Monday, 7 January 2013

Wines don’t smell, they have noses – our guide to wine tasting

It’s time to start blogging about the wine.  After all that is what this trip is about.  According to Eddie, that is. Mine’s the get-away-from-the-winter bit.  Which has been a massive success.  A sort of blue skied, azured sea sort of success.

Chapman's Peak - Cape Town

But back to the wine.  I should start by saying that we are NOT wine connoisseurs.  But we like drinking it.  Quite a lot.  We buy most of our wine half-price from supermarkets, six at a time to get the extra 5% off.  We buy a lot of wine from Costco, six at a time, when it’s on special.  We drink about four or five bottles a week, Fridays and Saturdays, many Sundays and once or twice during the week.  We seldom have more than a bottle between the two of us.  We very rarely leave wine in the bottle overnight.

We belong to the Wine Society (well, Eddie does, it was my birthday present to him a couple of years ago).  We’ve been going to the Tesco Wine Fair for the past ten years, firstly on our own, but we’ve gradually picked up friends and relatives who like to come with us, so now I always buy 8 tickets as soon as they go on sale, because I know I’ll have no problem gathering together a group of 8 for it. 

We drink a lot of wine with friends.  This normally means pottering up the road to our neighbour’s with a bottle of wine, or inviting them to join us.  This is when we will have more than a bottle between two, but all in the name of comparison.  Wine is good to share and discuss. 

Our favourite white is sauvignon blanc, our favourite red is probably malbec, but we enjoy a good merlot, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon as well.  We enjoy Bordeaux reds, detest Australian chardonnays, and most ‘new world’ chardonnays, but we do like Chablis (same grape, completely different taste.  Sorry, palette.)  We have ‘mid-week’ wines which go with chilli or spag bog and we have smoother wines for drinking on their own.  We drink a lot of Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and have enjoyed many other NZ Sauvignon blancs.  But, when we want something a bit more special, we’ll go for a Sancerre.  We believe that you can’t get better than a good French wine, but that doesn't stop us from drinking ‘new world’ wines and it certainly didn’t stop us from touring the new world for wines.

That’s about it.  We are just two ordinary people who like wine. 

But – I do know how to taste it.  And that’s because, when I was expecting child No 2 some time ago, I wanted to go to an evening class.  Anyone with young children will understand why it’s important to get out of the house without them and do something adult once in a while and evening classes are perfect.  As I was expecting in February and Eddie was a way often , but seldom on a Monday night, I had to choose a course that lasted one term only and was on Monday evenings.  I had two options – wine appreciation or knitting. 

I know that knitting is getting quite popular, but it wasn’t a hard decision to go for the wine.

We tasted six wines each week, spoke about them, decided whether we liked them or not and, if we did, we went out and bought them – they were all easily available.  We learned about grape varieties and why two of the same grape will make different tasting wines.  It’s all to do with the soil, micro-climate of where they are grown etc.  And it’s why you can make any sparkling wine you like using chardonnay grapes and the ‘methode champagnoise , but it will NEVER taste as good as the ones that come from a small region in France called Champagne.  Nothing else compares, even if it is cheaper.  Sorry.

So, how do you taste wine?  Here’s my simple guide:

Use a class that’s wider at the bottom than the top – this keeps the nose in (not yours, the wine’s)
Use a clear glass, no fancy patterns and no colour – and definitely not a red one, makes the wine look terrible.

Fill the glass no further than the top of the ‘bulge’.  NEVER fill a glass to the top, the point of all that extra space isn’t so you can drink more than anyone else, but to allow the wine’s nose to be held in there for your nose only.  If you use proper large wine glasses, you will find it very uncomfortable to drink out of it if it’s full.  And, it just looks – well, bad.  And for tasting you really don’t need much in there.

Swirl.  Give it a good swirl to get all the different flavours out.

Breath out, stick your nose right in, shut your eyes, and take a great big inward breath – or long, large sniff.
Imagine what you can sense in there.  It could be absolutely anything, from old rubber tyres, cat’s pee to blackcurrents and freshly cut grass.  A lot of people don’t understand this, but those aromas don’t mean that is what the wine should taste like.  And it doesn’t mean you should be able to pick up ‘grape’ or ‘red wine’ in there.  Go on, give it a try and see what you can smell in there.

Now for the fun bit.  Put some in your mouth, but don’t swallow it.  Open your mouth a tiny bit and breathe in, through the wine.  It will make a bubbly sound, but don’t worry about it, it makes you sound professional.  And the effect will be an explosion of all those flavours you’d never think to find in a glass of wine.  This is called the palette – did I mention that wines have palettes as well as noses?

Now you can swallow it.  Now take another sip and decide whether or not you like it. 

It’s as simple as that and anyone can do it.  And, when you go wine tasting and are told that your wine will have hints of this that and the other, it doesn’t matter if you find something completely different in there.  

That’s the whole point – and the fun of wine tasting. 

The most important thing is whether or not you like it.  Cheers!

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