As a recent college graduate, it was easy to get lost in the allure of such fine wines as Mad Dog and Franzia, which offer a quality product (joking), which bears the unofficial motto of “drink, don’t think.” Obviously, if you’re interested in actually enjoying your wine, as we can assume by your interest in Greenhouse’s selection, a lot more thinking goes into it.
Truth be told, I had no clue what I was doing when I first came to the counter and tried samples of wine. I knew the basic dry vs. sweet, red vs. white, but I was entirely uncertain of how to distinguish between good wines vs. a lesser wine, or even of why I liked one better than the other.
As I’ve come to find out, there is a process to tasting wine (no, it’s not pour it and swallow as much as you can in the shortest amount of time). As any wine aficionado, or person pretending to be one (that’s me!) will tell you, first you’re supposed to swirl the wine in your glass, and then sniff it. These are the crucial first steps to the tasting process often overlooked by those of us graduating from the cheapest of the cheap stuff to wine you want to taste, or even those who have just recently taken interest in wine.
So what gives? Why swirl and sniff? First off, the swirling has to do with getting oxygen to the wine. While it’s bottled, one of the main goals is to keep oxygen out. Hence the cork and airtight packaging, which stop the wine from over-oxidizing and turning to vinegar. However, once you open the bottle of wine to drink, some wines (mostly reds) need the oxygen to release their full flavor and aroma.
A key aspect of swirling is to get a better sense of the wine’s color, which can clue you in to things ranging from alcohol content to the freshness of the wine. Typically older red wines of the same type as a younger red will have more orange tinges on the sides. An older white will be darker than a younger white of the same kind. You’ll also be able to see if there’s any excess sediment or pieces of cork in your wine glass.
In reality, the biggest gains from swirling are realized in the smelling that comes after. By agitating the wine in the glass, you’re allowing the full aroma to be released and a more concentrated smell to be brought to your nostrils.
Now, we’ve all heard the old adage “75% of taste comes from smell.” With wine, this is truer than ever. All you have to do is plug your nose and take a sip in order to taste the difference (trying this with Dan Good really brings out the difference). Not only will smelling the wine contribute to your ability to get the full taste of the wine, but it also helps identify wine that is spoiled or over-oxidized. Smelling the wine is about letting your senses get a fuller sense of what you’re sipping on, and in doing so allows you to enjoy to a greater extent the intricacies of what the winemaker is sending you in his or her bottle.
Smelling technique isn’t generally agreed upon; some say two or three sniffs vs. one longer inhalation. Really, it’s just about deeply smelling the aroma of the wine and allowing your brain to process this as you go to take your first sip. Whereas, taste is limited to the four traditional categories of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty, our sense of smell isn’t quite so inhibited. Smell is not as precise as taste for exactly this reason, though it allows for connections with memory and the simple pleasure of an appealing aroma. This comes back to what the whole wine tasting process is about; making a connection with the wine through your senses and being able to appreciate what you’re drinking. So next time you’re sampling, give your wine a swirl and sniff, and maybe you’ll get a chance to enjoy wine for a lot more than the buzz.
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