Here's your chance to step with pep into any social setting and drop some wine knowledge like an old school beat. No one likes the snooty know-it-all wine snob in the room, but you can still impress the pants of people by knowing how to taste wine like a sommelier. As a side note, the real wine experts like Master Sommeliers are usually not the snooty know-it-all types in the room. Actual wine experts know wine is about people—people who make the wine, and people who drink the wine.
The goal is to enhance your enjoyment of wine for the rest of your life and be able to know if a wine is good or not. How do you know that? One way is to know how accurately the wine shows typicity. In other words, does it taste like the grape should and does it taste like it should considering where it was grown. You might know that as terroir.
An accurate representation of the grape variety from the place its grown is a good wine. A shitty wine is one that sort of resembles the grape, but the winemaker had to do so much stuff to it that it has no sense of place, or that it taste like a generic grape that could've been grown anywhere. A Chardonnay from Burgundy, France comes across differently than a Chardonnay from Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
The real pimp way to earn respect is to know it, but don't show it. Here's some some ideas on how to go through a wine and identify important "markers":
Roll the wine in the glass
Don't swirl the shit out of it. Gently roll it in the glass. You want to release the aromas in the wine, not break the sound barrier with how fast the wine is being swirled. You can accomplish the same thing by rolling it and not pulling 3 G's like you're in a blender. Look at how the wine drips down the side of the glass. That gives you an idea of how high in alcohol the wine might be.
Look at the color
Color tells you some key things about the wine. Color tips you off to the age of the wine, which is handy to know. Young white wines have a slight greenish tint to them. Older white wines start to get a brownish tint to them. Red wines, as they age will fade in color around the rim of the glass. You can tell an older wine because the rim is sort of orange colored. Younger wines will have more opaque pink eraser color closer to the edge. Try to narrow down to a window of 1-3 years old, 4-7 years old or older.
If you're not sure where to start, just stare at the wine and wonder if there's going to be an NFL season or not then move onto the next step.
Smell the wine
Here's where you start to piece things together. A sommelier, and cool people who read this blog post start to paint a picture that help to identify the wine. First, are there any faults in the wine like being corked (smells like Grandpa's basement), Brett or volatile acidity for example. Is the wine "clean"?
Next, roll it in the glass then shove your nose in there. First impression time—do you smell red fruits or black fruits in red wine? For white wine, do you smell tree fruit or stone fruit? This is what separates real wine experts from everyone. Sommeliers can name specific fruit in the wine. It's not just green apple, it's granny smith green apple. It's not just cherry, it's dried bing cherry.
You want to look for 3 things: fruits, earthiness and wood. Try to name the fruits you smell and be specific. For earthiness, do you smell moss? wet soil? manure? Even chalkiness can be a smell that is "earthy". And for wood, do you smell vanilla? How about baking spices? If not, maybe it's an unoaked wine.
Being able to identify the fruit is one of the most important steps to blindly identifying the wine. Most wines have distinct fruit associated with the grape. For example, Grüner Veltliner has distinct notes of white pepper. Sauvignon Blanc has telltale grapefruit on the nose. Chalkiness is an important one that we'll get to next.
Here's a handy chart that shows what aromas go with with which wine grape.
Taste the Wine
Don't do what what you did in college and shotgun the wine. I mean, you can and I won't judge you but you'll miss out on the beautiful expression of the grape. If you're drinking a wine cooler, stop reading this blog and go to funnyordie.com. Your bong is calling your name.
When you taste the wine, go through the same thing as smelling. Identify fruit, earth and wood. Try to name specific fruits you taste. For red wines really hone in on whether it's red fruit or black fruit. For earthiness, there's something cool known as chalkiness. It literally is like a chalk texture. That's important, because it helps you know the wine grapes were grown in chalky soils like limestone. Limestone is only in certain places in the world. Your brain can narrow down the wine to one of those areas such as France's Loire valley.
The real big thing to look for when tasting is whether the wine is fruit driven or acid driven. Generally speaking, fruit forward wines are "new world" and acid driven wines come from the "old world". Fruit driven wines are just that, wine driven by sweet fruit. Acidity is something you hear about, but what is it? Your palate detects acidity on the roof of your mouth in the back. If that part of your mouth is all tingly, the wine has high acidity. During blind tastings, wine tasters want to know if the wine is old world or new world so they can narrow down on where it comes from. Old world wines come from France, Germany, Italy and other places in Europe. New world wines come from Australia, USA, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, etc..
Neither is better, just different strokes for different folks. It also helps when trying to decide if the wine has typicity and tastes like where it came from.
Last thing on taste is the tannins and finish. Tannins dry your mouth out like when you drink tea or eat paint chips, which is what I did as a kid. Finish is that lingering taste in your mouth after you've swallowed the wine or spit it out. Can you still taste it 30 seconds after it's gone? That's the finish. How are the tannins, complexity and finish of the wine?
If you were being tested, you would be asked to combine all that stuff (color, age, nose, fruit, earth, wood, finish, etc..) and name the grape varietal and where it came from. All the data would help narrow down what it is. But for you, you can just have a look at the wine and appreciate all that went into making it. Over time you might come to appreciate new things in wine like chalky textures in Sancerre Sauvignon Blancs or make more educated buying decisions. Or if you go to someone's house and they open some sick bottle from their cellar you'll appreciate the gesture.
Who knows, if you're like me knowing stuff about wine might inspire you to be a better cook and understand how to pair flavors together.
There's no wrong way to enjoy wine. Ultimately, it's about enjoying it with or without other people. What you like is all that really matters. There's close to 12,000 wineries in the world and many are making decent juice. Lately, I'm all about finding the best bottle under $15. Hope this helps. Please let me know about your wine discoveries on the path of life.