Drinking wine is a pleasurable experience that is quite simple. And, as winemaker Charles Smith puts it "It's just wine. Drink it." But for many people, wine tasting can be a very intimidating experience. But it shouldn't be.
In the past, I've written about how to visit wineries and how to have a great experience tasting wines. And whether it be at a winery, a restaurant, wine bar, or at home, there are simple things that you can do to enhance the simple enjoyment of a glass of wine.
The Five S's of wine have been written about many times by others but here's a quick review:
- See - Look at the wine in your glass and note the color and clarity. White wines can range from nearly clear to pale yellow, straw color, or golden. Red wines can be maroon, purple, ruby, garnet, or deep red. Both white and red wines can take on a brown hue with age. All wines should be free of sediment.
- Swirl - By swirling the wine within the glass you give it an opportunity to gain further contact with air and release its aromas. A wine right out of a bottle may need a little exposure to air. This exposure will quickly take away any sharp odors and can help soften or mellow the wine.
- Sniff - Stick your nose into the wine glass and take a sniff. You can get a very quick idea of what the wine will taste like and you may even detect some of the fruit aromas. Try sniffing with each individual nostril. You may find a real difference. And, by the way, there is no need to sniff the cork from the bottle. A wine server may present it to you, but you only need to take a brief look at it to ensure it doesn't show any obvious signs of leakage.
- Sip - Take a small sip, drawing in some air as you sip, and let it stay in your mouth for a while. You can even swish it around a bit in your mouth. This will give you an opportunity to really get all the flavors that the wine has to offer.
- Swallow - By allowing the wine to go through the back of your mouth and down your throat you will finally get the complete wine experience from your mouth and nasal passages.
But, in addition to these classic five S's, there are a few other things that can enhance your enjoyment of wine. The glass itself is important. It should be clean and clear with a bowl large enough to hold a nice pour of wine (around 5 ounces) and still have plenty of room left. A wine glass should only be filled about one-third of the way. The remaining 'empty' space in the glass is left to capture the wine's aromas.
The wine also needs to be at the right temperature. Reds should not be served room temperature and whites should not come straight out of the kitchen refrigerator. A red should be served at cellar temperature, 58-62 degree F, and a white should be 45-50 degrees F. These optimal temperatures allow you to best enjoy the wine's full flavors. I recently had a friend tell me he didn't like Chardonnay until a recent visit to a winery. What he learned was that his only experience with Chardonnay was drinking it at refrigerator temperature. When the winery served their Chardonnay at 48-50 F, it was an entirely different and better experience, allowing him to actually taste all the flavors in the wine.
Decanting a red wine can also make a big difference. It doesn't need to be a fancy decanter, just one that can hold an entire bottle of wine and give the wine lots of surface area exposed to air. Filling a decanter up to the neck does little for the wine so find a vessel that has a broad bottom such that you are only filling it about halfway. Once you've poured the wine into the decanter, pour yourself a sip right away and note the wine's character. Give it thirty minutes in the decanter and try it again. It should smooth out and soften. You can continue decanting for an hour our two, but beyond that the wine can become over oxidized and start to become a bit stale.
Once again you may be asking yourself "Why bother?" Well, if you follow these simple steps you'll find that you will quickly start to understand the differences in wines and better determine your real wine preferences.
But, above all else, keep it simple, take wine tasting slowly, and enjoy! Cheers!