Monday, September 7, 2009

I would like to learn more about wine . . .

One of the most commonly asked questions by my customers is, “how can I learn more about wine?” You might be thinking the answer to this question is easy: drink more wine! Unfortunately it is not that simple; what you actually need to do is taste more wine. So what’s the difference between drinking and tasting? Drinking is easy enough: sip, swallow, repeat. Very little attention is paid to the wine itself. Tasting, on the other hand, involves a bit more work. In fact, there are even a few different steps involved–here are the most important ones.


Tilt the glass at a 45-degree angle away from you in front of a white background and look at the wine's appearance. Why is this important? This may not be the most important step for beginners, but the color can give you an idea of the region, climate, grape variety, and age of the wine.


With about a quarter of a glass of wine, swirl the glass in order to activate the aromatics of the wine. Then, don’t be afraid, stick your nose directly into the glass and try to describe a fruit smell, earth smell, and/or a wood smell. If the wine smells like wine, don’t be discouraged, the more you taste, the more you will become comfortable picking out descriptors. Hint: try going out of your way to smell things at the grocery store (produce, spices, and herbs) and then making a mental note. The next time you smell wine, your sense of smell may have awoken!


Sip a small portion of wine into your mouth, roll it around so it coats all surfaces of your mouth focusing on how it feels and tastes. You can enhance the flavor of the wine by drawing air in through the mouth over the wine (Be careful with this step; you may want to practice this at home before you try this in public.). Try to describe the body, tartness level, alcohol burn, sweetness, and general flavor profile. Complex wines will give you a lot more to talk about, and the flavor will persist long after you have swallowed it.

Final Conclusion

Do you like it or not? In the end this is all that matters! Either way, try to remember the characteristics about the wine you did or did not like; the next time you go shopping for wine, it will be a tremendous help. Also, if this was your first time with a new grape variety or region, was there anything unique about the wine that really stood out versus other wines you have had?

Now that you know the basics, check out your local wine tastings. Most stores host regular tastings; this allows you to taste many varietals at the same time, which will help you compare and contrast the different styles.

Amy Garman is the owner of the South Loop Wine Cellar at 1442 S. Michigan Ave.

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