Swirl, smell, study the tendrils sliding down the inside of the glass. These are the trademark actions of a person who likes to project the image that they know many things about wine and what separates a good wine from a supermarket ten-dollar-special. However, it wouldn’t be a far cry away from the truth to assume a sizable chunk of these people don’t actually know what they are looking for when they swirl, smell and study the tendrils. So, here are five steps to becoming a reference point for your friends in the world of wine.
Holding a glass
This may seem borderline insulting but there are right and wrong ways to hold a wine glass and sound reasoning for each. Always hold a glass by its stem rather than the bowl as the heat of your hand warms the liquid and affects the entire tasting experience. Pinch the stem, don’t cup the bowl. This also prevents fingerprints around the bowl. Red wines do benefit from warming as it releases aromas but white wines lose citric notes if warmed. Stemless glasses are – should be – exclusively for red wines.
First off, you’re going to see the wine in front of you. Hold the glass to the light and tilt it slightly. Is it clear or cloudy? (You want it to be clear). The colour of the wine will vary from bottle to bottle; young reds are typically bright red, raspberry coloured and darken to a shade similar to a brick as they age. White wines range from pale green to yellow and age to become more and more golden.
Swirling is an extension of breathing a wine. Swirling exposes the wine to more oxygen and releases more aroma and taste. This is also called agitating the wine. The act of swirling the wine also results in tendrils of liquid running down the inside of the glass. These are the ‘legs’ of the wine and offer an insight to the alcoholic level of the wine.
Tilt the glass in and inhale. Remember that 80% of our sense of taste actually comes from our sense of smell. Move your nose from inside the glass to about an inch or so above the rim and comment on what you detect. The top of the glass holds the more fruity tones while the deeper parts of the glass hold the richer. Mention words like ‘woody’, spicy’, ‘floral’, and discuss the intensity and appeal of these. The more relevant adjectives the better, but don’t go overboard. You don’t want to seem arrogant, after all.
Sip the wine first, letting the liquid spread across your tongue, front to back and side to side. Take another, bigger sip and as awkward as it sounds, try to suck some air through your teeth whilst holding the wine in your mouth. This further aerates the wine and releases yet more flavours and aromas. You should be able to confirm your previous assessments at this point. Upon swallowing, be sure to note the aftertaste, or the ‘finish’.