People tend to fall into two categories when drinking wine: the safe and the daring. There are extremes on both sides, but in general you find people that stick with what they know and like and those that are always looking for the next great thing. Safe wine drinkers have their order chosen before they slide onto the barstool. Some utter it to the bartender without even glancing at the menu. More adventurous drinkers try something new every time. They close their eyes and let their finger decide their order, or ask the waiter to suggest his favorite.
Who is right? There’s no correct answer here. The beauty and dark side of wine is that often times every glass poured is a gamble. You may know the grape, but how did the soil these were grown in effect it? You may know the area, but how did the vintner in question craft it? You may know the brand, but what about the year? So many things — including how the bar you are seated in stored, opened, and has been serving the wine — can change the ultimate taste, that you can look at every new glass of wine ordered as an opportunity for a little wine tasting.
Not to worry — we aren’t asking you to bring along your own spittoon for a night on the town. Much too bulky. But no matter your surroundings, a few simple steps can help you get a better appreciation for the glass you just plunked down hard-earned money for.
Color is not something that anyone but experts look at since it doesn’t affect the taste, but it can give you some insights into what you will taste. A brief glance at the glass can fill you in, if you know the not-so-secret code. Hold the cup up against something white — a napkin or your friend’s shirt — for the best view. Dark wines that are shades of brick red or golden straw yellow often mean an old wine. If you ordered a 2010, this could be a sign your order has gone bad. Another age check: tip the glass a bit to the side and look at the rim. If it’s the same hue as the rest of the wine or a touch brighter, you are good. Anything that looks dark or dingy may be a red flag.
Gently, please, for the safety of the rest of your party. When the wine settles back into the bottom of the glass, check out the streaks it made on the sides. The thicker and larger the drips — called legs — the more alcohol you can expect. Take this opportunity to also give the wine a great sniff. You actually do a lot of tasting with your nose, so giving it an up-close-and-personal show with the wine before first sip will actually allow you to get more out of the flavor.
Drink a sip of water beforehand to clear out other flavors like an earlier coffee or breath mint. Suck the wine slightly to get it to aerate, but don’t worry about making any silly sounds. Hold the wine on your tongue for the briefest second before swallowing. And during each step, pay attention. Each point in the sipping process will allow different flavors in the wine to shine, so a quick swish loses half the draw.
It’s wine, not brain surgery. Appreciation is all that the wine and its creators ask.
— Melissa Auman Greiner, The Drink Nation
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