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Orange Coast Winery

Douglas Wiens
August 15, 2017 | Douglas Wiens

How to Taste Wine: A Guide for Beginners

Your server arrives at the table. She has the wine list. Actually, it’s more of a wine book. She gives everyone the “who should I give this to?” quizzical look, and then she follows the direction of everyone’s gaze. They’re looking at you.

It’s a nightmare scenario for the uninitiated. You know as much about wine as you do about nuclear fusion. Wine comes from grapes, and fusion is why the sun is hot. You’ll get through this. You choose a Merlot because it’s … well, red, and most of your fellow diners are opting for a steak. The server returns with the wine, uncorks and pours a small amount into your glass. You’re supposed to taste it. That much you know. Now, what?

Go ahead and taste it!

If your knowledge of wine is next to nothing, check out our guide for beginners:

The first thing that comes to mind

At a basic level, there are really only two things to know and remember:

  • 1. Be sure to inhale through the nose as you bring the glass of wine up to your lips. This is because our sense of taste is highly dependent on our sense of smell. If you don’t believe it, try pinching your nose and eating or drinking something. If you want to appreciate the taste of the wine you are about to drink, you also want to introduce yourself to its aroma.
  • 2. Comment on the first thing that comes to your mind after you take that first sip of the wine. Don’t bother with any theatrical mouth swishing. Just let that sip linger for a few brief seconds before you swallow. Then express what came to your mind.

There is no wrong answer.

Those two steps are easy enough to follow. What comes next might not be, chiefly because it seems like we should have a response on par with the wine experts. Leave those complicated descriptions to oenophiles (connoisseurs of wine) and sommeliers. Here’s why:

You might take a sip of a red wine and discover, to your, surprise the first thing that comes to your mind is … cement! As in, the stuff that sidewalks are made out of. No, the wine itself doesn’t taste like cement. It’s delicious. But nevertheless, the thought of cement jumps right into your head.

Give yourself high praise if something like this occurs. What you’ve detected is the wine’s terroir. The unique soil composition of a geographical area contributes to the taste of the wine created by the grapes grown there.

The grapes for some of the world’s best-regarded wines grow in areas where the soil absorbs minerals from the limestone beds below. Lime is a crucial component in cement. Conjuring up the memory of the smell of a sidewalk on a hot summer afternoon after tasting a certain wine’s terroir makes perfect sense.

Of course, the earth isn’t the only thing flavoring a great wine. Wines are sweet or fruity; light or full-bodied; and often have traces of delightful flavors like vanilla and lemon grass.

And that’s why there’s nothing wrong with being honest about expressing the first thing that comes to mind after you taste a glass of wine. Embrace it.

You’re in the grape’s world now.


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