Learn the Five S’s of Wine Tasting

Don’t be intimidated by all of those fancy wine descriptors or the swishing and swooshing sounds that the pros make while they taste. To evaluate wine, it all comes down to the “five S’s.”

Illustration by Ryan McAmis

 

 

Illustration of man with glasses looking at wine
Evaluating the wine’s visual qualities / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

See. Similar to a psychic who gazes into a crystal ball, inspecting wine in the glass can help predict much of what’s to come on the nose and palate. The color, depth and intensity of a wine can offer a glimpse into its age, concentration, body and overall style.

Hint: white wines gain color as they age, while red wines lose color.

Illustration of a couple swirling red and white wine
It’s all in the wrist / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Swirl. Swirling is integral to aerate the wine and allow oxygen to “open it up.” This seductive art reveals a wine’s complexities, and it will raise intensity in most young, opulent bottlings as well as those aged beauties. Better yet, when done properly, it will wow and potentially hypnotize those around you.

Illustration of a man evaluating a white wine's aroma
Technique that’s right on the nose / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Sniff/Smell. Don’t be afraid to shove your entire nose right into the glass. Wines with medium to pronounced intensity shouldn’t need such a deep dive, but others may be a little bashful at first. In these cases, revert back to Step No. 2 and swirl some more. Aroma is usually where you hear all those cool, eccentric wine termslike “cat pee,” “wet dog” and “grilled watermelon.”

Illustration of standing woman sipping red wine
A matter of good taste / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Sip. It takes a while to actually taste a wine during the examination process, but it’s often well worth the wait. Plus, all the prior steps should impart a pretty good idea of how the wine should come across on the palate.

When pros taste wine, you may notice some pretty off-putting and downright disgusting sounds, but there are reasons for it. The swishing, swooshing and gulping ensures that the wine hits all parts of the tongue and mouth. Thus, the taster can gauge sweetness, acidity, bitterness, tannins and identify the overall mouthfeel. Sucking in air allows for further aeration on the palate, and it helps volatile components be sensed by the olfactory system to tap in to all the characteristics of the wine.

Here, you look for primary characteristics (fruit, floral and spice), secondary characteristics (oak and fermentation-related flavors) and tertiary character (those that result from bottle aging, like mushroom, tobacco and nuttiness), depending on the age of the wine.

Illustration of couple savoring wine after sipping
Don’t forget to enjoy / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Savor. Here’s where the finish comes into play. You want to savor the final essence of a wine. Here, you not only look for length, but balance of fruit, acidity, tannin and texture. When a wine leaves you with an overwhelming desire for another sip, you know you’ve found a winner.

Final tip

If a young wine has a far superior finish than its taste on the palate, it probably needs a bit of aeration or even a little more time in the cellar.

Published on April 15, 2019
TOPICS:Wine Basics
About the Author
MARSHALL TILDEN III

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.

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How to Know Who is Wine Worthy?

 

When to Open That Special Bottle 

(as featured in Wine Enthsuiast)
You know the bottles. They’ve been sitting in your wine fridge for a few years now, waiting for the perfect night and the perfect audience.

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It’s always tempting to open up those special bottles when in good company of family and friends, particularly when a wonderfully delectable dish is included. However, deciding when to pull gems from the cellar can be one of the most agonizing decisions to make—especially if you have already had a glass or two and are being egged on by your pals.

Even though you may love the people surrounding you, are they truly going to appreciate what you are about to open? Has everyone already had too many glasses pass their palate to accurately assess the true quality of your potentially stellar selection? Are there simply too many people for anyone to get more than a drop or two of this high quality, highly-anticipated juice? These are the questions that need to be addressed and answered, under potentially stressful time constraints, before you pop open that vintage bottle you’ve been saving for just the right moment.

Here are a few rules of thumb to help guide you into making the right wine service decision, and avoiding the regret of opening something spectacular you later wish you hadn’t.

The smaller the group, the better.

When there are too many people, inevitably someone will not get a chance to taste the opened bottle and you will probably hear about it for months to come. Generally speaking for a single standard bottle, if there are any more than six people, you may want to save it for a more intimate gathering.

Know your audience.

If more than half of the group are really going to appreciate and enjoy something special, then pop the cork. Who knows, you may enlighten someone with an epiphany wine experience.

Keep food pairing in mind.

Having the perfect food pairing may not be totally necessary for the enjoyment of a high-quality bottle. However, having a terrible pairing, like a wonderfully aged Bordeaux with oysters, can certainly hinder a potentially memorable wine drinking experience.

Do it early in the night.

Taste buds tend to get a little tired as an evening of wine tasting progresses, rendering that glorious bottle mundane if it’s not one of the first poured. Plus, the more that your crew tends to consume, the less likely they are to get properly geeky about all of the intricacies of something that deserves a little more attention.

Be selfish.

Sometimes you just want to open a phenomenal wine because you feel like it. In those cases, forget about any of these suggestions and just crack it open! Sometimes life is too short to not drink your best wine.

Published on December 20, 2018
About the Author
MARSHALL TILDEN III

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.

Wine Pairing Tips for the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes

Now that the Christmas shopping frenzy starts to settle down, it’s time to focus on the most important parts of the holiday season… family, food and wine! My family partakes in the Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner, and as of late we use a lot of different seafood styles throughout the meal. But that is the beauty of this fish feast… there are no steadfast rules of what you HAVE to cook which gives the chef a true sense of freedom and creativity. But it also makes pairing the right wines a little tricky.

To give exact wine pairings is difficult, as there are dozens of different ways to prepare each of type of seafood. It is more about the consistency and texture of the fish and the sauces. For example, an appetizer of raw oysters and clams will covet a far different wine than clams casino or fried oysters. Below are some easy and general wine pairings for various styles of seafood that you may serve for your seven fishes feast, along with some specific wine recommendations.

RAW/CHILLED SEAFOOD:

The general rule of thumb is the lighter the dish, the lighter the wine.  I like to go with Sancerre for this paring. The flinty minerality in these high acid, citrus fruit based wines seem to bring out all the lively flavors and freshness in any chilled seafood dish. Domaine Jean-Paul Balland wines offer a wonderful expression of Loire Sauvignon Blanc and at around $20 the base Sancerre is a great value. Pascal Jolivet is also a solid option and is usually under $20 a bottle. A dry, high acid Finger Lakes Riesling will also work with all those raw bar goodies.  Any of the selections from Herman J. Wiemer (particularly the Reserve Dry Riesling) are sure to please the palate. Pinot Grigio is a popular light white wine for this part of the meal, but quite frankly unless it is REALLY good, it’s a little too neutral. But if PG is your go to, try and grab one from the Collio region…Fiegl always produces a solid offering.

BAKED/FRIED SEAFOOD:

For dishes like baked cod or seared scallops, you still want to keep it light but with a bit more body than your typical PG or SB.  Chablis is a reliable option, as these unoaked wines made from Chardonnay have all the endearing qualities we love about Chard, but without the smoke and wood influence. Simmonet-Febvre is consistently tasty and usually can be found for around $20 a bottle. Albarino can also work out quite well here, as all that minerality and stone fruit balance against most baked seafood recipes. The As Laxas is stunning, and a great value under $25.

Image result for seared scallops

If your fish is getting fried, you’re gonna have to step up to some bigger whites like those Burgundies or California Chards, and here is when you can start getting into the reds. The thicker and heavier the batter, the bolder you can go on the wine. Lighter Chianti Classicos and Pinot work for a delicate sautéed dish, but if you are going with the deep fryer don’t be afraid to pull out a Zin or Syrah, especially if you are cooking up something with a little spice in it. The Mullineux Syrah from Swartland, South Africa is a fantastic option, not just for this meal but for ANY meal! It’s around $30 a bottle which may not be cheap, but drinks like something twice the price.

SEAFOOD WITH PASTA:

For openers, make sure you use the same color wine as you do for the sauce.    For 2015 Pieropan Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy (750ml)white sauces, like linguine with white clam sauce, you can still use the same PG or SB as you served for the raw/chilled seafood. But I like to step up the Italian white game for these dishes and go with a quality Soave (made from the Gargenega grape) or even a Fiano d’Avellino. Pieropan makes a phenomenal Soave called La Rocca, but it ain’t cheap at about $35-40.  Feudi di San Gregorio produces a lovely Fiano and is a screaming value for under $20.

 

Red sauce = red wine… preferably something  a little high on the acid scale. Tomato sauce is high in acid so you want a wine that can match up to it allowing the food and wine Image result for shrimp calamari fra diavolochoice to complement one another. My mom makes a mean shrimp and calamari fra diavolo which is always a Christmas tradition for our feast. I love to pair this up with a quality Barolo or Chianti Classico Riserva. Monsanto CCR for around $20-25 is pretty tough to beat, but the Marchese Antinori CCR for  $40-50 may be my all-time favorite… particularly the 2007 vintage. As far as Barolo, the 2012 Fontanafredda Seralunga D’alba is drinking like a champ right now, and for under $40 is about a good a deal you can get in the Barolo world.

HEARTY SEAFOOD:

This is also a sauce driven pairing in terms white or red wine, but because lobster, king crab, swordfish, etc. can be quite meaty and weighted you can go red for both sauce options. This is about the only time I prefer an oaky, buttery Chard when it is paired broiled lobster and a white wine/butter based sauce. But it can’t be over the top in terms of oak aging (as many of the Cali Chards can be) as the acidity and fruit have to stay in balance. Fox Run in the Finger Lakes makes a stellar Reserve Chard for under $20, and I simply love the Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse. It may carry a somewhat hefty $40 price tag, but is flat out tasty juice.

If your seafood finds itself  in a sea of marina sauce, you can stick with the same red options from the pasta course. However, if you are planning to open up some big dog reds for Christmas Eve, this is the time to do it. A Super Tuscan or Brunello  di Montalcino would be the traditional pairings, but if you have been dying to 2015 PRIDE MERLOT 750MLbreak open one of your aged Bordeaux or Napa gems, this is the time to do it. Renieri and Il Poggione are two of my favorite Brunello producers by far, and if you are digging for a hefty Napa Red, the Pride Merlot is a wonderful option here. Big, classic Napa fruit but with great acidity and super polished tannins  make it an ideal food wine.

Whatever you do… make sure to open something special in the good company of family and friends this Christmas, as that is always the BEST pairing of the season.

 

How to Select the Right Wine Glass

As featured on Wine Enthusiast  How To Select the Right Wine Glass

There are just as many wine glasses shapes out there as there are wines. Here are some hints on how to select the right glass to enhance your pour.

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Over the last decade or so, an abundance of wine glass shapes have hit the scene that range from basic and inexpensive to elaborate and exorbitant. While there are still variety-specific options for stemware (Cabernet Sauvignon/BordeauxPinot Noir/BurgundyChardonnay, etc.), universal glasses seek to become the perfect choice for every wine style.

Size Matters

Whether your wine is red, white, rosé, sparkling or fortified, aromas play a pivotal role in its overall character. The smaller the bowl, the harder it is for all of those aromas to escape. Larger bowls allow for more oxygen to come in contact with the wine. They also lend themselves towards an easier swirl, which not only looks cool, when executed properly, will aerate the wine and help it open up.

Variety Specific vs. Simple Red or White

Over the last century, glasses have been designed for just about every major grape variety. Each wine style has specific characters in terms of acidity, fruit expression, tannin and alcohol, and the different glass shapes intensify or mellow those attributes. If your goal is to build a stellar collection, this is a fun route to travel. However, you can stick with a standard Cabernet, or red, wine glass for all red wines, and a Chardonnay glass for white wines, and not lose out on the intricacies of the wine. If you seek variety-specific glasses, here’s the nitty gritty for those stems.

image of eight different wine glass shapes
Illustration by Julia Lea

Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux

Your traditional red wine glass. Cabs and Bordeaux tend to be high in alcohol and tannin. A larger bowl with more height creates more distance between the wine and the drinker, causing ethanol to dissipate on the nose and allowing more oxygen to encourage tannins to soften.

Syrah/Shiraz

Slightly taller than the Cab glass and with a slight taper at the top, this glass is designed to focus the fruit and allow plenty of aeration to mellow tannins in these massive red wines.

Pinot Noir/Burgundy

The extremely wide bowl and tapered rim allows plenty of aeration, concentrates delicate aromas and showcases the bright, rich fruit.

Chardonnay/Viognier

Your traditional white wine glass. It’s meant for young, fresh wines, as the slightly narrow rim concentrates the nose of highly aromatic white wines. The smaller bowl size also keeps white wine colder than the large bowls used for reds.

White Burgundy

Similar in shape to the Pinot Noir glass just smaller in scale, the wide bowl and narrow rim concentrates aromas and achieves maximum aeration on creamy white wines to reveal subtle complexities and offset rich fruit concentration. This glass is often confused with the Chardonnay glass.

Sparkling

The Champagne flute is all about the bubbles. It keeps the fruit and potential yeasty aromas focused with its narrow design, but also allows the effervescence to remain fresh and flow longer.

Fortified

These wines are higher in alcohol than still bottlings. A smaller bowl reduces alcohol evaporation and highlights their rich fruit and complex aromas.

Wine glasses on an orange background
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Stemless vs. Stems

While stemless glasses can be excellent options for everyday enjoyment, they may not be the best option for sipping higher-quality wines. They force users to grasp its bowl, rather than a stem or base, causing the wine’s temperature to rise due to heat from the hand. It’s not a huge disaster for reds, but can be for white wines. Fingerprints and smudge marks are also inevitable with stemless glassware.

Thin is In

The latest trend in stemware is a super-light, thin stem and lip of the glass. These elegant collections, like Zalto and Zenology, can feel like you’re barely holding a glass at all. Tasting rooms and top wine restaurants offer their finest wines in this style of glassware. However, they are as delicate as they are refined. If broken wine glasses are an epidemic in your home, you may need something a little more substantial, like Riedel or Fusion.

Ditch the Flute

Sparkling wine, particularly Prosecco, is now consumed more than ever. But wine lovers enjoy the aromas that pop out of the glass, which can be muted with the traditional, narrow Champagne flute. Though to toast with a flute is always popular, a white wine or universal glass is often the better option. If you search for a happy middle ground, a coupe or tulip-shaped Champagne glass allows bubbles to flow a bit longer than the typical wine glass, which enable more of the intense aromas to shine.

One Glass For All

If you don’t want to choose which glass goes with which wine, then the universal glass is the way to go. Sized somewhere in between a Chardonnay and a smaller red glass, it’s the most versatile option to enjoy all of your favorite wines, including sparkling! Growing in popularity, just about every glass collection offers a universal option.

Published on October 30, 2018
About the Author
MARSHALL TILDEN III

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.

Sometimes the Answers ARE at the Bottom of the Bottle…

‘Long Finish’ As featured in Wine Enthusiast

A bottle of wine can open up communication and evoke emotion like nothing else in the world.

There are few things as dynamic, engaging and provocative as a bottle of wine. Contained in that bottle are the blood, sweat and tears of the hundreds of people involved in its production. The fact that it ages and has its own life cycle sets it apart from just about any other beverage. But it’s what can occur between individuals who share a special bottle that makes it so intriguing.

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Just to be clear, I’m not advocating overindulgence. However, it sometimes takes more than just a sip, or even a glass, to open the doors of communication and set the human spirit free. Often, the last sip of wine is the best. It can take some time for a wine to open up and reach its full potential. But when you sit with a friend or family member and look forward to an in-depth conversation about life, the improvement and evolution of that wine is part of the overall enjoyment.

2015 Bismark Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml

My parents were over for dinner last year, and I opened a bottle of Hanna 2013 Bismark Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It was young and opulent upon opening, but my dad and I agreed it was going to improve dramatically in just a short while. So as we sipped, we talked.

 

We talked about the wine, of course. But we also discussed the amazing playoff run the Yankees were on, and how the team compared to those of the late 1970s that we loved so dearly. We talked about how, a few years back, he had lost his passion for oil painting, but he had just started his first new painting in ages. And as we sipped, not only did the wine improve, but so did the content of our conversation.

As we enjoyed our last glass, my daughter came flying into the room to give him a big ol’ Grandpa hug. Filled with emotion, he wanted to make sure I knew that my daughter, his only granddaughter, had filled the void left when he and my mom lost their first child and only daughter shortly after her first birthday.

Of course, having my brother and I soon after that traumatic event certainly helped. But never having a little girl around had apparently left a vacancy in his heart and soul that was never fully repaired until now. And as we discussed this truly heartfelt and intimate revelation, we realized that the bottle was finished.

As anticipated, the last sip was indeed the best.

‘Long Finish’ As featured in Wine Enthusiast