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5 Tips to help your wine tasting

Brian Gurnham Chief Cork Officer

Being a wine educator I have unbridled enthusiasm when it comes to sharing a great wine with friends.  Some would even probably call me a bit overzealous when it comes to disclosing the nuances of terroir, aromas, geography or grape variety.  After all, who wouldn't get excited to know that wines from Montsant, Spain, are produced only 25 miles from Priorat, made from the same grape varieties, and cost half as much as their overhyped neighbors?  OK, perhaps too much information, but you get the point.  Learning about wine is fun, and sharing knowledge with friends makes it even better – tip number one of five to help your increase your wine tasting skill and enjoyment.

Find some wine loving friends

You wouldn't play bridge or poker by yourself; nor should you drink wine without surrounding yourself with a group of wine loving friends.  Chances are your address book includes budding wine enthusiasts and maybe even bona fide connoisseurs.  A wine tasting party is a great way to share knowledge and explore the differences between individual perceptions of wine and wine styles.  Try and include friends more knowledgeable than you, as in playing any sport, it will up your game.  If your address book is devoid of oenophiles, consider social media.  Try or even Google “wine tasting” appended with your city, town or county name – you'll be surprised at how many like-minded oenophiles are lurking in your neighborhood.  Make sure to include the proprietor at your nearest wine shop.  You don't necessarily have to invite him or her, but look for suggestions and wine knowledge that you can bring to the party.

Read labels

I know it sounds boring, but many wine labels contain a lot of valuable information that can help you broaden your wine knowledge.  At a minimum labels will include the name of the wine, the producer, vintage, country of origin and alcohol content.  Many will include the specific region (AOC, Appellation, DO, DOCG, etc.), grape variety or varieties in blends, distributor, and a description from the wine maker of the textures and aromas.  Much of this information can be useful as you develop and refine the styles of wine you enjoy. Frequently the information on the label is country specific, and you can find help deciphering the elements here.

Experiment, experiment, experiment!

Oh did I mention experiment?  I know it's easy to find a wine you like and consider your mission accomplished.  Rather than thinking of wine tasting as a quest for the one perfect wine, replace that image with one of mining for gold in a gushing California stream – the more nuggets you find in your pan the better off you are, and with each new discovery, the thrill of the hunt escalates.  There are thousands of wines produced in the world every year – you will never run out of choices.  And, having a well-documented rolodex of favorites will prepare you for the day when you tire of your favorite California Cabernet, and want to travel the globe for similar stylistic offerings.  Another benefit of experimentation is helping your wallet – there are hundreds of little known wines that are amazing values, welcome additions to that rolodex.

Log your wine tasting experiences

There is nothing more challenging in the wine tasting world than taking notes.  This is a simple case of do as I say, not as I do.  When an amazing bottle of Crianza Rioja is opened, and I immediately realize why it got the 93 rating, the LAST thing you will catch me doing is scribing notes about the aromas, mouth feel, taste and price.  No, I'm carefully watching the pours so as not to miss out on a drop before the bottle expires.  But having said this, it is important to document your wines, and in this day of technology there is no excuse not to.  There are dozens of aps, and cell phones are ubiquitous – so take a picture of the label at least.  You should record the minimum information that will enable you to do at least one thing – find the bottle again!  The more you information you log the more helpful the entry will become in identifying aromas, mouth feel, taste, regions and grape varieties you enjoy.  Organize your notes in a manner that makes sense to you, color, style, region, grape variety are the most common.

Embrace change

As you taste your way through different wines from around the world your palate will undoubtedly change.  I can't tell you how, but as you continue to experiment, I can guarantee you, the style that evolves as your favorite will change.  The change will not be dramatic, more likely an evolution as the range of available styles is broadened.  Many budding wine enthusiasts start with sweeter wines, reminiscent of grape juice and lemonade, then slowly gain an appreciation for wines with more aromas, relying less on residual sugar.  You may find yourself in love with big, bold, reds, or creamy oak laden Chardonnays, or the Tempranillos from Rioja.  But even the best of Riojas will over time tire you, and you will want to move to another medium bodied red, with a slightly different profile.

As you taste your way around the globe in search of a new favorite, remember that the best wine is a wine you enjoy, regardless of the opinions of others, ratings or price.  Just make sure that you pick up as many nuggets as you can along the way.

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