Wine—a staple of many diets since it first came onto the scene as early as 6000 B.C., is as much a taste test as it is a practice. Although fermenting grapes and adding yeast seems simple enough in order to make wine, the skill behind the production and tasting of the final product is a science in itself.
There are various stages that exist in order to taste and truly savor the flavor that comes from wine.
These are often known as the 5 S’s: see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor.
Beginning with the appearance of the wine itself, a wine, much like a diamond, needs to be examined first for color and clarity. Beyond red and white, there are is a large variety of colors in between—from maroon and purple hues for reds, to clear and yellow shades for whites. The clarity or opacity of the wine helps to tell the age. The older the wine, the more translucent it will be.
A younger wine has a tendency to be denser, heavier, and therefore more opaque. Also, when swirled, a sweeter wine such as a Riesling will leave streaks (often called legs) on the inside of the side of the glass. The aroma of the wine is a step in enjoying in itself. By swirling the wine in the glass, and wafting it in order to release the natural aromas of the wine, the alcohol in the wine is vaporized. The pungency and the ‘in-glass’ sensation which the wine produces may contain scents such as oak, berries, flora, citrus, etc. The heavier the wine, the more intense the scent will be. The smell is a good indicator of the quality of the wine—the stronger the scent, the higher the quality.
Thirdly, most everyone’s favorite step—the tasting. The initial impression, despite what many think, is not necessarily the most important. Wine, like the majority of good things in life, gets better with age. It is after some time that its flavors develop to the fullest and the taster is able to distinguish between each of the bodies in the wine. Also take note on how long the flavor lasts after it is swallowed. Also, the temperature of the wine can greatly affect the way the wine tastes and smells. By being served chilled, the scent is lowered significantly.
The aftertaste, also known as the “finish” is the best way to determine if you enjoy it. The sensations that the wine produces on the palate after sipping will also help to determine which food it may best be paired with. For instance, champagne is great for an appetizer menu or hors d'oeuvres because of its light and bubbly taste, while white wine is best to cleanse the palate and may best be paired with chicken or fish dishes.
Experts agree—a general rule of thumb to follow when pairing wine with an entrée is red meat with red wine and ‘white’ meat with white wine.
However you go about drinking this age-old classic, next time you’re popping that cork, remember to look at the colors and enjoy the palette on your palate, swirl the wine in your glass and release the wonderful aromatic scents, and above all else…ENJOY!