Exploring the wide realm of wine drinking can be challenging for new wine drinkers. Wine connoisseurs and experts are known for confusing beginners with technical jargon and complex rules. Do not worry; all you need to appreciate and enjoy wine drinking is a sense of wonder, curiosity, and a palate that knows to differentiate tastes.
Even so, it does no harm to know some basic guidelines to enhance your wine tasting and drinking experience. Here I will discuss some simple advice to help you savor wine like a pro. Having at least a broad sense of winemaking methods and the words employed to define a wine’s aromas, texture, and taste will help you enjoy wines more as you continue to learn and experiment.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF WINES
Wines can be sweet or dry. A dry wine has no residual sugar, therefore it does not bring any sweetness to the palate. Dry wines are usually savored as social drinks or during the dinner. Sweet wines, on the other hand, are normally served after meals as dessert wines, or matched with cheese. There are several types of wines:
Red wine is produced from black or red grapes. The skin and juice interact during processing to lend the wine its rich red color.
White wines are typically colorless or light yellow because the grape skins do not make contact with the grape juice.
Sparkling wine is generally produced using a two-step fermentation process. Its production process is more labor-intensive than other winemaking methods.
Rosé wine is created by mixing white and red grapes, or only from red grapes.
HOW TO DRINK WINE AT THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE
Wine temperature is quite important as it affects the taste. Conventional wisdom on the subject tells you to serve red wine at room temperature and white or sparkling wine chilled. However, this is just a general guideline and not a set-in-stone rule that requires strict adherence.
Overdoing it is also counter-productive. The brusque flavors of white wine can be subdued when served too cold, while red wines can taste excessively acidic when served too warm. Serving wine at the right temperature accentuates its top flavor, texture, and character.
White wines, sparkling wines, and rosés are best savored at 7-10 degrees Celsius, depending on the variety.
Heavier white wines like oaked Chardonnay, or lighter reds like pinot noir, should be served at between 12-15 degrees Celsius.
Generally speaking, red wine is best served at between 16-21 degrees Celsius.
You can use a wine thermometer to check the temperature. To cool it down, just place the bottle in a fridge for a while. To warm it up, put the bottle in a container of warm water.
WHICH GLASSES TO USE
In addition to suitable serving temperature, each variety of wine is best drunk in a particular style of glass. The type of glass you choose can have a significant influence on your wine drinking experience.
When it comes to choosing a wine glass, the most important feature is the surface diameter of the top of the glass. It should be large enough for you to inhale a wine’s aromas and small enough to swirl your fill without making a mess.
If you are not able to smell the wine you are drinking, you will not be able to taste it precisely. You can test this by pinching your nose while eating something spicy, you will notice that you lose some of the burning sensation in your mouth. While you still get the sensation of heat, you will lose the precise taste. The same is the case when tasting wines.
Wine glasses with a bigger rim perimeter permit more aromas to drift into your nose, whereas glasses with a smaller circumference fuse those aromas. That is why wine experts can often tell you fine points such as the variety of grape, where it was grown, and when it was bottled from a simple swirl and sniff of wine in a proper glass.
Red Wine Glasses
Glasses for red wine tend to have a bigger basin, which allows the wine to get more oxygen. This lets the wine breathe and augments its overall flavor. The shape of the glass thrusts the wine to the back of your mouth, letting you fully savor its flavors.
For bold and full-bodied wines, experts prefer a tall glass with a larger bowl that allows oxygen to access the wine’s tannins, and thus diminish the wine’s bitter taste. With more robust wines there are a lot of tannins that need to breathe — a tall bowl that tapers inward at the brim allows plenty of room for the aeration process.
White Wine Glasses
Glasses for white wine have a U-shaped bowl, which helps keep the wine cooler for a longer period. Compared to red wines, these wines require less oxygen to unveil their aromatics.
Light bodied white wine is best served in a smaller glass (with a slightly narrower mouth) as it drives the wine to the middle of your mouth. By contrast, fuller bodied white wine is best served in a wide white wine glass that allows plenty of oxygen inside to intensify the aromas.
The Chardonnay wine glass is usually known as the tallest and widest glass associated with white wine, and the shape of the glass — with its narrow rim — lets the wine flow toward the middle of the tongue, allowing you to savor the balance of fruit and acidity. As we have noted above, Chardonnay should be served about three degrees Celsius warmer than most white wines, which is another reason why the glass is so broad compared to a typical white wine glass that keeps the wine much cooler.
Rosé Wine Glasses
As rosé should be served cold, the ideal glass shape for this style of wine depends on the blend. A glass with a long stem and a widening lip is perfect for serving young rosé wines, whereas a short bowl-shaped wine glass will emphasize the aroma of a mature rosé.
Sparkling Wine Glasses
Sparkling wine and Champagne are conventionally served in a slender wine glass with a short-to-medium stem and a tall, narrow bowl. This shape is deemed perfect for all bubbly wines because it sustains the effervescence and preserves the taste. Unique droplets at the base of the glass cluster the bubbles together and assist them to travel up to the surface.
HOW TO HANDLE A GLASS
Knowing how to drink wine includes how to properly hold a glass. The modern trend of stemless glasses in North America is the simplest to hold – you can just grip them like you would a normal water tumbler.
However connoisseurs and fine dining still prefer the traditional glasses with stems as they keep your warm hands away from the wine. Wine glasses with stems call for holding them from the base with your thumb, middle finger, and index finger. The rest of your fingers should rest lightly on the base.
Swirling wine in your glass plays a significant role in drinking wine as it allows the wine to oxygenate, bringing out complex aromatics. Leave enough space in your glass to swirl efficiently.
Do not fill your glass to the brim. Wine glasses are intended to hold between ⅓ to ½ of a fill. Mostly the correct fill level corresponds with the widest circumference point of the glass. When in doubt, keep the pour to around ⅓ of the glass. A low fill level also allows the drinker to manage the temperature of the wine.
If you stuff the glass all the way to the top, the wine will taste tight and suffocated and you will also not be able to swirl it without making a mess.
ABOUT WINE’S AGE
The commonly believed notion is that the older the vintage, the better the wine. However, that is not always the case. It varies from wine to wine.
Most of white wines are best consumed within one or two years of bottling. Most red wine should be opened within three to five years of bottling.
Most wines are meant to be enjoyed young — only a tiny portion of wine is designed to improve with age. Wines that age well require high acidity and flavor compounds and, in the case of red wines, also high tannins. These wines can age for ten to twenty years or more. Wines such as Burgundy, Barolo, and Bordeaux are notably age-worthy, and so are Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay.
HOW TO EXAMINE A BOTTLE OF WINE
Check the position of the cork before opening a bottle of wine. A swollen cork indicates that the wine may have suffered from heat damage, which alters the flavor of the wine, or just that the bottle has not been sealed properly.
If the wine is badly sealed, with space around the cork, this is a sign that the wine may have been prematurely oxidized and spoiled. On the other hand, if the cork is squeezed in so tightly that you have difficulty opening it; the wine may not have contracted adequate oxygen, thus negatively impacting the development of flavors.
The cork itself, once pulled out, should be only slightly marked from the wine. A cork that has sopped up wine or one that falls apart during opening indicate that the bottle may have spoiled in storage. If you are opening a screw-top bottle, then corkage is taken out of the equation. These screw-top closures are also designed to ensure that no oxygen gets into the wine, thus making it impossible that the wine would spoil through oxidation.
You can also use your sense of smell to examine a bottle of wine. If it smells bad upon opening, it is likely to be spoiled. An “off” bottle aroma smells like a cardboard, a wet dog or pungent vinegar. A young wine that has oxidized sometimes has a strong smell of overripe fruit.
The color of the wine is another way to tell. If a wine is tawny or brown in color you probably have an oxidized wine. Once you taste the wine, you cannot go wrong, because you will want to spit out an “off” wine as soon as you taste it. It tastes like vinegar or stale and moldy.
Wine tasting is a skill that some people devote their lives to learning. They can know the kind of grape it was made from, where it was grown, and in what year just from a swirl, sniff, and sip of a wine. They can determine the alcohol content from how far down their throat the alcohol burns. They can ascertain the acidity of the wine from how much saliva they make. , They can discover the level of tannins from whether the wine makes their gums feel rough.
However, even at the very basic level, discerning a wine involves more than just tasting it. It is a multi-level process whose steps can be summarized as follows:
See the wine for color, which can be done by holding up the glass against a backdrop at a 45-degree angle. In addition to color, examine the clarity, body, and texture. Whatever the style or age of the wine, it should be transparent and bright. Depth of the color reveals the age and how it flows inside the glass reveals its richness.
Swirl the wine to let out its aromas. Contrary to the popular belief, even if you are drinking a sparkling wine give it a gentle swirl to release the aromas.
Wine is a volatile liquid replete with molecules that escape from its surface and can be noticed by your nose. Experiencing a wine begins from smelling its odor. Swirl it around the glass and take a good sniff. Concentrate on the smell. What does it reveal? As you smell different varieties of wines, you will develop a mental script of smells you can identify by sinking your nose into a wine’s odor.
After smelling comes tasting. Enjoy detecting which aromas you smelled are actually in the wine. Occasionally the wine may surprise you and taste almost nothing like it smelled. Sip slowly. Pay attention to the aroma. Aerate the wine by taking in air while you hold it in your mouth. Swish it around in your mouth. Is it spicy, gamey, or vegetal? Does it have a single flavor or complex layers of flavors? Does its taste fades quickly or lingers on the tongue?
MISTAKES TO AVOID
Here are some of the things you can stop doing.
Do Not Serve Your White Wine Too Cold
Over-chilling whites is the mistake I come across time and again. When a wine is too cold it muffles the aromatics.
Do Not Serve Your Red Wine Too Warm
Some of the red wines need to be drunk chillier than others.
You Do Not Always Need to Decant Your Wine
Usually when you open your wine and pour it into a decanter to let it sit for a while, it becomes more expressive and drinks better. However, sometimes it is not the best thing to do as often you do not need to decant older wines. Sometimes this can kill a fragile older wine. Older wines can have sediments that decanting can stir.
Do Not Rinse Your Wine Glasses to Switch from One Wine to Another
No need to rinse the glass unless you can dry it. Otherwise, rinsing the glass with water will dilute the wine, which will affect the flavor in a negative way—much more than a few drops of the previous wine would.
Do Not Overage Your Wines
I often come across wine bottles, which are actually past their prime, which people proudly hold on to. Wines do not infinitely get better with age. It is disappointing not to drink a wine when it is at its best.
Do Not Hold the Middle of Your Glass
Make sure you hold the stem; it is there to keep the warmth of your hands away from the wine.
Knowing how to drink wine is a simple art and is not difficult to learn. Once you have the right tackles and the basic knowledge of wine jargon, varietals, and the winemaking processes, the rest comes down to personal choice and a willingness to try new things.
Drinking wine is a multisensory experience that each drinker will live in their own unique way. The best way to learn about wine is to drink a variety of bottles and develop your own palate. If you can do that, you can experience the refined delight that humans have felt for centuries when extricating the cork from a bottle of wine.