Let me take the fear out of wine tasting
What tastes of earth, meat, toffee and mushroom while smelling of prunes, Camembert…with a hint of perspiration? (And this is meant to be a good thing!) A fine little wine from the Medoc. No bluffing, I noted those characteristics. You might think wine-tasting lies somewhere between a visit to a farmyard and a delicatessen, and I sound a wine snob.
It doesn't stop there, though. I courageously ventured another Medoc reminded me of cowpat. I expected the Wine Education Service tutor to slap my wrists – a good wine no better than a steaming pile? In fact I was heaped with praise. Evidently I’ve an excellent nose and palate. News to me, I’m certainly no wine expert and merely spoke as I found.
There’s something terrifically snotty about the wine world. This makes us desperate to know what's what, but scared to look foolish. You’d be forgiven deciding to bluff as a survey found 25% of men and more than 10% of women do. It's particularly galling when friends seem to be more expert than you. But use the top 10 tips of my bluffer's guide and you’ll sound a connoisseur. Where I say "expert" that includes those expert-friends.
1/ Be confident with your feelings about a wine. Expressing a view with conviction is half the battle, no expert can argue with what your nose or palate tells you.
2/ The experts wax lyrical with abundant, often unique adjectives, when describing wine but actually there’s no set vocabulary as such. Feel free to use yours. If a wine smells of "petrol station forecourt" to you, it probably does to them too.
3/ That said, there are aromas typically associated with grape varieties. Chardonnay with melon, apples. Sauvignon Blanc think gooseberry, apple, grass. Cabernet Sauvignon with blackcurrants, Merlot think dark berries and plums, and Pinot Noir with red fruits that are musty.
4/ You’ll fool many with knowledge of the classic “tasting note”. When tasting an expert focuses on a wine's "appearance", "nose", "palate" and their “conclusions” with much detail. For the bluffer’s purposes ignore the detail.
5/ Regarding appearance, just how hard is it to describe the way a wine looks? Yes, experts effuse about translucence versus opaqueness, signs of age, etc. But the bluffer need merely call a spade a spade. Don't "swirl" the glass (see No. 8) instead tip it teasingly and study the wine. If the wine looks dark plum to you, note it. If another's pale yellow, fine.
6/ Next, an easy dimension to add to appearance is to say whether the wine's clear or cloudy, i.e., little bits floating ‘round rather as in your kettle.
7/ With the “nose” those pesky experts try fooling us. They use the term quite literally - what your nose detects. We assume they’re speaking metaphorically of something mysterious. They’ll elaborate the nose has, e.g., "spring almond" aromas, dressing up what they smell. Your nose? Keep remarks simple but for added finesse, name at least two or three aromas. On a good night an expert will name half a dozen!
8/ "Swirl" before you smell. Hold the base and with a flourish of the wine you release the bouquet or “nose”. That explains the tall classes in a classic tasting set - you don't slop when you swirl.
9/ Regarding “palate” experts “chew” wine and then "slurp" (no fancy name!) - the noise they make while releasing more aromas. Roll the wine across your palate, part your lips, suck in a little air. A bluffer warning – don’t try without practising privately or you’ll humiliate yourself, probably choking. Again, comment on two or three flavours. Don’t ever gulp, a definite No-No. Experts will spot this instantly. Sip slowly, savouring the wine.
10/ Finally, your “conclusions”. They'll discuss quality, value, maturity, etc. The experts treat it as a living thing and so can you. At this point continue breathing life into your descriptions and conclusions. If a wine grabs you by the throat, it’s "bold". Has a light spritz on the tongue, it’s "frisky". Love it? It’s “ready to drink”.
Experts discuss numerous other details from temperature to accompanying foods. They’ll drone on about soil and climate considerations. Ho hum! For you enjoying wine is simpler – do you like it and how much can you imbibe without getting hung-over?
To bluff further with the experts moan about French labelling - complicated. Raise the hot topic of corks versus screw tops - more convenient, less contamination. Mention the raspberry ripple note in a young Merlot. Speaking of raspberries the romantic French describe the sound of uncorking champagne as the "erotic whisper" whilst the rather earthy Brits describe it as "the nun’s fart". Those sum up wine tasting, describe what you find. And do as the playful God, Bacchus, would - enjoy wine’s pleasures and bluff where necessary.
Published in Express Newspaper