Does wine tasting sound fun but also a bit intimidating? Not sure if you should swish, swirl or just slurp? Worried you won’t do it “right”? Now’s the time to give it a try! Thanksgiving weekend is one of the busiest times of the year for vineyards and tasting rooms in wine producing regions. Most really roll out the red carpet by including hearty hors d’oeuvres, live music, wine glasses, barrel tastings, and behind-the-scenes tours for a $5 or $10 fee. While you’re on the road rolling through wine country this holiday season, stop and enjoy the fruits of vine, especially from small producers.
If you’re rattled by the thought of exploring the “body” and “legs” of wine and don’t know the difference between “smoky undertones” and “hints of oak and leather” — relax! Vintners are down-to-earth and love to educate visitors about tasting, and also about the grapes and varieties they produce. So ask lots of questions. Tasters aren’t expected to be connoisseurs. Although you might be a little apprehensive at first, just keep one main question in mind “Do I like it?” If not, don’t buy the wine. Set a goal this holiday weekend to have fun while finding your new favorite pinot, riesling, chardonnay, or whatever you fancy. Then take home a drinkable souvenir!
After you’ve stopped at a winery or two, you’ll feel more confident and discover that traditional wine tasting techniques and jargon, although they may sound silly, actually make some sense. The time-honored methods allow tasters to discern the many ways in which wine impacts all of the senses—which makes wine tasting a unique experience and a lot of fun!
To taste wine like an expert (or just look like one), start by sampling the driest, lightest wines first and save the sweeter ones for last. Not to worry if you forget this rule of thumb—that’s the order in which samples are poured anyway. Before taking the first sip, hold the glass by the stem only so as not to warm the liquid too much with your hand. Then, swirl the wine in the glass to bring out the aromas. This is the “body” of the wine. Also sniff and concentrate on the “nose.” It’s amazing how many different fragrances can be distinguished if you go slowly. A wine that has “good legs” will lightly coat the sides of the glass.
Take a sip and enjoy the first impression of the wine. Is it silky, crisp, viscous, or plush? It might seem odd to identify wine by those textures, but you can certainly liken the flavors and aromas to common tastes such as fruit, vanilla, berries, and yes, even oak and leather. And good news—it’s fine not to finish a wine you don’t like. Just politely pour out what’s left in your glass (decanters are provided for this purpose) and move on to the next one being sampled.
In addition to the discovering new libations, you can also do a little Christmas gift shopping at the same time. Not only do bottles of wine make nice gifts, but many of the larger wineries sell gourmet foods, fancy linens, cool wine gadgets, and hand-blown glasswear. Browsing these shops can be as intoxicating as the wines!
Go ahead—don’t be shy. Give wine tasting a try. But remember, this is supposed to be fun, so don’t take it too seriously. With all the white, red, sweet, dry, full-bodied, and even organic wines to sample, you’ll find that variety really is the spice of life—especially with a view of the beautiful rolling wine country and fall foliage over your shoulder.
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com