We all think we know what wine is. Possibly it’s your drink of choice on a Friday night after a long hard week at work – something that takes the tension out of your shoulders at the end of the week.
But if you dig a little deeper beyond its properties for relaxation, wine is pretty incredible stuff. Consider this: from just one tiny little fruit – the grape – more than 10,000 varieties of wine grapes have sprung up around the world.
These have spawned a staggeringly vast and varied market for vino, an associated vocabulary, conventions and habits that can be a minefield for the newbie. So we’ve pulled together a few top tips of dos and don'ts to get you started on your wine tasting adventure.
Wine Snob Worries
Remember, wine is just fermented fruit juice, and no matter how convoluted the descriptions you hear about the bounty of Bacchus may be, at the end of the day, it’s just fancy grape juice.
In the early stages of your journey with wine, you can make the decision not to be a ‘wine snob’. This will save you the stress of having to cringe when a dining companion grips his or her glass at the bowl instead of the stem, leaving fingerprints everywhere, and maybe even raising the wine’s temperature.
Relax. To enjoy wine, such things really shouldn’t be a matter of life and death – although believe it or not, for some people they are!
Nose, Legs and Body
You’ll have heard wine tasters on TV declare that a wine has ‘a nice nose’, but this is just a – some would say pretentious – way of saying ‘The wine smells nice’, or ‘The wine smells like it’s going to be delicious when I taste it’.
The ‘nose’ makes reference to a wine’s bouquet, or aroma which helps determine what the taster thinks they will taste once the wine is in their mouth.
Often you’ll see a pro wine taster swill the wine around in the glass, bury their nose deep into the bowl and breathe in deeply. They may then hold the glass a little further away to get a different dimension to the aroma.
Did you know that wine also has legs? Once you’ve swirled your wine around in the glass and hold it steady again, the rivulets of wine dripping back down inside the glass are known as the legs of the wine, and these are visual indicators of how rich the wine is.
As a rule of thumb, the slower and wider the wine drips downwards the higher the alcohol content, while the movement of a lighter wine’s legs is thinner and more rapid.
The body of the wine describes something altogether different – the ‘mouthfeel’. This is a strange concept but is effectively about how heavy or light the wine feels on your tongue when you take it into your mouth.
Some wines are described as ‘full bodied’ and demonstrate a noticeable weight on your tongue. These wines – red or white – tend to have a richer, deeper colour and a higher alcohol content – upwards of 13.5%. You could try a Pinot Noir red, or a Sauvignon Blanc (white).
Wines such as Riesling and sparkling wines are described as light bodied and tend to have a fresh and delicate feel about them when you take a sip. These wines tend to have relatively high acidity and lower alcohol content.
Medium bodied wines are in the majority, and Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot wines can be both medium and full bodied, depending on where the grapes were grown and the winemaker’s approach to making the wine.
Making Your Wine Selection
There’s never any harm in experimenting with something new, but we all have our favourite types of wine – red, white, rosé or sparkling. You won’t know what you like until you try it – so get started!
Obviously we’re not suggesting you try them all at once as we don’t want to inflict a hangover on anyone, but don’t be afraid to experiment in moderation – and it’s safer to sip than gulp.
Once you know what you like you can begin to consider what you want to buy and put away. Although you may be too early in your wine experimentation to consider a wine cellar, it may be time to upgrade your wine rack if you’re considering buying a couple of bottles of a wine you really like and stashing them away for a special dinner party in the future. Once you’ve got the hang of tasting wine, why not attempt to pair your favourite sip with a classic cheese pairing?