Becoming a wine expert is not as difficult as you might think. What you’ll need, aside from sheer enthusiasm, is a combination of some hands-on wine skills. These come in the form of the ability to decipher and provide accurate tasting notes, fully read and understand wine labels, and at least know which countries in the world produce wine.
First, choose your niche, such as New World reds, oak-aged Chardonnays, or Bordeaux wines (start with what you know or like best) – the list is limitless, so you can start wherever you like. Then visit your local wine store and take a good look at as many wines as possible in your selected niche. Wine shop staff will often be very helpful in showing you how to select wines with certain aromas and flavors, as well as which varieties pair well with which foods. Also keep an eye on alcohol levels: a high-alcohol wine may not always be desirable.
Some tips to keep in mind:
- Read the labels to learn about the wines themselves.
- Talk to store staff or even other customers to get their opinion.
- Is the alcohol level high for the wine in question or do you prefer it to be a little lower? (The higher alcohol wines tend to come from warmer countries.)
- Find out if the weather was good or bad for that vintage; this makes a huge difference to the overall quality.
A great way to become a wine connoisseur is to join a wine club. Most wine clubs host wine tastings on a regular basis and showcase a variety of different wines at each tasting event. The benefits here are that you will be instructed in tasting by experts, and your fellow enthusiasts will be able to offer you invaluable advice. More importantly, you’ll start to get familiar with all those well-known wine adjectives and phrases that get thrown around so much, like “delicate style with hints of currants on the nose” or “mature red with blackcurrant fruit flavors.”
Before tasting a wine, check its color and condition, this will allow you to assess its age (the darker the wine, the older it is). If it’s too dark a colour, be careful as this could mean some oxidation has occurred, which is not a good thing. The second judgment to be made concerns the clarity of the wine, it must be bright and clear – cloudy or else it could mean that there is a yeast in the wine which results in its instability. The aftertaste or off-flavor would be very apparent even to an inexperienced nose.
The greatest asset of a wine taster is his sense of smell. After the visual checks of the wine, comes the actual tasting. As one smells the wine, the glass gently rotates to stimulate the wine’s aroma release or bouquet, it is now that one can detect subtle nuances such as the delicate nature or full body of the wine, as well as sweetness or acidity.
The final part is the actual tasting. Having done a visual check and then sniffed the wine, we have a good idea of what to expect when the wine touches our mouths. The first flavor is usually of a dry bitter nature followed by sweetness later. So with a younger white wine, the acidity will shine through first, followed by the overall flavor in the body of the wine. This is where you look for those wine adjectives to describe what you are tasting and to be completely objective. With practice, this is where experts ‘slurp’ their wine, this is simply drawing in air and mixing it in the mouth, allowing for a more precise and prolonged tasting.
What we are looking for is a well balanced wine. The goal is to balance the alcohol level in the wine with its sweetness: too much of one and too little of the other is undesirable and would be unbalanced. A good balance will have reasonable acidity (which helps age the wine) combined with plenty of fruity flavors that give it its distinctive sweet character. If the acidity level is lower, the wine won’t last as long in the bottle, so this is where knowing where the wine originated comes in handy.
Try to try as many different styles of wine as you can, it shouldn’t be a problem! You’ll be judging them like a pro in no time, and it’s a lot of fun too!
Practice makes perfect!