Saturday, August 22, 2009
Friday, August 21, 2009
My beautiful bottles of red and white are waiting for me to open them. I have ordered more, and think that my first tastings and writings will be rather random. I imagine as time goes by that I will get settled into writing about flights and types and matching wine and food - ah, I am already looking forward to having a basic understanding of what tastes good and what I like. I am already looking towards the day when a wine list won't be so intimidating. Where I can pick out a wine that tastes good at a dinner party and be confident of my choice.
But just to be totally honest, I am intimidated now. So as to not be completely ignorant, I have been researching the history of wine, along with the appropriate way to taste wine along with the hows and whys. It doesn't sound so difficult, to taste wine. But there is more than one step in the ritual, and each step engages your senses. Almost like tasting wine really requires your eyes, nose, and mouth - not just your taste buds.
Basically, the five really simple steps are to See, Swirl, Smell, Swish, and Swallow. The more I read and learn, the more I realize that I could write a complete entry about each of these. In fact, many people have. And knowing me, I have to be honest with you - soon, I will too. After all, this is wine through my perspective, right? But not today. Today, I need to go down and put some white wine in the refrigerator and open a bottle of some yummy red. So for now, how about high level?
First, we See.
Pour a quarter glass of some wine that make you happy. Pick up the glass and hold it at an angle, looking down on it against a white background (tablecloth, floor). The wine should be beautiful to look at, clear and sediment free. Next, look at the color and depth of the wine. According to the learned, young red wines are more purplish at the edge where the wine meets the glass, while more mature red wines have a redder rim. Even older red wines may have a darker reddish brown or even brick tone. White wines vary from pale greenish yellow to deep gold. The older whites run to the golden tones. One expert I listened to explained that red wines lose color as they age (dark red to brick, for example), while white wines gain (clear blond to warmer gold, for example).
Next, we Swirl.
Swirling the wine around in the glass a little bit will release the aroma and give the wine a chance to mix it up, disperse a bit into the air, relax. This sets things up perfectly for the next step by allowing the aroma to release, and you can also see some "tears" or "legs" of the wine beading around the glass. The bigger the legs, the more residual sugar in the wine, the more lush and viscous. Interesting, no?
Now, the big Sniff.
You read all those entries about wine, comments about the smell of cherries, chocolate, peaches, and gingerale. Really? Can you smell all of that in a sniff from a wine glass? Well, it turns out that there are enough variables (more than 300 different organic chemical compounds) in the making of wine to create some pretty complex sniffs. So you smell the wine, and think about what it reminds you of - strong, fruity smell, earthy, spicy? Do you smell wood, smoke, toast, vanilla? Currents, blackberries, dark fruits? Greenish, young? It might be good, I am thinking, to jot down some notes about now. Go ahead, give it a try. We can compare next time.
Next, a nice Swish.
Move a nice sized sip of wine across your tongue. (After all, you need to get enough to taste it!) I understand that you will taste sweetness with the front of your tongue, then tannins on the side and cheeks, then the alcohol in the back of your throat. Wow. Taste it. What does it taste like?
The wine should provide a lingering aftertaste, and it should taste good. I understand that the length of finish will be longer for more complex full bodied wines, while a simple finish probably indicates a wine that should be drank while young.
There you have the high level. I don't know if I can keep all the details in my head just yet. After all, I have heard them before and they didn't stick. Could that be because I was drinking wine? Hm. But I think I can recall the See Swirl Sniff Swish Swallow. The 5 S's of the wine ritual.
I am off to practice.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I have had wonderful wines paired with incredible food that change the experience of both. I have had organic wines, and wines with no tannins. I have had fabulous champagnes and ports. And you know, I still don't really know much.
I don’t know how to find inexpensive wines that I adore. I don't know how to consistently chose wonderful wines. I don't know anything about wine terminology. I don’t know the right kind of wines with the right kinds of foods – other than “white with chicken and fish, red with beef.” I don’t know how to cellar wines, when to drink them for the best taste. I don't know what wines are consistent, and what grapes are my favorite. The list of what I don't know could go on for miles.
Yep, its true, I don’t know much.
In this week of starting, taking the first tentative steps to journey down the road from “not much” to a working, practical knowledge amidst the many books, stories, magazines, experts, restaurants, websites, and more - well seriously, how shall we begin?
With a Beginner’s Mind.
From Wikipedia - Shoshin (初心, also pronounced nyuanshin) is a concept in Zen Buddhism meaning Beginner's Mind. It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner in that subject would. The term is especially used in the study of Zen Buddhism and Japanese martial arts.
The phrase was also used as the title of Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki's book: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which reflects a saying of his regarding the way to approach Zen practice: “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.”
As a beginner, every resource is available. No question is too basic, no tidbit of knowledge too obscure, no approach right or wrong, no starting point inappropriate. All of these Wine Spectator's are waiting to be read and many wines are waiting to be tasted. And I am up for the challenge. This should be fun.
Next…a bit of historic perspective.