Lesson 1: Taste, Taste, Taste!

(Muse of Imbibement – A to Z Pinor Noir, Oregon, 2012)

First and Foremost, we taste

The best way to learn about wine is to taste as much wine as possible.  This is the first and quintessential Couchwine Credo.

Wine tasting is fun.  Or maybe, more importantly, it is fun if you do it right.  Take your good friends, have a good time, taste some good wine.  This formula may be as important to wine tasting as that E = mc2 thing is to…whatever that’s about.

Some find wine to be off-putting at first.  Certainly, like many things, it is an acquired taste.  Remember your first sip of beer?  For many of us, the social lubricant factor of wine tasting makes  the experience enjoyable enough that we wish to repeat it.  But, if you’re the curious type, wine is wonderful.  And after awhile, you find yourself thinking about the wine, and if you like it.  This is our jumping off point.

The next step, is to try and learn the how do discern one varietal from another.  Varietal you say?  What’s that?  It’s just a grape.  We fancy wine folk can’t be satisfied by calling a grape a grape, so we call it a varietal.  So how do you tell one grape from another?

Well, first you go white vs. white, or red vs. red.  Here in California, the two prominent white wine grapes are Chardonnay vs. Sauvignon Blanc, and the most prominent red grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon vs. Pinot Noir.  There are certainly many other grapes/varietals to learn and understand, but these two pairings are a great way to learn.

As it happens, Chardonnay and & Sauvignon Blanc are much harder to tell apart.  But search for that hint of green bell pepper or grassiness on the nose of the Sauvignon Blanc and you are on your way.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are worlds apart.  In this case, search for that green bell pepper in Cab Sauv, and in Pinot?  Well, in California, there are at least three distinct styles and they can all be quite different, but none of them taste like Cab Sauv.  Welcome to the journey, friends.

Another great thing to learn from California wines is what does oak taste like?  Oak is very prevalent in many California wines, from red to white.  It can impart flavors from vanilla, to caramel, to tree bark.  The usage of oak can differ from new oak, to neutral oak to French oak to American oak and more.  In some wines it imparts no flavor at all, but allows the wine to breathe while it ages.  We are at the tip of the iceberg here.  The joy of learning about wine is that, for the curious, we are just getting started.

Other flavors you can find and begin to understand in wine happen in different parts of your mouth.  Fruit and ripeness tend to be felt on the tip of your tongue in the front of your mouth.  Tannin, depending on the type, is felt in the middle of your mouth or the back and may taste like the stems of grapes or licking tree bark, or may be more subtly imparted from the oak barrels.  Acid can be felt in some wines like it’s stripping your teeth of enamel, or making you pucker up on the sides of your tongue.

Then we talk about finish.  What happens when you swallow the wine?  Does it leave an aftertaste?  Does that taste good?  Does it linger?  This can happen in any wine, white or red, and depends very much on your own palate.

And here, we get to the second CouchWine Credo…What you taste belongs to you!  The most important point here is that you must not be a slave to anyone else’s palate.  That which tastes good to you is that which you like.  Whether or not others think it is good or bad is meaningless.  There comes a point when you learn what you want from a wine.  And that will change over time.  Never let anyone tell you what you should like.  That, my friend, is up to you.

At this point, hopefully, you are enamored by the possibilities of wine, because there are so many.  Wait until you discover that everything you thought you knew was useless, because a new vintage has come to pass, and everything has changed.  This is both the joy and the challenge of wine.  So what’s next?

You find yourself more intrigued by wine?  Well, good news, because the nearly infinite number of wines being produced in regions across the world each year, are ever-growing and changing.  So jump in, and join the eternal party.  Learn. Enjoy.  Meet people. Welcome yourself to the brotherhood of fun, curious, interesting, and slightly tipsy folks who enjoy the chase of understanding the wine world.  Keep trying to learn more, because you can never learn it all, but you can learn to love the chase.

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Published on: December 20, 2014

Filled Under: Articles, Wine 101

Views: 4364

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