We are such hurried creatures. Frenzied, frazzled, and floating from one tweet, sound bite, or checklist item to the next. But our enjoyment of wine should not suffer from our depleted attention spans. A lot of effort went into making it, you spent time acquiring it, so why not learn a few easy tips to truly experience your wine? While I don’t believe we need to get hung up rigid wine appreciation protocol, read on for my simple method to “T. A. S. T. E.” your wine.
Temperature affects the aromas and flavors of wines more than glass shape or food pairing. But we generally serve our wines at suboptimal temperatures, so let’s set ourselves up for success! Reds at room temperature are too warm and can overemphasize the alcohol. The ideal temperature for medium to fuller-bodied reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon) is between 60°-65°. I like to enjoy lighter-bodied reds such (Pinot Noir, Sangiovese) even slightly cooler at 55°-60°. Whites and roses directly from the fridge are too cold causing their more subtle flavors to be masked. Whites and rosés should be enjoyed at 50°-55°. A good rule of thumb is what I call the “20 minute rule:” Put your reds in the fridge for about 20 minutes before serving, and take your whites and rosés out of the fridge for at least 20 minutes before serving to allow them to reach their ideal temperatures. Finally, sparkling wines should be enjoyed well-chilled at 43°-50°, so leave those bottles in the fridge or on ice until ready to serve.
Exposing your wine to some air can help develop its distinctive aromas, especially in young wines, or those less than 5 years old. After your wine’s reached ideal serving temperature, determine if it should be decanted or served straight from the bottle. If the wine is young, open the bottle and pour it into thin tasting glasses with a stem. Swirl the glass gently and allow it to “breathe.” If your red wine is older--generally over 5 years old--you may need to decant it to remove any sediment that will have formed and to ensure its vibrancy in aromas and flavors. While there are no definitive rules for how long to decant a wine before serving, an hour is about right for a young wine, while a particularly vinous wine should decant for no longer than 30 minutes.
Our appreciation of wine is mainly due to its scent and our sense of smell is our most sensitive and versatile wine evaluation tool. This is because the flavors we experience are actually odors that reach the nose when wine is held in the mouth. We can detect an enormous range of scents—up to 10,000 different odors according to scientists! Once we’ve aerated our wine properly, give your wine a good sniff, and discern what aromas are present. Does the wine smell fruity? What kind of fruits? Or does it present more floral, herbaceous or vegetal odors? These aromas are called primary aromas, which are derived from the grapes themselves. Perhaps you detect doughy or buttery scents. These are considered secondary aromas and are related to the wine’s fermentation process. Finally, if you discovered any spices or vanilla, you may have picked up on potential oak aging. Aromas attributed to aging techniques are called tertiary aromas.
After we’ve investigated how our wine smells it’s finally time to try the wine. As I discussed above, our sense of taste is really the result of aromas and flavors that are perceived by our sense of smell. We often confuse the two, but if we focus we can distinguish between odors and actual tastes that are limited to sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and umami. Taste the wine by allowing it to roll around in your mouth, exposing it to taste buds all along the surface of your tongue. Pay attention to its texture and sense of weight or body. As when we sniffed our wine, what fruit, floral, or herbaceous flavors are there? Do you taste any flavors related to the fermentation or aging process? Do you detect any bitterness or acid, which would cause a mouthwatering sensation? Is the wine sweet or dry?
Finally, savor and enjoy your wine! I don’t like to perseverate or over-analyze my wine as it can really detract from being in the moment. And we certainly don’t need to turn our happy hour into a research project, but hopefully my tips on how to T.A.S.T.E your wine will help you establish new connections with this venerable beverage.
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