When we taste wine, we go through a series of 5 steps. This may sound like an exercise routine...well in essence it is when it comes to fine tuning your senses, but it shouldn't be a spectacle for everyone to be witness to. Simple... in, out, done... no more than 10 seconds. Use words you can relate to and understand.
- SEE...literally look at the wine in the glass. Is it red, gold, yellow, pink, purple? What shade of color are you seeing? Is it cloudy, dark? To a greater length you can also see how old the wine is. Red wines will have a brown edge to them while white wines will be more golden, like apple juice, in color. Hold the wine up to the light or against a white background.
- SWIRL...this takes some practice. DO NOT WEAR WHITE! Seriously, if you're not used to swirling your wine in the glass you'll end up wearing it. Start with the base of the glass on a flat surface holding it by the stem and give it a little swirl. What you're doing is getting the air in and allowing the wine to wake up and breathe, aerate and give off it's aroma or nose. Think about if you were stuffed inside a bottle for years, you would need a good shaking to wake up too. Also, look at the wine while it's spinning. Does it look watery, does it have viscosity?
- SNIFF...get your nose in the glass. Take in the aroma of the wine. Yes it does smell like alcohol, but train yourself to get past that. Fruit, flower smells are easy. Reds usually lean towards berry fruit, chocolate, earthy/dirty (I'll explain later), oak. Whites go towards citrus, butter, oak, herbal, etc. Remember, it's what you are smelling. I opened a red once and it smelled like movie theater buttered popcorn. Hey it's my nose!
- SIP...the best part! Don't gulp or shoot it. Put a small amount in your mouth and swish it around not like mouthwash, but gently ease it around the interior of your mouth coating your tongue. You'll now begin to taste what you thought you were smelling. How much body does the wine have? Is it watery or light? Is it big, bold and dry or light, fruity, sweet? Also, while sipping the wine suck in a little air which will bring out more of the flavors in the wine. This is the "sucky fish" face my wife loving makes fun of when I do it.
- SAVOR...slowly swallow the wine and savor the flavors as the ride comes to an end. What do you taste after the wine is gone? Does that taste stay to hang around? That's the finish and the length of the finish. When someone says that the wine has a long finish this is what we are talking about.
Now put all of that together and you are tasting wine like a pro! Remember it's what you see, smell and taste. You can use all of the BIG words you want, but if no one understands you or no one can relate to what you are saying then it's a wash. So I say keep it simple, understandable and relative.
The more you really take the time to think about all the flavors and smells the more things will come to mind. One wine critic uses the best adjectives when he rates a wine. "This tastes like Trix cereal on a Saturday morning." I love that he's not afraid to tell people what comes to his mind first. Be confident, this is not the SAT's. There is no right or wrong answer. If you taste something that reminds you of the juice left over from eating a fruit cocktail snack pack then say it with confidence! There are no wrong answers. I can remember one person telling me that a Chardonnay we were tasting reminded her of drinking out of a garden hose in the middle of summer. Does that ring a bell with anyone? It's definitely more understandable across a large group of people rather than talking about the minerality and clay soil composition, right?
You'll be surprised at how many people agree with you. 9 times out of 10, people are just afraid to say anything for fear of being ridiculed. But c'mon we're all adults. It's wine and it should be fun to share ideas and understand what everyone else is thinking.