Tasting Time

One thing I love about bars is their ability to bring an uuber-wide variety people together over a common, universally adored (or abhorred) element: alcohol.  I was reminded of this last week, as I sipped a glass of Moscato at Merchant’s Riverhouse, a petite abode along the Hudson River in Battery Park City. On this particular rainy day (Why is it always raining when I’m writing?), I was pleasantly surprised to learn my friend Ben, who I thought was just another  up-and-comingmusician, is formally trained in wine. I then learned all the things I’ve been doing wrong, and how to sip savvy.

Start off with your five senses:

  1. Sight.

Looking at a wine can tell you a lot, especially about its body.  For example, a lighter colored white wine will be crisper; a darker, creamier color could indicate the wine was aged in oak as opposed to steel tanks.

(As much as I trust Ben’s lesson, this guy’s pretty good too–and the cute accent is a bonus)

  1. Smell.

Do it. Do that cool swirly thing with your glass (you know you want to). This cool move is crucial because it oxidizes the wine. Basically, adding air to the wine helps release the its flavors, both ones you smell and ones you taste. This is also why a wine’s smell changes depending on how long it’s been opened.

  1. 3.

Now pucker up, Buttercup–take a small sip of the wine puckered lips.  Feel out the flavors by swishing the wine around your mouth–since certain parts of your tongue detect only certain flavors, you need to move the wine around to get its full flavor.

Also, continue oxidizing in your mouth, do this by sucking air in while the wine is on your tongue (Note: doing this with a huge gulp will result in a spill, and you looking like an idiot).

  1. Repeat. (until your glass/bottle/box/carafe/all of the above are finished).

As you’re sipping, ask yourself: Does the wine taste like it smells? How long does the taste stay on your tongue? (This is how you determine the “finish,” an often-elusive factor that sounds way more intimidating than it is.) Does it even taste good?

Another tasting element that’s plagued me for ages (especially when I’ve tasted disgusting brews)–the battle of spit or swallow. I’ve consulted the opinions of fellow bartenders, salespeople, and Food and Wine magazine’s 2012 Wine Companion and discovered this: Nobody really cares what you do, although if you’re going to be tasting several wines (and want your opinion on the 20th bottle to be valid) you should spit.

The final lesson when it comes to tasting: Just keep doing it. Find what you like, and then ask some more questions.

Wine Tasting Uncorked

Remember: Use all of your senses–Mother Nature gave them to you for a reason.

Don’t get bogged down by adjectives you think should describe wine–if you think it tastes like grass or a rubber shoe, say so.

You’re not the only one who doesn’t know anything–Fake it ‘til you make it baby.

Ask for help.  Chances are, no matter how many nights you’ve cuddled that bottle of Merlot contemplating the deeper meaning of its curves, a sommelier or salesperson can help you find the lover you deserve based on what you like.

Parler like a Pro: It helps to know a couple terms from every sommelier’s vocabulary (this way you can understand their recommendations…or at least pretend you do at a party).

Appellation: an official winegrowing region.  This usually just refers to geography, but it can include details about how a variety is made (Think champagne).

Tannin: This stuff gets into the wine from the stems/skins and is what makes you pucker after taking a sip. It’s usually found only in red wines.

Terroir: The fancy French way of saying soil, this word refers to how the dirt affects the taste of a wine.


  • December 19, 2011
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