Wineology – Tips for Better Wine Tasting

Tannins, Tannins, Tannins!

I am no wine expert by any means, but I do have a little bit of knowledge in the world of grapevines and glasses. I also have the tendency to learn, study, and read about things in life that I find interesting (one of the reasons I am drawn to med school; eternal learning until death! No pun intended). As for my wine experience, I can recall my parents drinking different types of alcohol: margaritas, martinis, rum, scotch, whiskey, vodka, etc) but wine was the one that stood out to me and as soon as I was of drinking age, wine became my favorite social and relaxation drink. Afterwards, the rest is history, and now I am here writing a blog post on wine basics and tips or in other words delivering you some “wineology.”

In my opinion, going to wineries is a great way to learn about wine because the people who work there are practically advanced wine connoisseurs (though, I’ve yet to visit one!) So far my wine tasting horizons have been limited to restaurants that specialize in wines, which you can most definitely find around Houston. Eventually I hope to take an official wine course and become certified. For now, I do my testing and researching from books and the bottle.

Let the “Wineology” begin!

Wine 101 – The Basics

Wine is an alcohol made from the fruit; grapes. There are red wines (usually from red grapes & sometimes a mix of white grapes), white wines (from white grapes), rosés (from skinned red grapes), sparkling wines, port wines, and dessert wines. In general, red wines should be served slightly cooler than room temp while whites, rosés, and sparkling wines should be served at fridge temp. In technicality, there are specific temperatures for each type of wine, but in this post, I will just touch upon the basics.

Wine 101 – Terminology

Here are some basic terms for you to get familiar with!

  • Body – how viscous the wine is (think heavy cream vs. skim milk)
  • Light Body – more dilute in flavor
  • Full Body – packed with flavor
  • Dry – not sweet
  • Off Dry – semi-sweet
  • Sweet – well… sweet. Haha!
  • Bright/Crisp – higher in acidity (usually used to describe white wines)
  • Complexity – how many different layers of flavors you smell or taste
  • Aromatic – wines that have a strong smell
  • Tannins – the bitter taste or drying sensation you get (due to the antioxidants and the grape skins in the wine)
  • Legs – the residue of wine that drips down the glass after swirling (some people believe this is indicative of quality wine)
  • Smooth – how easy it is to drink (is it balanced or not)
  • Varietal – the type of wine; named for the type of grape (ex: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot).

Wine Components: What You Should Look For

  1. Dry or Sweet? This taste typically manifests itself on the tip of the tongue.
  2. Acidity Level. This is the sour taste, typically on the outer edge of your tongue. In general, white wines tend to be more acidic. However, you can get some light or medium bodied reds that can also be acidic.
  3. Tannins, Tannins, Tannins. Do you get that dry sensation in your mouth? Yes, that is tannins, the bitterness in the wine. The tannins is my favorite part of a wine. Generally full bodied reds will have more tannins, because of the red skins of the grapes, and stalk soak. The tannins come from antioxidants (or resveratrol) found in the grape skins.
  4. Alcohol content. This is the warming sensation throughout your mouth.

Voila! There you have it, these are the basics to wine tasting, now grab a glass, a piece of cheese and test your taste buds out!

How to Taste Wine:

  1. See – Notice the different shades of red, white, or pink.
  2. Swirl – This releases the aromas in the glass, as you swirl the wine.
  3. Sniff – There are unique ways of smelling a wine. You can smell the wine at chest, chin, or nose level. If you can smell the wine from further away, it is considered a very aromatic wine. Smelling the wine can help you unlock new flavors that you wouldn’t get from just tasting alone.
  4. Sip – Take a sip of a wine of your choice (or a random one!) & test these tips out!
  5. Savor – Swallow and then let the flavors of the wine coat your mouth. Pay attention to the certain flavors that linger in your mouth, like sweetness, bitterness, etc. A high-quality wine will tend to linger in the mouth longer.

What Makes a High-Quality Wine

Alright, so in my opinion, I believe everyone has an acquired taste and that not just one flavor means it’s higher quality than an other wine. My personal preference is fuller-bodied to light-bodied red wines that are dry or semi-dry, it truly depends on the overall taste and balance, so pre-tasting is always a good way to go when tasting wines; at a restaurant or winery.

Higher quality wine doesn’t always mean more delicious. Everyone has a different palate and enjoys different things. However, there are certain characteristics that you can look for that indicate a ‘high quality’ wine.

— Firstly, take note of the smoothness. The wine should be smooth regardless of body. Both light bodied and full bodied can be smooth; you must look at wine at various angles. A wine that has a high alcohol content but not enough tannins or fruit flavor to balance it out will probably not be smooth.

— The next thing is: balance. The fruit, acid, tannins, and alcohol should complement each other nicely.

— The length and finish is the next thing you should look for. Generally, the longer the flavor lasts after you swallow, the higher quality the wine. As a result, the finish should be a pleasant flavor.

— Lastly, complexity. The more layers of flavor you get, the higher the quality of wine. It will smell slightly different than it tastes, and when you let the wine linger in your mouth you will notice a shift or burst of flavors. Beginner wine tasters may not notice these at first sips, but don’t worry! Just keep on tasting and trying wines to broaden your palate, one sip at a time!

Red wine pouring into wine glass, close-up

Well, those were just some basics to wine. Check back with Med à la Mode for more information about wine and what you can expect from wines grown in different areas. For example, the climate and soil that the grape is grown in can truly create a 180 degrees in flavor! I will expand more about this, as well as the health benefits you can get from drinking wine in future posts. Comment below with any questions!

You can also follow my (Instagram) channel for updates & snippets of my life!

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