A couple of weeks ago I had a culinary school class was on Wine 101. I was so excited because we got to taste 22 different wines (wee!). The chef was very poignant about saying taste, not drink…right.. I’ve always been interested in wine so starting to learn the different aspects of wine, what to look for, and how to start distinguishing different taste profiles was fascinating.
A couple of the basics/random facts we learned:
White wine is made from grapes that have the skins removed. They’re more delicate, crisp, and refreshing. So a white wine could be made from the same grapes a red wine was made from.
Usually a wine is consumed within 5 hours of purchasing. I might have blurted out ’30 minutes!’
The older the wine, sometimes not the better. A wine dated within 5 years of the current year is usually very good.
Old World vs. New World – Old World (Europe) wines are named after the region they are produced where as New World (US, Canada, South Africa, Australia) wines are named after the grape.
A random story: Syrah and Shiraz are the same type of wine. Syrah is French and where the wine originated. Shiraz came from an Australian who took Syrah roots home with him without permission and changed the name so he wouldn’t get in trouble.
Look, Smell, Taste
Three simple words. First, look at the wine. What color is it (light, dark, golden)? Is it cloudy? Usually the darker the color the richer the flavor. Next, swirl the wine. This brings oxygen into the wine opening up the flavor. You have to swirl quite a bit and then smell quickly. Do this a couple times. Chef suggested three. I think I did it maybe 4-6 times for each wine since I was so gung ho about figuring out the different flavors. When you first smell it’s sometimes helpful to not go specifically to say grass or prunes. Instead think more general – fruit, sweet, floral, nutty, wood. Then on your next whiff try to get more specific. Is it lime, pineapple, oak, cream? A lot of the wines we tasted I had absolutely no idea and wanted to say “It tastes like wine!” But Chef wouldn’t allow that. Smell a couple of times and also try breathing in through your mouth and nose at the same time.
Lastly, taste. Swirl the wine around in your mouth. Try exhaling with it in your mouth. Do you feel a tingle in the front part of your mouth? This means it’s citrusy. A tingle in the back of your throat, think where your lymphnodes are is usually a minerally wine.
A wine can make or break a dish, but it can also go vice versa. I can’t tell you generalizations on which wines pair best with which food but I can tell you about a couple of great books. If you’re interested check out Pairing Wine and Food, and What to Drink with What You Eat. Each offers suggestions for which wine goes best with which dish, but they also look at it the other way. Say you have a favorite wine and are curious what to make to go with it. The second book also goes into beer.
Last but certainly not least. Bad wine. How do you tell when a wine has gone bad? A couple signs right off the bat are sediment at the bottom of the bottle or a cork that has been pushed out or has sunk in. Then you can of course tell by taste. It will taste horribly vinegary.
A wonderful thought she had was to purchase a good bottle of wine at the birth of a child and then open it when they graduate. Great idea! And hopefully one I’ll remember when I have kids one day.
What wine tasting tips do you have?
What’s that silly little figurine in the pics? A co-culinary school student is taking a picture a day for a 365 project and that little guy is in everyone of them. Check it out! She also has an amazing side job where she does murals and portraits.