For newcomers to wine, here are some tips and tricks to enjoying the nectar of the vines…
It’s Friday afternoon in the AT office, but this isn’t your usual end of week.
Today is our favourite afternoon of all afternoons in our bi-monthly schedule. More than when the latest issue is sent to print, more than when it first hits news stands.
For this is the Friday, which occurs once an issue, when the AT team gathers around our boardroom table and samples selected wines from clever Australian winemakers.
Admittedly, it’s not hard work.
And as AT’s resident wine writer, it is my job to select just what wines are featured, justified with a review.
However, I didn’t always understand wine; its complex creation, its countless variations, or its subtle characters.
Ashamedly, it was only a few years ago during my impecunious uni days that I’d happily pour a glass from a particularly shiny silver bag, or pop the cork of a Passion Pop bottle. Please, don’t judge.
So needless to say, when I joined Australian Traveller, it was a steep learning curve.
A curve that all prospective wine enthusiasts must climb.
This got me thinking about how when it comes to wine, understanding the science, the language and the criteria behind what makes a good drop can be somewhat overwhelming for newcomers.
So with this in mind, here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way….
THERE IS NO WRONG ANSWER –
Despite what some critics may believe, there is no right or wrong answer. There are, however, more popular answers.
So if a review contradicts your experience of a particular wine, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means you have different perceptions. Wine tasting is open to subjectiveness. What one person faults, another may enjoy. Trust your own palate, because at the check-out, that’s the only one that matters.
Similarly, no matter how bizarre or far fetched the taste sensations you detect might be, go with it. ‘Barnyard’, ‘bacon’, ‘kerosene’ and ‘pencil shavings’ are all, surprisingly, common descriptors.
Open your mind, and your sensory memory bank.
LEARN THE LINGO –
Learning the language of wine tasting is a must. It will not only make you aware of how wine can vary, but help you articulate its intricacies.
Once mastered, you can start judging the structure, faults and overall complexity of a wine.
Short of typing up a glossary, here are three basics of wine tasting to get you started – the nose, palate and texture.
The nose refers to the smell of the wine, and swirling it in your glass can help release this aroma. It can be just as complex, but not necessarily the same as, the palate.
That of course refers to the taste. When tasting wine, move the wine around in your mouth and notice how the flavour changes, including the aftertaste. You’ll be surprised.
Finally, texture is the mouthfeel of wine. Is it light and thin for instance, or is it rich, full and fleshy?
Oh, and ever wondered what tannins actually are? It’s a wine component, found mostly in reds, usually derived from grape skins, seeds and stems, but also from oak barrels. Tannin not only acts as a natural preservative to help wine age and develop, but creates that bitter, mouth-puckering taste in some wines.
REGIONAL SPECIALITIES –
Just like food, certain regions specialise in particular types of wine. This is largely because of climate, soil and other geographical considerations that affect the growth of grapes and in turn, the taste of wine.
For example, the Hunter Valley makes cracking Semillons, the Barossa is famed for its robust reds and Tasmania’s cool climate produces some particularly good sparkling wines.
It’s vital you get familiar with these wine-making regions, how their varietals typically taste, and which ones you prefer. This will be a big help when browsing for your next bottle.
COMPARE WINES AT THE SAME TIME (sensibly, of course) –
Like many newcomers, I didn’t understand how wine could taste of green capsicum, forest floor, or cigar box. However when you taste test different wines at the same time (with sips of water in between of course), you really can detect these seemingly absurd characters and make stronger comparisons between wines.
The key is either to spit or only take small sips to avoid over indulging and dulling the senses.
TRY, TRY AND TRY AGAIN –
Like all new things in life, practise makes perfect.
You need to regularly exercise your smelling, tasting and deciphering skills in order to improve, detect and really open up to all the subtle characters wine can encompass.
And in doing so, this means sampling plenty of vino – luck you.