Don’t be intimidated by the language of wine or wine tasting terminology! At first glance it can appear curiously contrived, contrary or downright gobbledygook. That’s how I felt when I first started to drink wine, and I bet you I was not alone there.
And there is a difference between drinking wine and tasting wine, truth is I taste (and spit out) more wines than I drink and rarely drink alone.
Learning the nuances of how to appreciate wine and delineate between the good, the bad and the ugly is a bit like learning how to ride a bike: once you have mastered the basics you will feel comfortable to hold your own at any dinner party or tutored tasting. True, if you want to ride in the Tour de France or become a Master of Wine you will need more than the basics and much practice and trial and error.
But when it comes to wine you are guaranteed to have a lot of fun along the way provided you arm yourself with a few vinous building blocks.
So where to start?
There’s a heap of online vinous information just a click or two away but if you would like to start training your nose and palate in the company of others, it’s probably best to consider a beginners wine class at your local wine shop or wine merchant.
Don’t let age or inexperience deter you as most people will be in the same boat.
Shop around, ask your wine savvy friends and join a class given by a wine professional who stimulates your interest, keeps it simple, and best of all makes it enjoyable. Also be prepared to have fun and make mistakes along the way. Believe me most everyone does, including wine professionals – that’s how you learn.
Once you have mastered the ABC – you will soon be tasting wines blind (that’s where the information about the wine is withheld until you have first assessed and evaluated the wines).
A fun way to learn is by participating in the (Wine) Options Game developed by the late Len Evans which is described in James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion – to quote Halliday, the game is as follows:
“Each person brings a bottle of wine, which is decanted out of sight of the other tasters, into a bottle simply bearing a number or initials. Thus the bottles brought to the table give no clue as to the origin of the wine, but the person presenting the wine knows which is his/hers. Each person takes it in turn to ask five multiple-choice questions of the other players about his/her wine
When answers to a question have been offered by all players, the person whose wine it is, and who asked the question, will say which answer is correct. Answers are given on a rotating basis: person B, then C, then D, then E for the first question, then person C, then D, then E, then B for the next, and so on.
Thus as the questions progress, players know more and more about the wine. A maximum of two questions can be asked about the vintage of the wine, but there is no restriction on the number of questions about variety, region or maker. A well-constructed series of five questions will leave the exact identity of the wine able to be determined by the last question”. Its great fun and you learn a lot.
It’s as well to remember that taste is a very personal and highly subjective thing. We are all born with differing sensitivities and tolerances when it comes to smell and taste – so no one starts from the same point. Some of us are sensitive to sulphur dioxide, tannins or acids in wine and, this in part determines your personal likes and dislikes – and ultimately your preferences in wine.
Some like sweet, others like dry, most start drinking sweet wine and graduate to dryer styles as they learn.
Wine is very much a sensuous experience, in essence we don’t just taste wine we look at it, smell it, taste it and feel it – in much the same way we appreciate visually attractive, well-presented and tasty food in a good restaurant.
Often we “eat with our eyes” long before the first bite, and subconsciously sniff or smell our food before we eat it. So it is for wine. But that’s where it can become tricky as tasting wine involves many of our senses, so before we start seriously sniffing swirling, sipping and savouring our wine we often add a another sense; that’s listening via seeking the opinion of others.
Nothing wrong with that as long as those you seek advice from know what they are talking about and you know enough to know if their opinion is of value or use.
There are many easy-to-understand and readily accessible wine primers online and in print – however for those contemplating a course I recommend one of the many Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) accredited courses available throughout Australia. They are run by trained wine professionals who not only know what they are talking about, but also know how to teach and communicate. These range from a basic one day level one, foundation course to an intermediate one, through to an advanced level 6-week course.
Then if you want to develop your sense of smell and explore wine’s myriad of aromas – and in so doing learn the language of wine – you may like to invest in a Le Nez du Vin/Make Scents of Wine kit.
Trying to encapsulate the intricate flavour nuances and textures of a fine wine in words alone is like trying to describe a beautiful sunset to a blind person – words are often inadequate – you need to use your nose and palate, so keep sniffing, swirling, sipping and savouring your wine, let your senses soar, hang on for the ride and enjoy a lifetime’s journey along the way.
After all, the best wines may be the ones you never knew you wanted until you tasted them!