How to “Wine-Speak”

Have you ever stood next to someone at a wine tasting bar who kept uttering words like bouquet, clarity, earthy, crisp, spicy, zesty … and so on?

Did you wonder what in the heck they were talking about? Well, here’s your opportunity to learn how to ‘wine-speak’ with the experts!

First, purchase a bottle of white wine (e.g., Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc) and a bottle of red wine (e.g., Syrah, Merlot) from, your local wine retailer, or the grocery store — something in the $10-$15 range is suggested.

Chill the white wine to about 50° and leave the red wine at room temperature (~60°).

Pour the wine into an ordinary wine glass — an inch or less is best (definitely no more than one-quarter full). Then, holding the glass by its stem, gently swirl the wine. This aerates the wine and releases the aroma (bouquet) of the wine.

Take a sniff. You might want to put your nose inside the glass to get a more defined sense of the smell. Or try moving the glass ever so gently so the aroma wafts up to your nose. Pay close attention to what you smell. You might even want to close your eyes so you can fully concentrate on the scent.

Try to identify the odor. Is it fruity like grapes, apples, melons, oranges, or perhaps grapefruit? You might even notice a grassy fragrance, like a freshly mown lawn. These are common aromas of white wines. If the Chardonnay has been aged in oak, you may even pick up a buttery or fig scent.

Most red wines have a fragrance reminiscent of berries or plums but in Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, you may also pick up woody smells like cedar or pine needles, or sometimes chocolate will come to mind. Syrah often has a floral scent. Zinfandel is spicy and may make you think of ground black pepper.

Now take a sip. Get all your taste buds involved by running the wine around your tongue. Don’t swallow just yet. Think for a moment about the flavor. Many times, the flavor will match the aroma, but sometimes you’ll distinguish new elements. The taste of the white wine may remind you of orange blossoms or peaches. The red wine may taste like blackberries or strawberry jam or coffee — or even tobacco.

Use whatever words come to mind as you experience the aroma and flavor. There are no wrong answers when it comes to describing wine. It’s whatever helps you to remember a certain wine (even if it reminds you of a new car smell!).

After you swallow the wine, notice the ‘feel’ of the wine in your mouth. Does it feel crisp or zesty? Or is it smooth, like velvet?

Do you notice an aftertaste? Sometimes this is an extension of the flavor, but it may bring to mind something entirely different. Also notice how long the flavor lingers. A long, pleasant aftertaste (or “finish”), where all the components of the wine are in balance, is a sign of a quality wine.

So there you have it. Now you can stand next to those people at the wine bar, raise your pinky, and toss around words like fruity, floral, earthy, and smoky along with the best of them!


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