Whether you fell in love with it early on or developed a taste for it over time, there’s nothing quite like a fine glass of wine. It remains one of the most complex alcohols on the market, digging its roots deep into centuries-old tradition while continually bringing something new to the table. Plus, it’s an excellent way to get a conversation going amongst friends.
If you’re ready to kickstart your exploration of this highly flavorful, aromatic drink, then you’ve come to the right place. This article explains everything there is to know about wine for beginners. Before long, you’ll be a connoisseur!
How you taste wine is paramount to your experience with the drink. Learning to taste properly isn’t much different from learning to appreciate the arts. The effort you put it relates to the pleasure you get out of it.
As you fine-tune your senses, the subtle nuances of each wine will begin to reveal themselves to you. It takes time to pick up on each detail, just like refining your palette for fine dining, but it is well worth the investment of your time as you begin to explore wine.
The continued ability to identify specific flavors and ingredients is incredibly rewarding. Plus, you’ll have fun while doing it. So, understanding wine for beginners starts with learning how to taste.
How To Taste Wine, The Right Way
The first thing you want to do is take a long, deep inhale with your nose positioned slightly above the glass. Your olfactory sense relies on your nose to taste subtleties in both food and drink, so that first sniff of wine creates the blueprint for its making.
As you inhale, what do you notice? What words best describe the scents wafting into your nostrils? Is it earthy, woody, leathery, or maybe fruity? Work on recognizing these scents in different bottles, placing specific names to each one. This is the most important aspect of wine tasting.
Next, take a small sip from the glass and let it sit inside your mouth. Swirl it around with your tongue to allow the flavors to hit your taste buds, building on top of the scents picked up by your nose. Were you correct in your initial assumption?
Finally, hold the wine in your mouth as you slowly exhale. This will allow the flavors to unfold further, giving you the full experience. Eventually, go ahead and swallow. The whole process should take about a minute.
Not every wine requires this methodical approach, but it is an excellent way to learn more about each glass you have. You might not care to properly taste boxed wine served in a paper cup at a party, but this method comes in handy when you get your hands on a well-aged bottle.
Make it a habit of following these steps with each glass of wine you have, and practice being mindful during the process. Tune out everything else around you as you thoroughly enjoy your drink.
How To Choose The Right Wine
The short answer is that any wine you enjoy is the right wine. If it tastes pleasant and you like drinking it, then it is a “good” wine. However, there’s more to understanding wine than merely enjoying the bottle and getting drunk.
When you just say, “This one tastes great!” you’re making a split decision without fully evaluating the drink. These quick judgments can help you determine which style you enjoy the most, but properly tasting each glass will help you find an appreciation for other styles and may even help you learn that you enjoy several.
As you identify the primary flavor and the subtle nuances that surround it, you’ll learn more about the grapes used to make the wine you are currently drinking. Species of grape and the regions in which they’re grown can drastically change each Cabernet Sauvignon you drink.
There are also flaws in certain wines, which aren’t exclusive to cheap bottles. Some high-end winemakers create batches that are, well, awful. As you fully understand the types of wine and specific flaws, deciding which kind is right for you becomes more natural.
How To Find Flaws
Understanding wine for beginners is a multi-faceted task, with identifying flaws being a part of the process. This step is a little harder since numerous things can cause a flaw. Sometimes the batch is ruined from a mistake in the process, other times the cork may be faulty, or the storage conditions ruined the flavor.
Oxidation is the most common flaw, which is caused by a mistake in the winemaking process. Excess oxygen enters the mix, destroying the chemical balance during distilling. The taste is described as flat, dull, and bitter.
A strong sulfur smell is another flaw caused during the process of making a batch of wine. It can happen when sulfur is added into the mix, during fermentation, or from a reaction to other ingredients. Luckily, you can place the wine in a decanter to aerate it and eliminate this problem.
If the cork is flawed, you can pick up on this immediately. A chemical compound builds inside of the bottle causing a mold-like, wet paper, or wet dog smell. If this is the case, don’t drink it.
Heat damage is also a wine killer, caused by improper storage. When exposed to excessive amounts of sunlight, your wine cooks into something that tastes foul. Cardboard and wood are the words used to describe the taste. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as un-cooking your wine.
Identifying Wine Types
Normally, a bottle will tell you what kind of wine is inside. You probably already know the difference between red and white varieties and might know a few name-brand styles like Zinfandel or Pinot Grigio. That’s an excellent start, but refining your palette will help you explore different regional blends.
For instance, there’s a difference between wines crafted in Germany, France, and Italy. Those created in the U.S. and Chile are vastly different from one another, as are those in Australia. While each is wholly unique, those specific countries create the Old and New World groups of wines (the first three being the old-world variety).
Old World wines focus on unique characteristics delivered by the soil and climate of the region, while New World styles focus on the type of grapes incorporated into the mix. Either way, each country is wholly unique based on its geography. Here are some popular styles from various regions:
Notice how some names appear in several countries. It might seem as though those are the same wines, but each country offers a unique taste through the condition of the soil and the climate the area the experiences. No two Pinots or Sauvignons are the same.
How To Read Wine Labels
There are two types of labels in the wine industry, the New World and Old World. Old World labels assume that you already have an understanding of wines from the region, the grapes used to make them, and what style they are. New World labels make things easier, stating the region and style.
While each bottle of wine will have its name, New World varieties state whether a Merlot came from the Napa Valley or if a Cabernet Sauvignon was crafted from grapes grown in Argentina. An Old World bottle might say Saint-Emilion, assuming you know that’s a Merlot.
Since understanding wine for beginners focuses on refining your palette to understand different grapes, New World bottle often help the most. When looking at a label, each usually contains the variety, region, producer, alcohol percentage and vintage. As you delve deeper into the world of wine, you’ll soon begin to understand what specific varieties and regions taste like.
Tips For Collecting
You can find almost any wine at your local store, but selections can sometimes be limited. That’s why many collectors choose to shop for specific or high-end bottles online. Always make sure you’re up to date on alcohol shipping laws before making an online purchase, though.
Before starting your collection, take the time to figure out which wines you enjoy the most. Then, start collecting different styles from various regions and allow them to age. The longer you hold onto a bottle, the richer its flavors become.
To help determine which styles are your favorite, just try everything. The more you taste and experience, the more refined your pallet becomes. You might like a rich Cabernet now, but you may find that some occasions call for Riesling or Syrah. Half the fun of getting into wine is trying every bottle you possibly can.