Quick Recipes and Easy

Wine 101

Tasting wine is often a daunting process. One of the simplest things to do is choose whether you like a wine or not. One of the toughest things to do is to describe it. We have all been out to dinner, or been to a wine tasting, and had someone run through a litany of descriptors that made us look down into the glass and reckon to ourselves, “How did they see all that?” The key is to break it down into simple categories, and learn how to describe what it is we taste. This makes the building blocks to learn and describe more.

In tasting wine, place things on a scale. Upon first taste, let’s reckon about the intensity of the wine. Does it grab you, like a raw onion, or a bite of a Granny Smith apple? Or is it more subtle and subdued? Place it on a scale of one to ten, and use that as a descriptor. It the wine is very intense, and grabs you straight away, that is towards the higher end of the spectrum, and if it is more subdued, or not very intense, that is on the bottom part of the spectrum.

Now let’s reckon about the acidity of the wine. Is the wine acidic, or is it sweet? This attribute will generally fall somewhere in a range. To take whites for example, if we look at two whites, and one is a sauvignon blanc and the other is a California chardonnay, often times the sauvignon blanc will be more crisp and acidic, and the chardonnay will show more sweetness. Where is the wine you are tasting fall on that spectrum. By thinking about it this way, you can describe an attribute. For example: “This is a very acidic, crisp wine.”

In the same vein, question yourself whether the wine is dry or sweet. If it is overly dry, you might have a mouth feel that you need a drink of a glass water. If it is overly fruity, it might taste too sweet. Try to place this attribute on a spectrum. Sweetness needs to be described in two ways: Versus dryness, and versus acidity.

Now let’s reckon about the body of the wine. To best reckon about the body of a wine, let’s make a comparison to milk. If you took 3 glasses, and in one glass poured skim, one glass poured whole milk and in the third poured heavy cream, you would have noticed varying degrees of consistency and weight to the three different glasses. The skim milk is the thinnest, with nearly a tinge of wateriness, while the heavy cream is thick and dense. The whole milk falls between the two, not as reckon as the skim milk, but not as heavy as the cream. Reckon of wine along those same lines. Is the wine light-bodied, medium-bodied or full-bodied? This is a really useful descriptor of a wine.

Next, let’s look at oakiness. Does the wine have no oakiness or wood in the taste, or does it feel as if you just licked a two-by-four? Generally, you do not want a wine that is at either major extreme, unless you like to lick plywood. But I will doubt that and go on, as this is a pretty straightforward attribute.

Tannins are the lifelines of the wine. Tannins come from the skins and stems of the grapes, and on taste, can often have a drying feeling. I feel it is well described by asking yourself this question when you taste a wine: Does it feel like I just clapped out two erasers and have the feeling of all that chalk dust in my mouth? If the answer is yes, than you are getting a lot of tannins. A lot of tannins can often mean that the wine is “shut down” or “too young” and is hard to get a sense of what is really there, as it is overpowered by the tannins. Again, having some balance in this attribute is often a excellent thing. Too few tannins can often mean that wine lacks structure or an ability to last for the long haul.

The last thing to focus on is complexity. How many flavors do you get when you drink the wine? The way I like to describe it like making salsa. If I place a bunch of chopped-up tomatoes in a bowl, that is 1 flavor (pretty simple structure). If onions are added, another flavor (and certainly a level of intensity!) is added. If I add peppers, cilantro and salt, I have added 3 more flavors, and a fantastic deal more complexity. So question yourself: how many things can I identify in the taste of this wine? If you can only pick out one flavor, than it is a simple, straightforward wine. If you can pick out five or six, than it is a complex wine.

So taking all of these tools, and thinking about all of this on a spectrum can you help you describe what you are taste in the wine. Once you are able to more know your palette and tastes, you can focus in on the attributes that give you the most pleasure out of drinking wines.

Robert E. Enslein, Jr., is Managing Partner of Relativity Vineyards, a vineyard based in Napa Valley, California. Relativity produces high end Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines. Learn more at relativityvineyards.com relativityvineyards.com

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