Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Wine For Beginners: Wine Etiquette


You've made it, you've reached the wine world pinnacle, a sophisticated soiree with a group of people probably dressed in cordurouy and tweed, sipping and swirling, greeting with double air kisses. The wine industry's 'in-crowd' - or so they think (ponces). Mumbles of 'aroma' and 'bouquet', talk of 'tannin' and 'body'...

The truth is, anyone can learn the terminology, whether you're certified in wine or not. Drop in the right words here and there, and you'll be sure to receive a return invitation. Quite simply, if you don't know about wine, pretend you do - trust me, no-one will notice, just mumble something about 'vintage' and 'maturity' and you'll be okay! Here are five steps to make you look like you know what you're doing!

Step one, holding the glass...

There is a right and wrong way to hold a wine glass. Wine glasses should always be held by the stem and not the bowl because the heat of the hand will raise the temperature of the wine. This is particularly important for whites, which have probably been chilled for an exact amount of time in a specialised wine fridge, set to the exact temperature which so and so says is perfect for whatever it is your holding....as long as it's chilled, it doesn't matter too much!


Step two, give it a swirl...

Wine testers swirl their glass to encourage the wine to release all of its powerful aromas. Most don’t fill the glass more than a third full in order to allow aromas to collect and to not spill it during a swirl. Make sure you're not wearing white or cream when tasting red wines, as for a novice swirler, this could end in disaster!


Step three, assess the colour...

Darker shades of wine (the deepest, blackest reds and the most golden whites) usually come from warm climates and are rich and ripe. Lighter colors, especially in white wines, come from cooler climates and are lighter and less lush. This will help give some indication as to where the wine has come from. For example, England is cold and the whites produced are almost water-white in colour, and feel crisp and dry in your mouth. California is hot, so their whites generally are more golden in colour and will feel heavier and more luscious on the palate.


With age, red wines tend to lose color and will eventually end up a sort of brick red. On the other hand, white wines gain color, becoming golden and eventually brown-yellow. Lets say you're given a glass of red which is dark red or purple in colour - it's likely to have been made in the last couple of years and designed to be drunk young and fruity. Later in the evening you're given a glass of 'something special' that's been 'laying down' for a while - it's more rusty red in colour. This means it's likely to have been made 5-10 years ago and designed to sit in a dusty cellar until it has matured. Sip this one slowly - it's probably worth a bit of money!


Step four, the sniff...

The smell of young wine is called an “aroma” while a more mature wine offers a more subtle “bouquet.”  Take note of the colour and you should be able to take a pretty good guess at whether it's young or old. If it's young, generally you'll be able to pick out quite distinctive aromas - "It smells like blackcurrant Soothers" is okay, but perhaps - "Mmmm delicious, juicy, blackcurrants" might be more appropriate.


Step five, (finally!) time to taste...

All wines taste like fruit. Only rarely does a wine taste like grapes—for example, Muscat. A really good wine will have a long aftertaste, while an inferior wine will have a short aftertaste. Simple really. For whites, drop in 'citrus' for lighter styles or 'stone fruits' for more luscious lovelies. For reds, 'red fruits' if it's a little lighter, or 'black fruits' if it's heavier and darker. This should cover most bases in your initial wine education phase.


Top Tip: look out for the "cork-tease" in the room - there is always one! They constantly talk about the wine he or she will open but never does - "Yes, I was actually given a bottle of Chateau Margaux 1961, been in the cellar for years. Saving it for something special." What that really means is - "I have a bottle of really expensive wine which you'll never be able to afford, lying in my dusty cellar. I'm going to open it when all my most important friends are round and I can brag about how much it's worth". At that point, you say your goodbyes and hope that person gets hit by a bus.


For more random facts about wine, check out 82 Delicious Facts About Wine.

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