Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Have you ever stopped yourself from ordering a wine at a restaurant for fear of not knowing what to order? Or, have you felt out of place when some "wine connoisseur" speaks in terms totally foreign to you?
Although for some, the world of wine is full of presumption, the reality of true experts is very different: there is a wine for everyone, and I am here to accompany you on your journey.
Here are 7 tips that will help you become a true wine sybarite.
1. Learn wine terms
To truly elevate your experience with wine, there are 5 basic terms you should familiarize yourself with. These terms, when understood and used properly, will assist you accurately specify the appearance and taste of a wine in order to determine your specific tastes and preferences, and how to appropriately pair with certain foods.
Tears/Legs, Tannicity, Acidity, Sweetness and Body – read my last post for more details about these terms and their meanings.
Understanding these terms will help you understand what experts mean when during tastings.
2. Pay attention to smell
You can develop a “professional nose” if you are aware of the aromas around you.
On many occasions, despite its importance, the sense of smell is the most neglected sense.
It is extremely important to consider, as it stimulates the sense of taste.
The first key to enjoying a wine is to enjoy the aromas that are conjured from it, and alter them into memories.
In other words, using our olfactory memory to give a meaning to the wine during a tasting is like using your imagination to add foods and spices into your glass simply by paying attention to the aromas.
For example, as soon as wine is poured into the glass, primary aromas will emerge, and you may find aromas similar to flowers, fruits, plants, spices, and minerals. Then, by making a slight wave in the glass, you can "open" the secondary aromas, which vary according to the wine; in some cases they will be lactic like baking butter or like fermented yeast. The tertiary aromas arise from processes such as aging in the barrel – you may recognize them as balsamic aromas, chocolate, woody, vanilla, coconut or even leather.
White wines usually have aromas of white flowers such as orange blossom or gardenias; tropical fruits such as pineapple; and citrus fruits such as lemon, orange or grapefruit.
Red wines usually have aromas of flowers such as violets or roses; spices such as cinnamon or pepper; vegetable aromas such as green peppers; and red fruits such as strawberries, raspberries or plums.
This olfactory talent is more readily achieved if you cook with spices, if you are often around fresh plants and flowers, if you spend time at markets with fresh produce, or if you stop to smell the foods you eat (i.e. smelling the emanating aromas from a freshly cut piece of fruit).
3. Learn a new language
Did you know that some scientific studies have shown that learning a new language helps prevent diseases like Alzheimer's?
Apart from the benefits to your health, learning a new language is a very useful tool in your journey to becoming a wine expert, as it helps you understand the meaning and history of the products being consume, which, in turn, generates a much more complete, exciting and meaningful experience.
You can start by listening to songs or watching movies in another language, such as Spanish, French, Italian, etc.
I also recommend watching wine films and documentaries in their original language, or even trying to read a wine tasting dictionary in French, which (along with English) is the most common language in the world of oenology.
Try something new and different to you – new grapes, different wine styles, wines from different countries – and experiment with new flavor pairings with your food.
The only sure way to know your preference is by drinking different wines! Try pairings and have fun. In the end it’s about turning wine into a pleasant experience, a small luxury that we indulge in, and not into something that causes us anguish or stress.
Next time you open a new bottle of wine, try this fun exercise: close your eyes when tasting wines (especially for the first time), and connect with your senses. Try to pick out the aromas and flavors.
Remember: the first sip is to temper the palate, it is the second sip that is evaluated.
5. Know how to behave - wine etiquette 101
Although it is certainly about having a good time, there are some unwritten rules to wine tastings that should not be forgotten:
• The glass should be held by the stem or by the base, never from the ball (the body of the glass). Holding a wine glass by the ball will heat the wine with the body heat of your hands, and you will leave unpleasant stains on the glass.
• Remember to have a glass of water between each glass of wine. Better yet, take a sip of water for each sip of wine. Hangovers caused by red wine are the worst!
• Do not fill the glass - Serve it to ¾ of its full capacity.
• Do not mix with other types of alcohol. Believe me, it is for your own good.
• it is meaningful and worth learning a few phrases to be able to give a great toast.
6. When is it ok to return a wine at a restaurant?
A wine may be returned when you detect odors of vinegar, humidity (like a dirty, damp cloth or like a moldy newspaper), glue, stable, sulfur or medicine - these are reasons to be alert.
However, a strange smell is not always synonymous with the wine being in poor condition, and it will, on normal occasions, not be until you taste the wine that you will be able to detect if the wine is actually in poor condition in order to return it. You will easily know since the unpleasant smell will match the taste.
Trust your senses, but do it humbly. Wine should not be returned just because the flavor is not to your liking, but because it is truly spoiled.
Cheers! Now you’re ready to shine at your next wine tasting, in your next business meeting, with your partner or friends.
Check my article on 3 Myths about wine