Wine Tasting 101

I love being an honorary mermaid. If you haven't checked out Mermaids of the Lake - you're missing out. Attached is Sip's contribution to this fantastic online publication. Dive in & Enjoy!

By Laurie L Ross
Editor of 
Sip of Spokane

In 1984 there were only 20 wineries in Washington State. Today there are over 750. I guess you could say that our state is drenched in wine. If you love Washington wine or want to love it – here are a few "Sip Tips" to make your journey "grape."

Wine is very personal. You don't have to be an expert, but you do need to trust your own palate. Each time you try a new wine, your awareness of the character and subtle differences will be expanded. Tasting wine is like a sport: the more you practice, the better you become at it. Only with wine tasting you won't be dragging your feet to do it.
Sip Tip: The best place to perfect your tasting technique is in a winery tasting room. It is recommended you try and go during off-hours when the tasting room host isn't too busy and the host can take you through the paces and discuss each wine with you. Pay attention, there is much to learn in the Tasting Room from the host, which around Spokane if it’s not the winemaker themselves, they are often close by.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

LOOK The first step is to hold the glass by the stem and look through the wine against a white background to appreciate the true color. The wine should be bright and clear, not hazy or cloudy. White wines range in color from nearly clear to a golden yellow. Red wines range in color from dark, intense red to a light, pale red. Some of the intense colors have you thinking about bringing in a glass of wine to have the paint store match the color for a sensational Syrah colored powder room.
SWIRL To get the full aroma of the wine, fill a large wine glass a third of the way full, and swirl the wine around in the glass. Come ‘on, really give it a swirl! This releases the aromatics. Try step #3 SNIFF - before and after you swirl. You'll notice there's a huge difference.
SNIFF Inhale deeply through your nose and try to identify what you smell. Do you smell fruits or spices? You might find hints of familiar smells including wood, tobacco, citrus, apple, chocolate, plums, pineapple, flowers or berries. When you smell, lean over and put your nose completely in the glass. Come on, no one is looking.

TASTE  After taking a sip, roll the wine around in your mouth to reach all of your taste buds. Then, breathe air through your lips to release the aromas. If the wine makes you pucker, it may be a little tart (high in acids) or tannic (dry like banana skins and tea leaves). If it feels hot and burns a little, it may have high alcohol content. If none of these elements overwhelm you, the wine is likely well balanced. Notice how it feels in your mouth: this is called the texture. Try and detect what flavors you taste before comparing that to the winemakers notes on what you “should” taste. Sometimes you’ll decide they are the same and other times not even close. Keep in mind food changes the taste dramatically.
SPIT It’s HIP to SPIT. It may make you slightly uncomfortable initially, but if you taste a lot of wine it may be essential to spit. Spitting enables you to experience wines without the danger of imbibing too much alcohol. If you are just trying a few, go ahead and drink up. By the way, wine that lingers in your mouth and throat after you have spit is a sign of good length and body.

Sip Tip: Remember, once again, this is personal. Keep on tasting and re-tasting to find what YOU like and why. Ask questions, take notes so you can recall your preferences and pretty soon you'll figure out your wine style. Keep in mind, it all changes the more you taste. So darn-it-anyway, you’ll need to keep at it, as not only wines changes, but also your taste preferences may as well.

Words 4 Wine

Now that you’re committed to finding your Wine Style, here’s a few terms to help you talk about it. The reason wine “lingo” was created was to assist in the description and discussion of wine. Or maybe it was created to sound pretentious or part of a secret society. Either way, using these words helps others understand your interpretation of the wine. Keep in mind, it is not necessary to use any prescribed language. You can describe a wine in any terms you want. Think of wine tasting terms as those that describe how the wine smells and those that describe how it tastes or feels.
  • Acidic: A sharp, tart taste. Strict like a 5th grade teacher.
  • Aftertaste: Do we really need to explain this? The taste that’s left in your mouth.
  • Aromatic: A term used to describe the wine’s bouquet. The smell. It's fun to compare what you think you smell and to the winemaker's notes to discover what you should smell.
  • Bitter: This describes a taste not how you feel. Usually associated with younger wines, therefore a good term to remember when describing the Beaujolais nouveau or how an older woman feels about a younger one.
  • Body: How the wine feels in the mouth. Light, medium or full depending on the wine’s alcohol and extract. Wine can be as thin like water or thick like milk.
  • Clean: A wine that doesn’t taste funny, which is a good thing.
  • Closed: Used to describe the taste of a wine that’s been opened before its time. The flavor is somewhat incomplete. With wine often a dose of patience is required.
  • Dry: A less sweet white, the opposite of brut.
  • Fruity: Used to describe a flavorful, bouquet of fully ripened grapes.
  • Legs: Ring around the collar for wine. The liquid residue left on the side of the glass, when tilted back and forth. Thicker, slower moving legs denote higher alcohol content or residual sugar.
  • Musty: Wine that smells like grandma’s hope chest or the wet beach bag you forgot to unpack. Usually denotes dirty barrels.
  • Nose: A pretentious way to describe how the wine smells. Sounds snobby, doesn't it?
  • Soft: Much like cashmere, soft is always good. For wine it denotes a well-rounded flavor derived from mature tannins.
  • Tannic: A dry, astringent taste and mouth-feel from the skins, pits, and stalks.
Remember, you are the only wine critic that really matters. So drink what you like!

Laurie L Ross is a consistently published freelance writer who usually writes about the important things in life: fine wine, creative cuisine, spectacular spas, regional art, and unique boutiques. Ms. Ross has a popular wine blog entitled Sip of Spokane, a lively Facebook page Sip of Spokane, as well as an active Twitter page sipofspokane. Weekdays she can be found as the Director of Marketing at an advertising agency in the Spokane Valley.


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