So you’re a newbie to wine tasting, and you’ve never set foot in a winery tasting room.
Well, worry not. A tasting room is an area set aside in a winery where visitors are encouraged to sample the various wines before purchasing. Tasting rooms can range from a grand space to an intimate, informal area set among casks of aging wine.
Most tasting rooms keep regular hours so you can just show up whenever the wine sampling crave strikes. Most people who work behind the “tasting bar” are friendly and eager to help you find the wine you love. Tell them what flavors you like or if you like sweet drinks. They will pour a series of wines to suit your palette. There is no such thing as a dumb question in a tasting room, so don’t be shy about learning about the wines you are trying.
The tasting room staff will typically give you one fluid ounce of the wines you would like to taste. This is about 20 percent of a regular glass of wine. Keep this in mind and be sure to pace yourself. You don’t want to be that guy or gal who has a little too much fun at the wine tasting!
Most wineries have handy vessels where you can discreetly spit out your wine samples to prevent you from becoming too intoxicated.
Or if a particular wine does not agree with your tastebuds. Don’t be shy about using these vessels. Of course, don’t be afraid to get a full wine experience either by swallowing your wine. Just know your limit, particularly if you are the designated driver.
Once your wine is poured, hold your glass up to the light. Examine the color. Don’t worry if you can’t tell the difference between a ruby red and a garnet red. Just note the color so you can learn to spot a great wine in the future. Different wines have a unique ideal color range. Looking at the color helps to make sure that there are no impurities, bits of cork or insects sharing your wine.
Next, give the wine a little swirl in the glass.
Be gentle and get a little air in there. You look like a cool, savvy wine taster when you do this, so swish away like you own the place. Then, place your nose in the glass and inhale. Put your face right in there and try to get a good sniff. A great wine always smells fragrant. Smelling wine is a personal affair, and everyone detects different “essences” in their glass. “Hints of raspberry” and “new wood” are more descriptive than “grapey,” but in the end, the whole thing is subjective.
Now, the moment of truth: the taste! Have just a little sip; don’t chug it like a shot. You’re in a tasting room, not an ale house. Let the wine flow over every part of your tongue. A wine may be sweet or dry. Since sweetness is detected at the tip of your tongue, this may be the first thing you will note. Next, feel the wine roll to sides of the tongue. You taste sour notes here, so this is where you will detect any acidic notes.
Finally, you taste bitter notes at the back of your mouth.
This is where very young or over dry wines will leave you with an unpleasant aftertaste. You’ll feel any alcohol as a slight tingle in the back of your throat. Using these basic sensory inputs, you can then make a sophisticated analysis of a wine: “I tasted a semi-sweet, low acid wine with hints of a gentle melon after-taste.”
After the tasting, you should have a sense of what you like and don’t like. Don’t expect to love all of the wines you sample, but a good tasting experience will leave you with at least one wine you’d like to purchase. If the winery you visit offers complimentary tastings, it is generally good etiquette to purchase at least one bottle of wine. If you were able to try 12 wines, the winery has poured the equivalent of a half a bottle of wine, so don’t taste and waste.
Wine tasting for fun is far different than being a professional wine analyst for an auction house.
Don’t worry about getting all formal wine tasting steps just right. The tasting room is a great place to get started on a wine tasting journey. A good tasting room staff will give you all the encouragement you need in finding your inner-wine critic.
By Georgene Mortimer, Island Winery
The perfect bottle of wine awaits at Island Winery on Cardinal Road. Store and tasting hours are Monday-Saturday from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. 843-842-3141 or www.islandwinery.com.