Wine Tasting Tips: Romancing the Rhône
During holiday season gatherings, nothing says “Let’s celebrate!” like the sound of a cork being pulled from its bottle. This time around, uncork your inner wine expert with six tips that will have you sipping like a pro by the New Year.
Tasting Tip No. 1 – Time It Right.
Timing is everything and, when it comes to wine, not everything gets better with time. Many factors play a role in determining whether a wine will age well, including grape variety, winemaking style and storage method. Most people would be surprised to learn that more than 90 percent of wines are meant to be drunk young, usually within two to three years of bottling, to experience them at their best. More tannic reds typically age better than their lower tannin counterparts (think cabernet sauvignon vs. merlot), and more expensive wines are usually worth cellaring, but even here factors such as vintage are important in determining whether to age a wine. The bottom line? Unless you are a serious collector, enjoy your wines now.
Tasting Tip no. 2 – Gauge the Temperature.
Our sense of smell, with its ability to identify the 200 discrete odors found in wine, is the key sensory evaluation tool in tasting wine. But for these odors to be detectable, the molecules (esters) must evaporate and become airborne (volatile). The process of causing this evaporation is called “volatilizing the esters.” If you’re like most people, you store your white wine in the refrigerator at 38 degrees until ready to drink. But the optimal temperature range for drinking white wines is actually 45 to 60 degrees, depending on the style. Below 45 degrees, a condition called “numbing” can occur, and the esters cannot become volatile, severely restricting what we can smell and therefore taste. To serve white wine at the correct temperature without the aid of a climate-controlled wine refrigerator, take the wine out 15 minutes before serving. If you do this, warm wine by holding your glass by the cup rather than the stem, or hold the first several sips in your mouth before swallowing, to allow your body temperature to warm it up. Conversely, red wines, which have an optimal drinking temperature range of 50 to 68 degrees, are often served too warm. This results in a more alcoholic taste. Store red wines in cooler areas, or chill for a few minutes in the refrigerator before serving.
Tasting Tip no. 3 – Give It Some Air!
Another way to volatilize the esters is with aeration. This process is especially beneficial for young, robust red wines and for complex reds with some aging. First, give that glass a really deep sniff to direct more air to your smell receptors. Next, gently swirl the wine in the glass. If you’re in the privacy of your own home or among other serious wine tasters, try this: Take a sip of wine and, while holding it in your mouth, purse your lips and suck in some air. (You may need to practice a few times before debuting at the office holiday party.) One can also purchase a plethora of aerating devices and decanters for use at home. Choose whichever method works for you. But remember, simply uncorking the bottle is not enough.
Tasting Tip no. 4 – Be a Good Matchmaker.
It can be tempting to make an art out of pairing food and wine like, say, the French do. Or perhaps you subscribe to the other extreme — eat what you want and drink what you like. But the idea behind pairing is simply to enhance the flavors of food and wine to increase one’s overall enjoyment of the entire experience. To do this without a study semester abroad in Paris, try applying some basic principles. Pair your wine to the most expressive component of the dish, not necessarily the main ingredient. For example, when serving chicken with a tarragon cream sauce, pair the wine to the sauce, not the chicken. Light food goes with light wines, intense food with intense wines. Sweetness in food must be matched with a higher level of sweetness in the wine.
Tasting Tip no. 5 – Don’t Overload Your Senses.
Repeatedly drinking the same type of wine may desensitize your palate to other varieties. For instance, if you become accustomed to always drinking a bold, highly tannic wine such as cabernet sauvignon, you may find it challenging to appreciate the nuances and finesse of a less tannic variety such as pinot noir. While having a favorite variety is fine, frequently stimulating your palate will reap greater taste rewards.
Tasting Tip no. 6 – Practice Orderly Conduct.
While mingling at a holiday cocktail party or enjoying a large holiday meal, we often drink more than one kind of wine. The order in which you drink these wines can have a big impact on how they taste. To avoid negatively altering the taste of any one wine, follow these few simple rules: white before red, dry before sweet, young before old, and light-bodied before full-bodied. However, a light young red should be drunk before a full-bodied sweet white.
Bring a Little Wine to the Party?
Cliché or not, a bottle of wine is an especially welcome hostess gift come December, when people are likely to be serving more alcohol. To avoid getting bumped from next year’s invitation list, resist the urge to regift that bottle of wine Uncle Frank gave you a few years ago which may be spoiled by now. If you are familiar with the preferences of your hosts, you can certainly buy their favorite variety. Otherwise, try choosing a white wine that is high in acid. These pair well with almost anything, making them ideal for serving at parties with an array of hors d’oeuvres. Varieties to look for include sauvignon blanc, riesling, verdejo and chenin blanc. Bubbly, a popular holiday gift because of its inherently festive nature, is also a very food-friendly wine; it has a high acid level, and the carbonation acts as a palate cleanser. Champagne is always a good choice but, if it’s not in your budget this year, try a prosecco from Italy or cava from Spain. If you want to splurge, treat your hosts to a special bottle of dessert wine. An ice wine from Hopkins Vineyard in Warren or Sunset Meadow Vineyard in Goshen will reserve your spot on the guest list for years to come.