As a wine connoisseur, there are many reasons why I don’t get invited to parties. One is a perception that ‘wine experts’ (and I am qualified to use those inverted commas) have strange habits, able to discern nuances unnoticeable to mere mortals by making disgusting noises while drinking. Consulted like oracles at the dinner table, these black-toothed, purple lipped sages revel in the simple fact that knowledge gives them power.
Beginner’s Guide to Tasting Wine
Dribbling, Swilling, Gargling, and Spitting
I’ll let you in on a secret though – wine tasting is actually pretty straightforward. There are a few key principles which you can use to gauge a few features of a wine, and determine not just whether you like it or not, but why you do.
Step 1: The dribble test
Wine is acidic, when left open too long it turns to vinegar. This characteristic is important; it makes the wine crisp and clean. But some people prefer their wines to be softer. When drinking a wine you enjoy, try the dribble test.
Take a sip of wine, swirl it round your mouth and swallow. Then lean over forward so you are looking down and open your mouth. The more acidic the wine, the more you will salivate. If you don’t want to ruin your tablecloth, you can complete the test with a closed mouth and go by feel alone, but it just isn’t as scientific.
Step 2: Dip and Lick Test
Another key component of a wine is sweetness. This can be confusing sometimes, as a ‘lack of dryness’ (low acidity) can be interpreted as sweetness. However, when we talk about the sweetness of a wine, we literally meant its residual sugar content.
This affects the sweetness of the wine, but also its body and mouthfeel as well. This can be measured using the super-sensitive tip of your tongue. Simply stick your tongue out as far as it will go and dip the end in the wine. If you get a tingling sensation then there is sugar present in the wine.
Step 3: Swilling and Gargling
You’ve seen and heard it before. The waiter heads straight for the most obnoxious person at the table and presents him with the bottle, like a wise man bearing Frankincense. The waiter pours him a sample, which he swirls furiously around the glass before upending into his mouth, making a horrendous slurping noise, before declaring that the wine is good.
Believe it or not, there is a purpose to all this (although the waiter wants him to check that the wine is not corked which can be checked simply with a sniff, so the guy is still an idiot…). Bringing the wine into contact with the air evaporates a tiny portion of the alcohol, which draws out flavours and aromas with it. Analysing the flavours can be difficult and pretentious, but a good place to start is to divide the aromas into ‘fruit’ and ‘anything else’. From there you can try and figure out what fruits you can smell, as well as anything funkier.
Last word of advice – none of these highly scientific wine tasting techniques should be tried in front of your friends or significant others. While you may increase your enjoyment of a wine, you will significantly decrease the amount of people who are willing to enjoy it with you… Here I speak from experience!