Ever since the documentary Somm was released, everyone wants to learn how to taste wine or is impressed by those you can. The art of wine tasting is something that must be practiced over and over. It took me years to decipher Sonoma Pinot Noir from Burgundy Pinot Noir but now I can tell just by smelling a wine.
You see, the magic to becoming a great taster is learning the basics of “sensory evaluation”. In other words, using your eyes, nose and mouth to figure out WTF is in the glass. If you can understand sensory evaluation, your next wine experience will feel eerily similar to losing your virginity and saying “Oh snap! Did I just do that?!”.
First things first: use your eyes, homie. Just by looking at a wine in the glass you can pull so much information. Ask yourself the following questions:
Is the wine clear or cloudy? This can tell us if the wine is filtered or not.
Gas or sediments? This tells us if we're drinking a sparkling wine or still wine. Sediments (the dark floaters in the bottom of the glass) are typically found in red wine and are signs of aging.
What’s the color? This goes one of two ways: red or white. Once you use your wine genius to figure that out, dive a little deeper. For example, is it red, is it Ruby, purple, garnet, etc. For whites, is it gold, straw, pale straw, silver…catch my drift?
How intense is the color? Depending on the intensity, you can already figure out a few grape varietals. Thick-skinned grapes like Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon offer deep, rich intense colors to the point where you can’t see through the wine. Chardonnay has a similar effect. Thin-skinned grapes offer very translucent juice, such as Pinot Noir or Cab Franc would.
This is my favorite part…The viscosity aka “The Legs”. Give that baby a swirl and watch those legs run down the glass! Thick legs that run fast mean higher alcohol. Thick legs that run slow typically mean higher sugar. It’s that simple.
Next is the smell. Time to use that honker of yours but heed my words: don’t dig your nose in the glass. Wines higher in alcohol will burn and you'll regret it. Usually three inches out is good and you can pickup more aromatics from the distance. Feel free to use the aroma wheel here as guidance and again ask yourself the following:
Does it smell clean or flawed? Pretty much, does it smell good or not? If it smells oxidized or like vinegar we can stop here and grab a new bottle. If not, lets continue.
What is the primary smell? Fruit or earth. Are we smelling juicy ripe berries or are we smelling peppery herbs and dirt? This is a MAJOR sign of a new world wine (North America, South America, New Zealand, Australia) vs. old world (Europe and everywhere else). New world wines 99.9% are always going to be fruit forward.
Beyond the primary smell, is there a secondary smell? If so, dive deep but listen here - when you say, “I smell apples.” be more specific! Is it a tart green apple, a ripe yellow apple or a baked apple? Oh, that’s citrus you smell? Great…lemon, lime or an orange? Ya dig?
Is there oak? Most wines are aged in oak and the sign for it is spice, vanilla and/or buttery goodness. Some say baking spices such as clove and cinnamon. It’s somewhat subjective. Oak really adds that layer of complexity and being able to pinpoint that really shows everyone you kinda know what you're doing.
But wait! What about the best part: tasting the wine? Tune in next week for the complete package on how to analyze wine like a master somm.
In the meantime, be sure to download the tasting sheet and apply your new knowledge to these sommelier-approved wines:
- Truchard Vineyards Chardonnay 2015 ($25)- Napa Valley, CA
- Lawson's Dry Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2015 ($16)- Marlborough, New Zealand
- Red Car Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir 2014 ($65)- Sonoma, CA
- Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($65) - Napa Valley, CA
Here's our Jennifer Tapiero teaching Jimmy Vestvood (character played by superstar comedian Maz Jobrani) how to taste wine. Memorable quotes include Jimmy comparing the taste of the wine to sex. Yup.
About your #SommNextDoor
Nicholas Ducos is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a Certified Sommelier. He's worked in many prestigious restaurants in Miami, Florida. As a chef and as a sommelier, he is dedicated to creating a memorable dining experience and making wine relatable to others in a witty yet refined style. Nicholas is currently the Assistant Winemaker at Heritage Vineyards in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. Follow his latest adventures through his website and Instagram.