Wine Basics

I think wine selection and the concept of wine tasting scare some people because they may not be familiar with some of the terminology.  For those those new to wine, wine is simple; crush some grapes into grape juice, store for a while, drink the fermented grape juice.  Oversimplified?  A little, but at the core, we all just want a good tasting wine at a good price.

Please forget the terminology, let your nose and taste buds be the judge.

As wine drinking has become more popular, I see a more common sense approach to wine selection and wine drinking. People are forgetting the rules about pairing wine with food and I think this is sometimes a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing out the entire book on wine etiquette, there is good logic in some of the established wine guidelines.

Here are the basics of what to look at, smell for and taste in wine.


Wine Color

The first thing you will note in a wine is its color.

You really cannot tell much from the color of a wine, a red wine may appear light reddish, cherry, plum, deep purple or maroon in color.

A white wine may vary from a very light yellow or green to a darker yellow gold tone.

Again, color in general is not a guide to a good tasting wine…it may look pretty in color but taste like a sour lemon dipped in cigarette ash.

Wine Smell

The smell of a wine or its “Nose” will be your first clue to a good wine.

The first thing you will want to do is air “aerate” the wine. I always do this with red wines.  I simply pour myself about half a glass and let it sit anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour before I drink it.

If you are going to be using a whole bottle in an evening, I recommend buying a wine decanter.  More on decanters at a later time.  Remember that your wine has been corked up for several months or years.  Airing out the wine before you drink it allows it breathe in air, thereby releases its complex aromas that were locked in.

Swirl the wine a little and begin.

A good wine will first of all not have an offensive smell, such as vinegar or worse.  A good wine will often have more than one identifiable smell; in wine terminology they call this a “bouquet”.

In red wines, some of the more common smells that the wine may remind you of include fruit, such as; black currants, blackberries, plums, oranges, and melon.  You may also note some floral smells coming through.

The smells that a wine may produce in your olfactory sensors can range anywhere from spicy, peppery, oaky, nutty, minty and many more.

It’s an individual thing really, I’ve tasted wines where I thought the overriding smell was mint, and the person I’m with completely disagrees and says its oak and no hint of mint in sight.  Smell is funny that way.

It’s a game really, swirl it, smell it, and try to identify the different scents that arise in your nose…or in your mind.

Wine Taste

A wine that tastes good is a wine that is balanced.

A wine out of balance will likely be too acidic or too bitter.

Aside from balance, a wine will have other characteristics which you will want to taste for, primarily; you will note that the wine may be sweet or that it may feel dry in your mouth.

How does it feel in your mouth? This is called “body”.  Does it feel thick and dense, thin or light?  Does it feel like it is in the middle (medium body)?  These are all things your mouth and tongue will feel.

How does it taste?  Is it fruity?  Spicy?  Bitter?  Acidic?

When your mouth tastes these different elements and they appear to be in balance where one element is not too superior to any other, you are there as far as tasting a balanced wine.

The World Wine Wheel is a nifty tool that will give you a head start in increasing your knowledge of wines and help you identify aromas, flavors, and characteristics of different varietals.

Remember it has to be pleasant to the palate and to the nose.

That is the key.

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