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Wine Tasting 101

The Basics with Todd A. Lipman, CS

For practical purposes, simply identifying whether a wine appears clear versus hazy, doesn't smell unappealing, and doesn't have bubbles if it shouldn't is enough to determine whether or not a wine is sound for consumption. The basics include not overcomplicating what you think you perceive. There's plenty of time down the road of your wine education to over-analyze the intricacies involved in blind tasting and overall assessment of a wine. However, one needn't be en route to becoming a Master Sommelier to be able to appreciate and enjoy wine.

Wine can be pretty fancy, but at the end of the day is merely a beverage. Whether you are a Wine Professional or a Wine Enthusiast, the common link is that wine is meant to be enjoyed and shared with family and friends no matter if it's your profession or your hobby.

- Swirl the Glass -

Swirling isn't snobby, it's the only way to release the complexity of aromas and aerate the wine. It's easiest to swirl your glass on a flat surface holding the stem at the base. Start slowly. Once it's in motion, you can swirl faster. You have permission to swirl all types of wine.

Swirling the contents of a wine glass actually thins the volume of wine by allowing it to sheet down the inside of the glass and promotes evaporation of esters (aromatic compounds) and gentle heating of the liquid by incorporating room temperature air. This change in temperature and inclusion of oxygen, albeit slight and gradual, is responsible for increased appreciation of aromatic complexity, flavor, and softening of overall texture.

- Smell the Wine -

A good 80% or so of what you taste is based upon what you smell. The tiny olfactory bulb that affords us our sense of smell is located behind the nose.

Sniff the wine after swirling the glass. Do so slowly and gradually. What kind of fruits do you smell? What kind of spices? What kind of floral elements? Earthy elements? Anything else?

- Taste the Wine - 

Allow the wine to cover all areas of the mouth and tongue. 'Tasting' is as much about what flavors you experience as which textures you feel. Is the wine acidic? Is the wine sweet? Is it fruity? Is it earthy? Does it leave the palate feeling dry (astringency)? Does it taste of spices? Does it feel spicy? Does it taste the way it smells?

Perhaps the most telltale sign of the quality of a wine is a long persistent finish.

- The Wine - 

Wine is extremely personal. Additionally, as human beings we each have a unique set of sensory thresholds. What one tastes as dry, someone else may deem as sweet. Who is wrong? Neither. Wine can be tricky. The best way for anyone to hone their wine knowledge is to taste, taste, and…taste. Scores are all well in good, but always form your own opinions. Have fun and try everything!

A Few Random but Poignant Ideas: Aroma Wheel

The easiest way to understand why terms like 'Candied Grapefruit', 'Lemon Confit' and 'Blackberry Compote' have meaning is to look at each base fruit without its modifier. The individual genre of Grapefruit has a spectrum of acidity to sweetness and in overall intensity:

Under-ripe Grapefruit (Super Tart) >>> Ruby Red Grapefruit (Semi-Sweet)

>>> Candied Grapefruit (Still Grapefruit, but Sweet)

This same logic can be applied to designating the degree of any elemental characteristic of a particular wine:

e.g. Acidity: Low Acid – Med/Low Acid – Med Acid – Med/High Acid – High Acid


About the Author:
Todd Lipman is the Head Sommelier at Bistro du Midi. He is a native of Fairfax, Virginia but has called Boston home for nearly 20 years. Mr. Lipman is a former honor student of the Elizabeth Bishop Wine Studies Program at Boston University as well as a Certified Sommelier, through the Court of Master Sommeliers. He is on a constant quest to increase not only his personal wine and spirit knowledge, but also to deepen others' appreciation of food and beverages. It is this dedication and passion that he brings with him to every table and every guest that makes him a valued and appreciated member of our Bistro du Midi team.