Tasting Wine

Friday December 10, 2010

We put up eighty-seven bottles of wine last week: one Pinot Gris, one Merlot, and one Bourgogne Rouge. We also started three wines, 18 gallons: a Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, and two Valpolicellas (one expensive and one affordable Grand Cru).
We rarely drink beer but we want to know how it is made so for our third beer in two months we started an Oaked Imperial Stout which takes about two weeks to get ready to bottle and a few more weeks before it is ready to drink. We don’t drink Stout but it will make a couple of nice X-mas gifts for ale drinkers.

For anyone who is not familiar with a Valpolicella mentioned above, it is a terrific dry Italian wine. It starts off sort of sweet but ends up dry. Now for the uninitiated, tasting a wine is often very different from drinking a wine. For example, our son-grandson, Brandon, gave us a nice Chenin Blanc. Since we had not drunk a commercial wine in a long time we decided to go ahead and give it a try. I think we were doing a crossword puzzle, talking, and drinking the wine. It seemed okay. Then I suggested we take the time to taste the wine. Oops, bad move! Once we actually tasted the wine, it went to Harold VI (Our disposal has a name; doesn’t everyone’s?).

How do you taste wine? I don’t know how you do it or how the sommeliers do it, but we do the following that doesn’t involve spitting:
1. Pour. This can be done with the fancy way of facing the label toward a guest, pouring the wine and giving it a clever little quick twist and snap up at the end. I prefer to decant the entire bottle and let it breathe a while, maybe ten minutes or more; sometimes an hour is good. Barring decanting, it is best to use a “Decantus” or some other form of air inducing tool to get the wine breathing sooner. Or, just pour a glass and wait a few minutes before moving on to step two.

2. Look at the wine. There may be a little sediment in the wine  bottle but it is usually harmless. Whites sometimes have some crystals at the bottom of the bottle, not a problem. Hold the glass up by the stem where you can see it, see through it. The color should be lovely and if the wine is a still wine, there should be no bubbles. Early on in your wine making, you may find a bubble or two in your wine, pretend you meant it to be there and enjoy. [And do remember if it is a white wine, always hold it by the stem or the bottom. Let me add here, for goodness sake, if you are eating, take a sip of water and use a napkin or at the very least use a napkin on your lips so you don’t leave something yuky (chicken fat or lipstick) on the rim of the glass. Ladies and cross-dressers remember lip gloss and wine do not mix any better than single malt scotch and grape Kool Aid.]

3. Swirl the wine. This should be done with the bottom of the glass on a flat surface. Move it in small circles. I cheat at home and do this while holding the stem. We use enormous glasses so there isn’t a problem with sloshing. I like to see the lovely little clear lines, better known as legs or tears that come down the glass. They should be clear and not have stuff in them.

4. Smell it! Yes, stick your nose right in the glass and sniff away, short or long. If you are being watched, pretend you know what you are doing. Faking it is highly recommended for beginners. Most people don’t know a thing about how this should be done and will be impressed by your air of superiority. Works for me. If you are alone or with a beloved partner just sniff because it is fun and “the right way” is the way you are doing it. It should smell great. If it reminiscent of salad dressing, that’s what you should use it for, otherwise, move on to step five.

5. Sip! No, No! Absolutely no gulping! If you want to get drunk, hit the vodka and cherry coke or do shots of Taquila and jello. Wine is an experience. Getting tipsy is an unfortunate side-effect that keeps us from downing two or three bottles of the glorious nectar! If you are a three-hundred pound male, maybe you can have three bottles, the rest of us have to treasure each SIP! So, sip and hold the wine in your mouth letting it roll around for a few seconds. If you want and can keep it from running down your chin, you can open your mouth a tiny wee bit and inhale.

Now here is the reason why morons don’t appreciate wine, because now is time to think. What are you tasting? Cherries, blackberries, elderberries, oak, herbs? Forget all that manure about tobacco and Chef Renauld’s wild Lorraine berries picked only after the second frost and covered by a touch of Noble Rot. Most of us get one, maybe two flavors at this point. Exhale through your nose. Second sip, let it run to the back of your tongue; hold it; inhale; swallow and exhale.

We opened a glorious bottle of Torrentes (kit wine of course) when my daughter-granddaughter Jesika, age 23, was here and she tasted meatloaf and ketchup on the back of her tongue. Crazy-wild you say? We followed her lead and she was spot on! Generally, I taste fruit flavors; sometimes herbs or spices. Enjoy what you taste and never be intimidated by those who seem to find flavors that you don’t. If people give eight flavors, be polite and resist the temptation to tell them there is the fresh fragrance of manure wafting across the table too. The tongue can’t pick up eight flavors all at once. I have been told, but do not know for sure, that we cannot identify more than four flavors at a time and that is if we are very expert in our wine tasting abilities.

6. Now drink the stuff but keep on sipping as the bottom of the glass comes way too soon when the wine is good. Heck, the bottom of the bottle comes way too soon when the wine is really good.

7. If you are planning to make wine or if you want to pretend you are a Sommelier, write down your experience along with the vintage. Since we make our own, we keep track of the vintage but only put the date of bottling on the bottle so we will know how long ago we made it. Our notebook has the vintage, notes, racking and the like for later reference. Honestly, I sort of stuff the notes at the notebook. Someday, I’ll straighten them all out and then start on the arranging my closets.
So there you have it. I hope you try making your own kit wine. Like other experiences, once you drink your own kit wine, you’ll never go back to the nasty stuff in the grocery store or wine store.
Next blog, I’ll give you the entirely, way, to long version with my long-winded commentary, of the simple way to make kit wine.

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