Food & Drink » Drinks

Class in a glass

When it comes to wine tasting, set and setting matter.



Over the next few monthly columns, we’re going to touch on some hints for increased enjoyment while drinking at home. Here are a few tips to follow to enhance your experience.

First of all, invest in decent stemware. If you’ve got some extra cash to burn, take a look at the Riedel Vinum series or the clones sold as Nachtmann Vivendi through Amazon. If your budget is a bit more modest, at least try to get a glass of a decent size (16 ounces or more) that you can use to swirl your wine.

Try to avoid glasses that are decorative colors or cut crystal. While they may be pretty, they keep you from being able to see a wine’s true color, which is a first step in assessing clarity and age (more on that in future columns). Fill the wine glass about one-third full. Then grasp the stem between your fingers and begin swirling the glass round and round so that the wine coats the inside of the bowl. After a little practice you won’t spill a drop — even without looking.

As the wine drips down inside the glass you’re able to do two things. One, you can look at the tears that form as they drip down and observe whether the wine has what we call “good legs” — distinct tears indicate higher viscosity in the wine which means it’s destined to have a lusher mouth feel. This is not necessarily a designation of quality, but merely a descriptor to note.

Then swirl the wine again, stuff your nose into the glass and take a whiff. The wine coating the inside of the large glass releases flavor messages as it evaporates and aids you in being able to evaluate the aromas or the “nose” (in wine speak). I like to do this twice and use short sniffs so that my nose’s olfactory sensors do not get fatigued. Try to think specifically about what it is you’re smelling, not just if the aromas are “nice.”

For instance, if it’s a red wine, can you pick out light berry fruits like strawberry or raspberry, or dark fruits like cherry, blackberry or blueberry? You’ll be surprised what you notice if you really pay attention. Thinking as you taste and trying to evaluate the actual flavors/aromas enhances your appreciation of the wine.

Drinking wine out of tumblers with friends can be a joyous, laugh-filled party, but it makes a true evaluation of specific traits more difficult. Learning about wine is a fulfilling and lifelong journey, and it begins with decent stemware.

Next, be aware of the temperature at which you’re serving the wine. Most white wines taste best after having about two hours in the refrigerator. Unless you’re serving Champagne, which benefits from being really cold (say 45 degrees), serving the white wine too cold actually represses the flavors. This is important to know because if it is a cheaper wine perhaps you want to keep it cold, but if it’s a wine of slightly better quality, two hours in the refrigerator lets you enjoy it to its fullest. It’s refreshing on the palate but not so cold that you can’t identify aromas and taste the full spectrum of the wine’s flavors in your mouth.

Red wines, on the other hand, are often served too warm. They really should be served at “cellar” temperature. That’s the temperature in the underground cave where the wine is aged (about 55 degrees). Usually I try to serve red wine that’s been chilled for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. This light chill on the red wine provides a welcome contrast to your food and to the room temperature in your house. This contrast enhances the experience by its difference.

In sum, we usually drink our white wines too cold (days or more in the fridge) and our red wines too warm (sitting on the counter). Paying attention to the temperature of your wine service will greatly enhance the flavors that you’re able to identify and your appreciation of the wine. Concentrate on the details for maximum enjoyment!

NEXT MONTH: Storage and Decanting

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