The most entertaining way to learn about wine is to invite a few friends for a tasting in your own home.
The more you know about wine, the more rewarding the tasting will be, but even if you are a neophyte, you will have fun and educate yourself.
All you need is an appropriate group of bottles, a corkscrew, good company, and an open mind.
Organizing a tasting
I recommend a short tasting before lunch or dinner so that you can continue to have the same wines with your meal.
I would limit myself to no more than eight tasters and line up no more than four glasses in front of each person. Depending on how many wines you want to taste, serve them in groups of three or four.
Pour one and a half to two ounces per glass; that will give everyone enough to taste and still leave part of each bottle to serve later.
For this type of casual event, you must select one of the following two approaches:
A tasting of representative examples of the same grape variety from different areas (Chardonnays from Burgundy, California, Washington State, Australia, New Zealand, Northern Italy, United States and Chile, for example) is the best option for beginners relative.
The wines should be approximately the same age to minimize the number of tasting variables.
This type of comparative tasting is ideal for learning how various regions contribute their own distinctive character to the same variety and which versions you prefer.
The second option is a single-category, single-vintage wine tasting: 1993 Bordeaux or 1994 Oregon Pinot Noirs.
If you get together, say, a 1993 Bordeaux of major appellations like Pauillac, St-Julien, Graves, St-Emilion and Pomerol, you will have wines of markedly different character, and you will never be able to experience these differences more clearly than by tasting the wines side by side. .
But a horizontal tasting can be rigorous, as the distinctions between young wines in some categories can be quite subtle.
One of my first tastings was in Bordeaux in the Médoc region, I couldn't believe the discussion that surrounded me about the differences between the wines.
For me, it was all black currants and mouth-numbing tannins. But when I listened to my more experienced companions and returned to my glass, I was able to identify the notes of black cherry, raspberry and plum, not to mention the hints of leather, tobacco and roast beef.
As the night progressed, I could distinguish more or less intensity and complexity of flavor, as well as the contrast between the fine and smooth tannins and the drier and harsher ones.
Wine is like any other subject: once you learn a little and master its basic vocabulary, you will start to take a liking to it.
Setting the scene
Remove the capsule from the top of each bottle, then roll the bottle into foil, squashing the bottom flat. Number each one with a marker to make sure the correct wines are being poured into the correct glasses. (It is easier to uncork the bottles after wrapping them.)
It will refer to wine No. 2 or No. 3 and will only show the labels at the end.
The reason for tasting "blind" is simply to avoid being influenced by labels. We tend to be less willing to find fault with wines with flashy names and more reluctant to give high marks to supposedly inferior bottles.
One of the joys of a blind tasting is that it almost always produces surprises.
Cover the table with a white cloth so your guests can easily examine the color of each wine. Or place glasses on white plastic-lined sheets or butcher paper.
Its friction-free surfaces make it easy to stir wine in your glass.
Cool dry whites to 50-55 degrees and reds to 60-65 degrees. At refrigerator temperature, the aromas and flavors of white wines are typically stunted.
And reds that are served too hot may be dull from their alcohol.
Provide some bread or cookies for your guests to eat between the wines. Crisp French bread or neutral cookies are great options.
You will also often be served a lightly salty fresh mozzarella, which has an uncanny ability to rid the mouth of strong flavors.
It is not necessary to swallow the wine to taste it. In fact, the less you swallow, the longer you can stay sharp.
Spittoons can be large coffee cups or opaque plastic cups, preferably heavy so they cannot easily tip over.
A larger bucket on the table allows tasters to empty their glasses and spittoons at the end of each flight.
Begin by examining the color of the wine on a white background, tilting the glass away from you.
Look for bright and, in the case of red wines, saturated in color. A young red that is turning brown at the edge is probably aging too quickly, while a white that is unusually dark may show signs of incipient rust.
To release the aromas of a wine, swirl it in the glass and then smell it deeply. Repeat as necessary, taking notes.
Take a good size sip. Hold the wine in your mouth; shake it around, allowing it to cover your entire palate. How does the wine feel? Is it thin and acidic? Is it rich and velvety? .
Draw some air between your front teeth or on your tongue and "gargle" the wine into your mouth.
Keep in mind that your tongue can only identify four basic flavors: salinity, bitterness, sweetness, and acidity.
All other flavors reach the brain as aromas through the retronasal passage in the back of the throat.
By "chewing" the wine, or by combining it with air, the volatile elements evaporate.
What to look for
Aromas and Flavors
Pair for free as you smell and taste the wine, and write down any descriptive words or phrases that come to mind.
Make sure the wine is clean, that is, free from such obvious defects as vinegar quality, moisture (which may be due to a bad cork), oxidation (the smell of sherry or Madeira), or a strong suggestion of the corral.
Texture and Weight
Is the wine light and crisp? Is it smooth and full-bodied? Is it rough or smooth?
The balance sheet
In general, a good mature wine must show a harmony of components; no single element should dominate.
But perhaps your wine is overwhelmed by the aromas of the new oak barrels or is excessively tannic or alcoholic.
Keep in mind, however, that very young wines often need a bit of bottle aging to achieve harmony.
Perseverance on the palate
If there is a single reliable indicator of wine quality, it is the duration of the aftertaste or finish.
A wine that virtually disappears the moment you spit or swallow it is likely lacking in concentration or was made from slightly ripe grapes.
An exceptional wine stays on your palate for 20 to 30 seconds and sometimes much longer.
Allow everyone enough time to taste each wine and take some notes.
Then discuss the different bottles, exchanging your tasting notes and your likes and dislikes.
It will be beneficial to the group if a person familiar with wine can provide the basic parameters for the category of wine they are tasting.
While you discuss the wines, re-taste them to see if they have changed with aeration. Watch some get better and richer, while others lose their shape and freshness.
Choose your favorites before revealing the labels.
Later, as you have the same wines with your meal, watch as some complement the meal and others overwhelm it with monolithic flavors or excessive alcohol or new oak.
A wine that caught your eye during the tasting can be exhausting to drink, but another that is less appealing can come alive with your meat dish.
Compare your impressions at the table with the opinions recorded in your tasting notes.
And save your notes so you can remember your preferences the next time you're in a wine shop.