The Somm’s Apprentice: Learning to Taste Wine
Follow along as our marketing intern, Thomas Roller, learns the ins and outs of the wine industry in this feature column, Somm’s Apprentice!
Like most college students, I find the primary pleasure of wine to be in the drinking. But drinking and tasting are not necessarily the same thing, as anyone who’s ever downed a couple glasses of Two Buck Chuck could tell you. So in this installment of “The Somm’s Apprentice,” we’re diving into the ins and outs of tasting wine, from smelling and swirling it to tasting it. It all makes sense.
The first thing a good sommelier, wine lover, or, in this case, me, analyzes is the wine’s color, which seems obvious at first, but it goes deeper than just “red” or “white.” The color and opacity of a wine hint about its different elements, the most obvious being age. White wines gain golden color as they age, while red wines lose it and become brown than transparent in the process. Different color rings/shades indicate aging. This is also the stage where the “wine legs” can be analyzed, but those are pretty meaningless.
Color can also provide information about the grape varieties, but you could get more information about that by reading the label, or from…
This is where the interaction between taster and wine starts to happen. It’s also why people swirl their glasses, which is far more than a concession to fanciness. Swirling activates its aromas, giving tasters more material to work with. Since there are so many different and distinct flavors and perfumes in wine, smelling is crucial to get a feel for what’s in store. Pro tip: Get as much of your nose in the wine glass as possible (if you don’t occasionally get a little wine on your nose, you aren’t trying hard enough).
A good whiff can tell you a lot: the flavors to expect (fruitiness, nuttiness, chocolate, and more), if elements such as oak were added in the winemaking process, and even if it has a flaw.
Tasting the wine is more nuanced than simply drinking it. Disregard your first sip. Your palette needs time to adjust before you can tell if the juice is good. Taste is about what flavors are in the wine but also about mouthfeel and finding components such as acid (the things that make your mouth pucker or water) or tannins (the sandpaper feel).
This is where the nuance of tasting really comes in, as well as the flavors from smelling. Did the aromas match the flavors? Was it well made or were there flaws? You should discern if you liked the wine, and most importantly why? If you can understand what you liked and why (and remember that), you can more easily evolve as a wine drinker or give hints to a wine professional at a store or restaurant that will help them guide you to a good bottle.
One more important lesson to remember: If you say you taste something in a wine, it’s there. If you like it, it’s good. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Your palette has a different reference point than any other wine drinker’s, so it’s ok if one of you finds black cherries in the glass and the other bright strawberries. It’s OK (sorta) if you prefer Two Buck Chuck over a vintage Bordeaux. Wine is supposed to be fun. Period.
Our (former) amazing marketing intern Thomas Roller is a recent grad from University of Colorado’s advertising school, and a talented writer. We enjoyed his journey learning about wine and congratulated him on landing his first real job out of college. Thanks for a great spring!
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