It's the way most
of us wine professionals keep track of and distinguish among the
thousands of wines we taste in the course of a year.
The aromas and flavors in wines usually fall into ranges of notes
that recall various foods, as well as other substances that we recognize
by taste or smell. The following are meant to give you an idea of
types of flavors that can be found in wine and stimulate your sensory
attentiveness. Thanks to the enormous range of aromatic compounds
naturally formed during the miraculous fermentation of grapes, there
are thousands of things wine can taste like!
· Fruits - berries, pit fruits,
melons, citrus fruits, figs, tropical fruits
(We've begun with fruits because wine is, after
all, made from a fruit -- and flavors recalling other fruits are
the most common aromatics in wine.)
· Vegetables - green beans, celery, asparagus, leafy vegetables
· Nuts - almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts,
· chocolate, vanilla, coffee
· Lactic notes - butter, caramel, toffee
· Mineral notes - stones, chalk
· Earthy notes - forest underbrush, potting soil, plowed
· Spices - black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom
· Herbs - sage, mint, eucalyptus, tarragon, thyme
· Flowers - roses, honeysuckle, orange blossom, carnation,
· Woodsmoke, char, smoked meats
· Animal notes - leather, horsebarn, chickenyard, cat pee
Some of these, of course, occur
more often in red wines, others usually in whites. Generally combinations
of these different kinds of scents and tastes coexist in a wine.
These aromas and flavors will usually evolve as the
wine remains in the glass and interacts with air; they will also
evolve in the bottle over the course of an evening -- they are moving
targets, if you're trying to "catch" them. Don't let that
bother you -- go with the flow and pay the most attention to the
ones you most enjoy or that most intrigue you.
Get to Know Wine Flaws
It helps to recognize the basic flaws that often
occur in wine. This might seem to be odd advice. But we've often
observed that people learning about wine will decide that they don't
like a particular kind of wine because the first bottle they tasted
of that type was flawed, and they didn't recognize the unpleasant
aroma or flavor as a flaw. They then deny themselves the pleasure
of all of the delicious bottles of that type of wine they'll never
drink because of one bad experience. Wine flaws are, unfortunately,
· Corked bottles
-- A problem so widespread that a growing number of quality-conscious
producers are switching to screwcaps. We applaud that trend! A corked
wine tastes musty in a kind of sharp way, like a combination of
a dirty dishrag, a bitter herb and a cleaning chemical. If the "cork
taint" is slight, the wine will have just a trace of that smell
and taste but will be rather "mute" and stripped of its
· Cooked bottles
-- A wine subjected to moderate heat for a prolonged period of time
or extreme heat for a shorter time will seem baked, dried out, pruny,
dull, flat and lifeless on the palate.
bottles -- Even good producers sometimes add a bit more sulphur
dioxide at bottling than they perhaps need to, to make sure the
wine will be stable during shipping and afterward. Winemakers who
work artisanally and with care and those who farm organically will
tend to use less. But sulphur is capricious -- it can "surface"
and be more noticeable at certain phases after a wine is bottled
or shipped. Sulphur can smell and taste like sweaty socks, a burnt
match or something vaguely fecal. Suffice it to say it's not pleasant.
· Oxydized bottles
-- Exposure of a wine to air (through a bad cork, for example, or
one that's shrunk due to drying or heat, letting air into the bottle)
will impart flat nutty aromas and flavors to a wine and change its
color toward brown -- rather like what happens to a slice of apple
on a plate. It can be interesting, agreeable and part of a wine's
natural evolution when these kinds of flavors develop slowly and
subtly over a period of years in a wine that's meant to age. But
a young white wine should hardly ever be deep yellow; a young red
wine usually shouldn't be brownish.
Feel for What "Dry" and "Sweet"
Mean to You
-- And Open Your Mind and Palate to the Full Range of Pleasurable
Each individual connects a different range of
sensations and qualities with the words "sweet" and "dry"
-- there's far less consensus on this than you might imagine. Whether
someone is looking for a "dry" or a "sweet"
wine is very frequently the first or most important feature mentioned
to us -- often quite emphatically.
Most people who work with wine, though, love
wines in the entire range from "dry" (meaning lacking
residual sugar and having a pronounced level of acidity and tannin
that add liveliness and/or structure) to "very sweet"
(say, viscous rich dessert wines -- which can nonetheless still
have some acidity or tannin in them to make them balanced and/or
long-lived). We know through pleasurable experience that
every type of wine has some kind of food with which it creates the
To make it easier to obtain a wine that will please
you in its level of dryness/sweetness:
· Make note to yourself of different types
of wines that you find "too dry," "too sweet,"
or "just right" (see the tips below on recording what's
on the label). If you can tell a wine merchant or sommelier that
a particular type of wine -- or even a specific wine itself -- had
just the degree of dryness you're looking for, it will help in matching
a new wine to your taste.
· Focus above all on the balance of a wine.
If it feels "just right" overall, enjoy it! Each wine
has its own very individual balance of acidity, sweetness/ripeness
and tannin (usually a feature of red wines) -- and what we look
for is an equilibrium of those elements resulting in a seamless,
delicious whole palate impression.
If you've got an aversion to sweetness -- as do many wine drinkers,
because people in the USA have been bombarded for decades with cloying,
unbalanced, synthetic-tasting sweet wines ranging from inexpensive
jug wines on up to very pricy bottlings -- consider overcoming it!
Often a wine with a bit of sweetness will be the most perfect match
with a particular dish, especially spicy foods. Also, you might
actually like more sweetness in wine than you think, because for
a long time it's been considered so uncool to like sweetness in
wine that many wine drinkers have simply convinced themselves to
avoid it. And do keep in mind that definitely sweet wines provide
an entire range of ways to enhance the enjoyment of dessert!
· Remember that wine will taste different depending
on whether you drink it with food (historically the way wine was
conceived to be enjoyed in the countries where it originated) or
by itself. It can also be helpful to note how "dry" or
"sweet" a wine seemed to you relative to the food it accompanied,
or on its own.
Experience Wine with All of the Senses
Often the wines we remember best are those we
encounter in a particularly pleasurable setting, when we're relaxed,
in good company, celebrating a special occasion, on vacation where
we're most open to new experiences -- in short, when we're most
receptive and our senses are heightened. The ideal is to approach
wine, at any time, with that kind of joyous openness.
The experience of drinking
wine has something to offer to all of your senses. You might try
focusing attentively on what each sense conveys:
First, you can enjoy the sound of the cork being popped (if there's
a cork) and the subtle sound of pouring -- these sounds stimulate
the happy anticipation of imminent palate pleasures.
Next, note the wine's color -- wine comes in a rainbow range of
pale straw to deep gold, amber tones, myriad shades of pink, light
to dark reds with more or less purple or brown in them -- and how
opaque or clear it looks (if it's red); if it's bubbly, note the
size of the bubbles, see how lively they are.
Place your nose so it just hovers over the glass to take in the
aromas before taking the first sip. This is a key part of the process
-- most of what we taste -- the flavor -- is actually smell;
the tongue mainly conveys sweetness, bitterness, saltiness or tartness.
Swirl the wine gently in the glass -- you'll see how a little bit
of air mixing with it makes the aromas bloom and come alive.
· Taste the wine fully
-- in the front of the mouth first, then swirl it (discreetly) around
and enjoy all of its flavors. As you swallow it, see how long the
flavors linger after you swallow -- a long "finish" is
a feature to look for in a fine wine.
· Feel the texture and
weight of the wine in your mouth. It might be rough or smooth, "chewy"
or silky; it might feel as light as water or rich, dense, voluminous
Note the Information on the Label
When you encounter a wine you really like, if
it's convenient, write down as much information from the wine's
label as you can. You'll want to note at least some if not all of
For an Old World wine -
· The winemaker/producer/winery name
· The appellation/place name
· The specific vineyard site name
· The particular name of the wine, if the winemaker has given
· The vintage date
· The grape variety, if noted
· The importer and/or distributor name (often on the back
For a New World wine -
· The winemaker/producer/winery name
· The grape variety
· The vintage
· Any special name of the cuvée
· The name of a specific vineyard site
· The importer and/or distributor name (check the back label)
This will help you find the wine later, at a shop
or in a restaurant. Many people assume it will be easy to find a
wine again by recognizing the label, but often this is an impractical
Revel in the Uniqueness of
Each Wine Experience
Do keep in mind that one experience with a given
wine will not be the same as the next experience with even a wine
that has the very same label. The occasion will be different, the
food will be different, the bottle might be a bit different, too.
Bottle variation -- originating at the winery or from shipping or
storage conditions -- is a fact of wine life, all the more so with
fine artisinally made individualistic wines. And you'll
be feeling different, too....So enjoy the variety of experience
-- vive la difference!