Intimidation is an ugly truth. No one likes to feel inadequate or like they don’t have control. Learning to taste wine can be like dealing with a bully that doesn’t want your lunch money, just your pride. Speaking in a crowded room about what you perceive in a glass of wine can be as emotionally scarring as being de-pantsed in the middle of the cafeteria your freshman year…
Here are some tips to level the playing field. Think of these as a montage of you lifting weights and drinking raw eggs.
- Trust your instincts. At first, all wine just tastes like grapes. Don’t be discouraged. The more you think about what you are tasting, the more confident you will become.
- Smell EVERYTHING. You are constantly smelling: all day, everyday – even in your sleep you perceive scent (probably). The biggest difference between you and most F&B professionals is that they sit and think about what they’re smelling. You can too. Have you ever heard someone tasting wine and they say something like, “I get fresh kiwi and dragon fruit.” What!? What the heck does dragon fruit smell like? Is that even real? Yes it is, and you can grab one at the grocery store and smell it for free. As a matter of fact, you can smell every fruit and veggie in the produce aisle for free, and they’ll just think you’re a savvy shopper. The joke is on them, because you’re building your aroma memory.
- Think about how the wine makes you “feel.” The olfactory bulb in your brain (the part that recognizes scent) is located right under the part of you noggin that holds all your memories, thus specific scents will trigger memories and quite commonly, emotion. It’s an intimate experience which will be different for everyone. There are no wrong answers, and it will make you look like a wine ninja when you talk about how this wine reminds you of when you would visit your grandparents farm in the summer and how amazing the barn smelled and how much you miss them and wish that you could…yada, yada, yada. See? Wine ninja.
- Wine comes in many shapes, sizes, and styles. The easiest way to round out a description of a wine’s personality is to reference it’s body and structure. Body refers to the viscosity, or richness of the wine in your glass; using everyday dairy as a reference, you can correlate light-bodied wines to skim milk, medium-bodied to 2%, and full-bodied to cream (insert Prince reference here). Structure relates to the acidity and tannin of a wine. Wines higher in acidity are bright like lemonade, while wines lower in acidity are perceived as soft on your palate. High tannin wines have a slightly bitter component, like Lipton tea steeped too long, while lower tannin wines are just plain gulp-able.
- Find friends to taste with. Drinking wine with others makes the experience exponentially more valuable; having multiple perspectives and opinions about what you smell and taste will only add to your rolodex of wine vocabulary!
- Visit your local wine bar and ask for a taste of something new to you. When you walk into Postino and ask your server to sample the Urban Torrontes, because you’ve never tasted the grape before, they’ll be more than excited to bring you a sip. Ask what they taste and smell. It’s like getting a cheat sheet and goes back to a previous tip – drink with friends. Your server is your friend, especially at Postino.
I hope these tips make wine tasting seem less intimidating and gives you the strength to stand up to that bully. I’m rooting for ya!! I love an underdog.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see ya next time.