How To Taste Wine
Here’s a crash course in knowing what’s flowing down your gullet
Wine: it’s one of those areas in which most of us have a wealth of experience but very little expertise. In an attempt to correct this we’ve enlisted the help of Mr Michael Sager-Wilde, the owner of the acclaimed East London wine bar Sager + Wilde, who has provided us with an easy guide to getting the most out of your wine. Watch the video, above, or read on to learn more.
WINESPEAK: A BLUFFER’S GUIDE
BODY A term used to describe the overall “feel” of a wine in your mouth. Think of the difference between skimmed milk and whole milk, and you get the idea. Full-bodied wines are high in alcohol and tend to originate from warmer climes. Think Italian or New World reds. Light-bodied wines are, well, the opposite. German Riesling from the Moselle Valley is a prime example.
NEW WORLD Wine produced outside of its traditional homeland of continental Europe (which is called, unsurprisingly, the Old World). The term usually refers to the Americas, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
OAK Wine stored in oak barrels can be imparted with a variety of pleasing aromas. Look out for tasting notes that include references to vanilla, caramel, mocha, cashew, cinnamon or clove. Or any other flavour, for that matter, that you logically wouldn’t expect to be present in wine.
OENOPHILE A fancy-pants word for wine-lover, but with the added implication of a certain level of expertise. From the Greek oinos, wine, and philos, love.
TANNINS Organic compounds responsible for wine’s astringent taste. Imagine the taste of under-ripe fruit or over-brewed tea. Abundantly present in young red wines – especially those that have been designed to age in the bottle, such as fine wines from Bordeaux or the Rhône Valley. They mellow over time, or on contact with air.
TERROIR Nebulous, abstract and yet utterly vital to the understanding of Old World (and particularly French) wine, terroir refers to the many factors of sun, soil, wind and water that can vary from vineyard to vineyard and that combine to influence the taste and quality of a wine. Oenophiles will tell you that the secret to the greatest Burgundy and Alsace wines lies in their elusive, mystical goût de terroir.
THREE WAYS TO PASS YOURSELF OFF AS A WINE EXPERT
When describing wine, use words that suggest a lot but say very little. “This is a vigorous, confident wine.” References to soil are encouraged because they suggest an appreciation of a wine’s terroir and are difficult to disprove. “The bouquet is underpinned by a limestone minerality.” Deploy the occasional outlandish metaphor. “It’s nothing less than an iron fist in a velvet glove.” Throw in an exotic tasting note or two. Gunpowder, pencil lead, saddle leather, wet pebbles, hyacinth, truffle and violet are all legitimate examples, but feel free to come up with your own. If in doubt, preface with “a hint of” or “an impression of”.
Have an opinion on Mr Robert Parker Jr
Otherwise known as the Maryland-based wine critic behind the legendary publication, The Wine Advocate. His influence is so great that many producers have begun to specifically tailor their wines to please his palate. Detractors argue that his preference for big, ripe, oaky reds has led to a homogenisation of the fine wine market – something that they refer to as “Parkerisation”. In criticising Mr Parker, you are effectively railing against the establishment. Right on!
Remember your first time
Everyone remembers their first time: that one, epiphanic bottle that begat a lifelong love affair with alcoholic grape juice. This is a common topic of conversation among wine buffs, who’ll happily while away the hours reminiscing about how they popped their tempranillo, so you’d better make sure you’re not caught without a story of your own. Choose a memorable bottle, whip up a wistful tale and learn it off by heart.