What, How & Why
Explores a variety of topics to help you understand what it is; how it
works & why we do it. It’s informative, lighthearted & useful.
Wine Tasting 101
Life is tough. Wine Tasting is easy. It's easy because there are no rules.
You taste what you taste & you like what you like. Simple.
It's fun because there's so much variety; so much to taste.
And you don't need to be a wine snob to have fun. In fact,
the so-called wine snob is only trying to impress. There really is
no esoteric or mysterious knowledge. There is only that which you
like or not. Have fun & share your experiences!
Here are the guidelines.
There are four facets to tasting wine: View, Swirl, Sniff & Taste.
• VIEW it! We can learn from the color, depth of color & clarity
• SWIRL it! This engages the wine with the air to release aromas
• SNIFF it! Smell or “nose” the aromas and then
• TASTE it! To assess the qualities of sweetness, acidity, flavors,
body, tannins, length of finish & balance you need to swirl, hold &
swallow a bit of wine.
VIEW it. This is best done against a white paper or background. Wines
should have a clean, bright appearance, never cloudy, though some may
carry some sediment.
Descriptors: Whites may be pale yellow or green, straw, golden, gold,
yellow-brown or amber.
Reds can be red, garnet, ruby, purple, brick, reddish-brown, brown.
Tip: as whites age they tend to get darker; reds tend to get lighter.
SWIRL it. Some say vigorously and some say carefully. This is done
best on a flat surface in a circular motion & practice makes perfect!
The purpose of the swirl is merely to mix the wine with oxygen in order
to release the range of aromas or the “bouquet” of the wine held
within. At this point you can also guess at the viscosity of the wine
Trivia: The “legs” of a wine are the fine streaks of wine that run down
the inside of the glass. More substantial legs are an indication of a
higher level of alcohol and consequently the feel of more “body” or
substance to the wine. The legs are visible due to the different
refractive properties of water and alcohol as the wine runs back down
SNIFF it. The “nose” or “bouquet” might be very subtle or quite
powerful depending on the wine & how close you can get your nose to the
sample so get the proboscis right in there. It’s interesting to note
that some people use only one nostril while most of us try to engage
Inhale deeply right after swirling. And then sniff again. There are
hundreds of words to describe the results and this makes for one of the
more appealing parts of wine tasting. You may not get all or any of the
scents that your neighbor does and, really, who cares? It’s your wine…
Descriptors: floral, apple, citrus, vegetal, exotic or grassy are
common with whites and berries, barnyard, mint, earthy, nutty, jam,
smokey, vanilla, leather & spicy are common in reds.
TASTE it. Our patience is rewarded! To really appreciate the wine,
take a little into your mouth and swirl it around to cover your whole
tongue, hold it there a few seconds & swallow. This will allow the
various receptors on your tongue to assess the flavors: sweetness on the
tip; sourness (or acidity) on the sides and bitterness at the back.
With a little practice you can sip in some air at the same time or suck
in additional air to your mouthful to further release the flavors
For Sweetness is it bone dry, medium, sweet, very sweet?
For Acidity is it flat, refreshing, crisp, tart or sour? Most whites
should have some acidity; reds will have higher acidity if the grapes
were not fully ripe & it’s not a sign of quality.
For Bitterness/Tannins is it astringent, hard, dry, smooth or soft.
“Tannins” (think of the taste of cold tea or apricot pits) are the
backbone of many great wines; the structure which mellows & softens with
For Body we are referring to the mouth feel & it could be thin. Light,
medium, full-bodied or heavy. Tip: Acid gives body to a white while
tannins give sturdiness to reds. If they have too much alcohol, they may
For Flavors we get to run the length & depth of our vocabularies. The
sensations are often myriad & complex so sip, swirl & swallow again &
let your imagination run wild. Is it oaky, fruity, floral, vegetal,
spicy, herbaceous, honey, toasty, woody, chemical, nutty, coffee,
tobacco, red berries, jammy, metallic, earthy, chalky, barnyard,
leather or diesel?
Finish or length of finish simply refers to the flavors that linger. In
quality wines it’s almost like an afterglow…& can be described as short,
limited, extended or lingering.
And finally, Balance. Balance is the sum of the equation of the above
characteristics. If they all work in harmony, the wine is “balanced” or
very pleasant in the mouth. It would be unbalanced, good, well or very
well balanced & perfect.
Now, if you’re keeping score (sometimes you get to write down your
thoughts), YOUR estimation of the quality/enjoyment of the wine is the
bottom line response to: Do I like it? Answers will range from noway
Having run through this exercise, you’re now set up for a real
“technical” tasting where wines are seriously assessed. However, it’s
also the basis of casual analysis of your everyday quaffs as well. Use
this info for what it’s worth…and enjoy! That why we’re here!
Wine & Food Pairing: Some Ideas
These are simply suggestions. Try some & see if they work for you.
Chardonnay /Chablis - shellfish esp. oysters, mussels, scallops
Chardonnay (oaked) - Chicken in white sauce, smoked salmon, lobster
Chenin Blanc - Vinagrette salads, soft cheeses, tabouli, spinach dishes
Gewurtztraminer - spicey foods, smoked salmon, picnic cold cuts, salads
Muscat - fresh fruit esp. melon & strawberries
Muscadet - mussels, peel & eat shrimp, white cheeses
Pinot Blanc - some salads, lemon sole
Pinot Gris - light cream sauces like alfredo, quiche lorraine, fish w
Reisling - asian food, lobster, cold cuts, baked/smoked salmon
Sancerre - mussels in cream sauce, cheese fondues
Sauvignon Blanc - asparagus, goat cheese, clams, prawns
Semillon - spinach or mushroom salads, foie gras
Tokay - crème brulée, rice pudding, tapioca
Barbera - red pastas, grilled meats
Beaujolais - pork roast, salty meats, feta
Burgundy - grilled ham, filet of pork, pheasant, bourgignon
Cabernet Sauvignon - barbequed steaks, spareribs, rack of lamb, roast
Chateauneuf du Pape - buffalo, venison, elk, blue or spicey cheeses
Chianti - red pasta sauces, veal parmigiana, minestrone, lasagna
Cotes du Rhone - stews, ratatouilles, kebabs
Malbec - roast beef, burgers, BBQ ribs, most grilled meats
Merlot - roast turkey, chicken, pork, lasagna
Nebbiolo - osso bucco, roasted fowl
Pinot Noir - roasted chicken, turkey or pheasant, BBQ salmon, mushroom
Rioja - paella, roasted chicken or lamb with garlic & rosemary/thyme
Sangiovese - red pasta sauces, marinara, grilled fowl
Syrah/Shiraz - wild game, grilled steak, merguez
Zinfandel - BBQ or grilled red meats, chocolate (sometimes)
Note: Champagne seems to go with just about anything. Try some brut
bubbly for a whole meal. Mmmmm.
Value Wines from Tasting Info!
Here’s a new section we’ll feature from time to time: well-made wines of good value.
In this case we’re looking at bargain/value red & white wines. The criteria are: good, well-made wines under $15 worth more than their cost.
We list at least one retailer, though there may be others. Prices are approx.
• Mauco Cellars 20001 Chilean Cab Sauvignon @ Coop/ Simple, smooth/$14
• Los Cardos 2001 Malbec from Argentina @ Wine Cottage/ Deep, rich & blueberry!/only $10!!!
• Laguillou 2000 Cabardes from south of France @ Superstore/ Deep, intense fruit/$12
• Promessa 2000 Negroamaro, southern Italy @ Centre Street North/ Soft, fruity, earthy/$14
• Simon Gilbert 2000 Shiraz, Australia@ Crowfoot/ lots of fruit, balance/$14
• Colli di Catone Rosata 2001 @ The Cellar / off-dry for salads, pizza or ?/ $14
• Robertson Shiraz 2000/ South Africa @ Willow Park Wines/ a steal at $10!
• Robert Skali 1999 Minervois, s. of France @ Crowfoot/ Deep, rich flavors/$12
• Torres’ 2001 Rosado rose/ summer sipper w pasta salad? @ Kensington $12
• Altozano Crianza La Mancha @ J Webb/ Tempranillo, Merlot & Syrah, oak, spice $10
• Swagman’s Kiss 2001 Sem/Sauv/Chard @ many stores/body,oaky $12.50
• La Vielle Ferme 2001 Cote de Ventoux @ Superstore/clean, light $11
• Rawson’s Retreat from Penfolds 2001 Chardonnay @ W Park/ fruit, oak $10
• Fonseca Albis 2001 WPark & Kensington/Muscat & Arinto, honey fruit, balance $10
• Parrina’s 2001 Ansonica from Tuscany @ J Webb/ floral, citrus, bone-dry $14
• Stoneleigh 2001 Sauvignon @ J Webb etc./ floral, tropical & yummy $15!
• Pepperwood Grove 2001 Viognier @ WPark/light fruit style, classic taste/ $14
• Inniskillin 1998 Klose Chardonnay @ Crowfoot/ age gives it slight Reisling feel/ $11
• Dunavar 2001 Pinot Gris, Hungary @ Kensington/Wpark/apples, great w salads $10
• Grand Prebois 2002 Rhone w Marsanne & Viognier @ J Webb/ lovely / $11
• Fetzer Echo Ridge 2001 Gewurtz/Superstore/like Muscat, perfect deck wine $11
Any other suggestions? Go to FEEDBACK & let us know…