Beyond the 5 S's of Wine Tasting

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!




Do You Need a Different Wine Glass for Each Varietal?

You may have seen that some wine glass manufacturers make different glasses for different varietals of wine made.  So, it would seem, you could end up with a couple dozen sets of wine glasses just to make sure you have the 'right' glass for each wine.

If money and shelf space were no object, having a wide variety of wine glasses would be a fine approach. And the wine glass manufacturers would love for you to purchase multiple sets of wine glasses.  But practically speaking, you can get away with two or three different types of wine glasses.

First, as previously described, you should have a tall, large bowl, stemmed red wine glass.  This will allow you to enjoy all the aromas and favors that a red wine has to offer.

Second, you should have a smaller stemmed glass, with a more U-shaped bowl, for a white wine.  Not a whole lot smaller.  Remember, even with a white wine you are not filling the glass, just pouring to about one-third full. And you can use these for sparkling wines as well.

Finally,  you might consider picking up an inexpensive set of multipurpose wine glasses for occasions when you are outside. Whether the backyard, a picnic or the beach, accidents happen and you don't want to put any of your nicer stemware at risk.

So this wraps up the series on wine glasses.  Remember, the type of wine glass you choose can truly enhance your wine drinking experience. Cheers!

Why Choose a Wine Glass with a Stem?

The type of glass that you use affects the wine drinking experience. Its look and feel play a part, as does the size and shape of the glass. What then about a stemmed glass versus a stemless glass?

Stemless glasses can be fun, and with the right size, shape and thickness, they can offer a nice wine drinking experience. But you should really step up to a stemmed glass once you start exploring nicer wines. Now, the reasons for a stemmed glass may seem a bit 'snobby' but hear me out. A stem is important for several reasons.  

First, a stem allows you to keep your hand and fingers off the bowl of the wine glass.  Why is this important?  Well, it keeps the bowl of your wine glass clean and clear of unsightly fingerprints and smudges. This makes for a more visually pleasing look of your glass.

Second, a stemmed wine glass allows you to hold the wine glass properly - by the stem.  This is important when you swirl your glass.  The topic of why one swirls a wine glass was previously addressed, but to summarize, it allows the wine to gain additional exposure to air and it allows for greater release of the wine's aroma for that all-important combination of taste and smell. Swirling with a stemmed glass is easy, whether you are holding the stem in your hand or if you are doing a tabletop swirl.

Third, because the sense of smell plays such an important role in the taste and enjoyment of wine, you want to avoid introducing other smells while sipping wine.  And the object that is always near your nose as you drink is your hand.  By using a stemmed wine glass, you keep your hand and any hand smells (food, perfume, lotions, etc.) sufficiently away from your nose.

Finally, a stemmed wine glass is important to the serving temperature of a wine.  Holding a wine glass by the stem does not transfer any of your body heat to the wine.  Red wines are generally served in the 62° F to 68° F range, while whites are served between 50 to 55° F.  By holding the glass by the stem, it avoids your 98° F degree hand from affecting the wine's temperature.

So, there are definitely differences between a stemmed versus a stemless wine glass. And, for the reasons above, you will have a finer wine drinking experience when holding a stemmed wine glass. Cheers!


What's the Best Type of Wine Glass?

Last time, our senses of sight, touch, taste and smell were discussed.  The look and feel of a wine glass plays an important role in our wine drinking experience, as does smell and taste.  But, the shape of the wine glass also plays an important role.

Red wine glasses are generally taller and are tapered at the top to help keep in some of the wine's aroma. The bowls of red wine glasses are larger and rounder with a larger opening than other wine glasses of similar capacities in order to allow your nose into the glass to smell the aroma. This bowl style is also important because the complex aromas and flavors of red wine require a glass with a larger surface area to ensure that the wine comes in contact with plenty of air. 

Conversely, white wine glasses are a bit shorter and have smaller bowls. The bowl of a white wine glass will be more U-shaped with the sides being more upright than that of a red wine glass, allowing the aromas to be released. 

With both red and white wine glasses, you should choose clear glass for the bowl, stem and base.  This is important because it allows you to see the true coloring of the wine without it being obscured. And, color matters.

But do you need both types of wine glasses? You can certainly get by with one set of glasses, but when drinking a number of different varietals you may find that the glassware is limiting your experience, especially if you choose to drink red wine out of a smaller white wine glass.  So, plan on having at least two types of wine glasses.  Some would also recommend having a third type, a flute, for sparkling wine. But, unless you just want to look at a lot of bubbles, go with a white wine glass. 

While the various shapes and sizes can be overwhelming, a proper varietal-glass pairing can make a difference.  Oh, and then there's the subject of the stem.  And, that's a whole other story that we'll address next time.

So, whether it's a red or a white, find the proper glass, fill it no more than a third full, swirl, smell, sip and savor. Cheers!

Can a Wine Glass Make Your Wine Taste Better?

You may have read articles, seen ads or simply seen in stores that there is a large variety of wine glass shapes and sizes. Some wine glass manufactures will make different wine glasses for each of the different wine varietals. And you ask yourself, "Does it make a difference which wine glass I use?"

Enjoying a nice glass of wine can be an experience.  And, to a certain degree, the glass that you use can add to that experience. There are several characteristics of a wine glass that can affect your wine drinking experience. But first let's start with the basics. Your tongue plays a huge role in what you taste, but your nose also plays an important role. So to get the most out of anything you eat or drink, those two senses are critical.  Then there are the senses of sight and touch. These too can play important roles in the wine drinking experience.

So taste, smell, touch and sight are factors.  What does that mean for enjoying a glass of wine?  Well, if you are served a glass of wine in a paper or plastic cup, your senses are going to tell your brain one thing versus being served a glass of wine in a tall, thin wine glass made of fine crystal.  So right away you are going to have a better wine experience with the fine crystal. 

What does this mean for choosing the right wine glasses?  That size, shape and feel of a wine glass are important to the wine drinking experience.

Size - Generally speaking, a wine glass should never be filled more than one-third full.  But to make the quantity in the glass a reasonable amount, you need to pour 3 to 4 ounces of wine into it. Thus, a wine glass needs to hold at least 9 to 12 ounces.

Shape - Most all wine glasses are bowl-shaped; broader at the bottom and narrower at the top.  The reason for this is to give the wine a relatively large surface area in the base to expose the wine to air and allow for aromas to be released.  The narrower top will somewhat trap the aroma in just the place where your nose is naturally going to end up. This way both the sense of smell and taste will come directly into play as you sip the wine.

Feel -- When you see a wine glass, and then pick it up, you are immediately going to use your sense of touch. The thickness of the glass will directly affect the weight of the glass. And generally, a thinner, light-weight wine glass is going to fell better in your hand.  A thinner glass without a lip at the top is also going to be nicer on your lips as you sip the wine. And, the thickness of the stem will also play a part, with a thinner stem having a more delicate feel as you pick up the glass.

So is the kind of wine glass you use going to make your wine better?  The simple answer is yes!  Your senses of sight, touch, smell and taste are going to affect the way you perceive the wine. And so, using the right wine glass is going to be an important factor in your overall wine experience.

More on glasses next time. But for now, I lift my glass to you. Cheers!