Celebrate National Wine Day on May 25th by being in the know. Whether you want to host your own wine tasting or impress your friends at a restaurant, this quick primer will help you sound like a pro. The other half of the homework is more fun — taste, taste, taste! It's the best — and most fun — way to learn about wine.
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What's in a name
Although you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, you can tell a lot about a wine just from its label. A quick glance will tell you where the wine is from, in what year it was made and what variety it is. This leaves you open to say things like "yes, 2008 was a good year for Oregon pinot noirs," or, "I really enjoy Spanish tempranillos."
A whole new world
Wine regions are divided into Old and New World. Put simply, Old World wines refer to those that are produced in traditional, mostly European, wine-making regions like France, Spain and Germany. New World wines are those made by relative newcomers to the scene in the U.S., South Africa, South America and the Antipodes (New Zealand and Australia).
A good first step is to determine the color of your wine — is it red, white or rose? This will give you hints about how it will taste. To sound even more impressive, use specific color adjectives to describe the shade of the wine, like ruby, peach or straw.
Carefully pour the wine into a wine glass and be sure not to fill it up all the way. It should only come up about two inches to give you plenty of room to swirl, smell and observe. When you go to hold the glass, hold it by the stem so that your hand doesn't warm the wine.
Before you take your first sip, carefully swirl the glass. This is a signal to all other wine snobs, we mean lovers, that you are serious. Tip it slightly to the side and you will see streaks where the wine was. These are called "legs" and the more they are visible the higher alcohol the wine (which is typical of New World wines and, despite your college days, is not necessarily considered a good thing).
Swirl the glass again, stick your nose into the glass (now you can see why you don't want to fill it up all the way) and take a big whiff. This helps to open the wine up and is said to release its bouquet. Describe what you smell. This gets easier with practice, but perhaps you pick up on chocolate and cherries in a rich red or sense tropical notes in that sauvignon blanc.
Finally, after all that looking and smelling, you get to take a sip. Take a small sip and swish it around a bit in your mouth so you get the full effect. Swallow and observe what you taste. You may notice that it starts out tasting like one thing and ends up tasting like something else. This is when you can say something like "I get pineapple and dragonfruit with honeysuckle on the finish."
It's all personal
Most importantly, remember that wine tasting is all personal and there are no wrong answers. You may taste plum while someone else tastes ash, and you might enjoy a $5 bottle of wine rather than one that costs $50. Just keep tasting and developing your palate and remember to enjoy what you enjoy regardless of what any wine snob tells you.
More on wine tasting
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Perfect Italian wine and cheese pairings
Wine trends: Choosing the best wine