Wine 101

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The Zen of Wine Tasting

Two keys are important - slow down and concentrate.

Beyond that, you just need to swirl, smell and taste. A visual check of the wine simply informs your brain what you are about to taste. The chance of finding a bad wine due to oxidation is like winning the lottery - remote. Some folks like to tilt the wine glass and observe how the wine flows down the inside of the glass. However, there is no correlation between the "legs" or "tears" on the inside of the glass and the taste itself. WineTrail Note: the crystals you often find at the bottom of your wine glass are harmless tartrate crystals and should not reflect negatively on the wine. These "wine diamonds" are more of an esthetic issue. Filtering these crystals may take away some desirable flavor characteristics.

Swirling The just-poured wine has been locked up for a long time in steel tanks, oak barrels, and the bottle. Now it has a chance to stretch its legs and aerate. Swirling lets the wine open up a bit and release aromas. Most tasting rooms provide big enough wine glasses to swirl without spilling. If you chance upon a winery that uses little plastic cups or tiny "orange juice glasses," you might want to shorten your visit and move on to the next winery.

Smelling The odor that the wine gives off is its "nose." Washington varietals such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have a distinctive smell. In fact, a number of Northwest wine lovers can tell where the grapes came from- Walla Walla, Yakima Valley, Horse Heaven Hills, etc.-by the smell, but that's pretty rare. Right after a vigorous swirl, quickly smell the wine by sticking your nose into the glass. Concentrate and let your imagination run wild as you attempt to describe what you smell. In time, descriptions such as sweaty saddle, cat pee, tar, burnt match, and asparagus may enter your smelling lexicon.

Tasting Different parts of the tongue pick up tastes of sweetness, acidity and bitterness. Your brain is also registering other sensations such as heaviness, roundness, finish, and astringency from the tannins found in the wine. Concentrate for a few seconds while the wine is in your mouth - swirl it around your mouth and attempt to suck a little air in-without committing a gagging faux pas-to pick up the wine's full flavors.

Now is a good time to study the wine's label and learn where the grapes came from, the vintage year, the grape varietals, and amount of alcohol by volume. That single vineyard Pepper Bridge Merlot is as distinct as the Red Willow Merlot you just sampled at the previous tasting room. Slow down and concentrate. Remember, it is just liquid, but what glorious liquid it is.

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(1 Comment)

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    I have just been asked to organize a wine tasting event for a non-profit supporting foster families. I am putting together a Tasting Kit, may I use your Zen of Tasting in the handouts? I have not done this kind of event before and would love any suggestions, besides "impossible" :) I have 8 weeks.
    November 26, 2012 @ 4:29 PM

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