Do you place your pins on a map based on where the finest grapes grow? Or have you serendipitously found yourself near some good wine on your travels? Either way, you’ve probably realized by now that wine is a pretty good reason, or at least an excellent excuse to travel. The grapes and the latitude may change, but no matter the region of the world, the methods for wine tasting are the same. Next time you find yourself in a far-flung corner of the world use these easy steps to impress your travel mates by knowing how to wine taste like a boss.
Taste with your eyes first
The first step, if you really want to impress others with your wine knowledge, is to fight the urge to pick up your glass and swirl it. As cool as you think you may look, snobbily swirling your wine, it’s actually not the first thing you do. Show your boss like wine tasting skills by first lifting your glass and tilting on an angle. Hold your glass against something with a white or light background to look at the colors in the wine.
The color can give many clues about the wine. In red wines, the color can tell you how old the wine is. Young reds will be a dark, almost purple color. As they begin to age they become more transparent and become more reddish-orange. Along with age, the color can give tip-offs of what grapes were used to make the wine.
Master the swirl
Aside from looking like someone that knows what they are doing with a wine glass, there is an actual reason why we swirl our glasses during a wine tasting. Swirling is a thing because it releases the aromas of the wine allowing you to better smell the different notes of the wine.
After the swirl look at the legs. We have all heard about the “legs” of the wine, but they are often misunderstood. The legs are the oily film streaks that are left on the side of the glass after swirling. It’s a common misconception that longer legs are directly related to the quality. Actually, the legs are used primarily to judge the alcohol content of the wine. The longer the legs, the more alcohol.
Sniff before you sip
Our sense of the smell is closely tied to taste and overall perception of flavors. Tilt the glass and hold your nose just inside the rim of the glass and try to pick out some familiar scents. See if you can find at least two flavors from the wine with your nose. Younger wines tend to smell more fruity and sweet, while older wines will take on more complex aromas like oak and earthy notes. When smelling a wine if you like what your nose is picking up, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy the wine.
Finally the sip
For some of us this is the entire reason we’re here–that, and the warm fuzzy feeling that follows. This is where the rubber meets the road, or the grape meets your tongue. Try to find the flavors you spotted with your nose now on your tongue. Also, pay attention to how long the wine’s flavors last. The initial flavor is usually described as the burst. The burst fades to what is referred to as the mid-taste, and then disappears into just a lingering aftertaste. Lower quality wines can be overpowering or sharp. Great wines are smooth and flavors linger in your mouth and leave you wanting more when they finally fade.
If you’re having trouble picking out unique flavors from the wine, try lightly pulling some air into your mouth with the wine. This method is somewhat of a very refined non-audible slurp. Try to avoid sounding like an 8-year-old trying to get the last drop through a straw. Pulling air in as you sip allows you to taste more flavors in the wine.
Break up your flight
Most wine tastings include several wines made by the winery, also called a flight of wine. Make sure to cleanse your palate between wines. That basket of crackers on the wine tasting station isn’t for a case of the munchies, they are there to take the flavor of the previous wine from your mouth.
Your palate isn’t the only thing to be cleansed between wines. You’ll always find a pitcher of water to rinse your glass and receptacle to pour out any wine that wasn’t up to par. Let’s be honest– there aren’t too many wines that are bad enough to let go to waste until your palate is ultra refined.
Just remember, wine tasting is an iterative process. The more you do it, the better you’ll be. If anyone questions your wine inspired travel plans, simply tell them you are refining your palate.
Where there is one winery there are bound to be more. Pack a lunch and make a day of it, just be sure someone in the group excludes themselves from over-sampling to drive between wineries safely. Or, better yet join a wine tour and get even more wine knowledge and everyone can enjoy the day.
Ready to start sipping your way across the globe? Sip your way through Stellenbosch, South Africa and the region’s bold Pinotages. Argentina’s Malbecs will have you doing the Tango through the Mendoza region vineyards. Put New Zealand on your map for their Pinot. Find yourself in France with a fine bottle. Travel and wine is always a good pairing.