I learned from my dad how to smell and taste wine. We were having dinner, enjoying some London broil with sides, and drinking some red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, a good drink. We swirled our glasses to give it some air and picked up on the rich aromas. He told me to drink it; to swirl it around, drink it down, breath in through my mouth, and then breath out through my nose. In this way the flavors were brought out to me, and I could take a moment to understand it all.
And with that, I give you The Basics of Wine – 2
Right off the bat, four major taste groups associated with wine are sweet, bitter, sour, and salty.
Cabernet Sauvignon – cocoa, cedar
Pinot Noir – cherry, spice, cigar
Sauvignon Blanc – lime zest, herbaceous
Chardonnay – green apple, lemon, butter
Notice the difference in aromas associated above between red wines and white wines. Traditionally, white wine has a crisp balance of flavors, refreshing and with a light body. Red wine, on the other hand, contains warmer, sweeter, heartier varieties.
Since you might not know every type of wine out there, the most common share a collection of flavors: raspberry, olive, oak, pepper, blossom, spice, nut, caramel, coffee, smoke, leather and so many more act as undertones if appropriately recognized in the vintage.
When you taste wine, try and keep it in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. The tip of your tongue will notice it the most, the sweetness of the wine. Sweetness varies from sweet to dry. Your mouth will notice the acidity after you swallow it too, a crisp (perhaps bitter) aftertaste that makes you salivate. It can be flat or quite vibrant and tart.
Wine has body like all natural concoctions. You can simply look through the glass to measure it, but tasting it is the ultimate deciding factor. Some are thin and some are full, rich with flavor. Wines less transparent indicate a quality of grapes and/or the time it took to make. You can taste the difference, as well.
An important word to remember is “tannin,” which comes from the zest of wine grapes. It attributes to how bitter or soft a wine tastes, and is also an indicator of the grapes used and the barrels it’s stored in. Crushed grape seeds and skin are left in the barrels to blend with the wine, and often leave sediment at the bottom of bottles. It’s harmless; stir it up with the rest.
A good wine has balance, an innate way of keeping all the flavors together without overpowering the senses. Balance is influenced by things like sweetness, tannin, alcohol, acidity, but in the end dominated by your own judgments about the wine.
And finally, all wines have a finish, an aftertaste that lingers, almost always for the better. It can be long or short, soft or intense, warm, bitter and crisp. The aftertaste of some wines can linger for minutes.
With this sort of knowledge, we can experiment with red and white wines, and search out the subtleties we enjoy most. In time, you may develop a palette enamored with wines of a certain vintage, from a certain climate, or of a certain time, left in wait to be enjoyed over food and conversation with friends.
In the next section, I’ll talk more about how wines compliment food, and offering pairings to try for yourself.