Tips for getting the most pleasure from your wines
Sept. 5, 2001
One of the common comments after a wine tasting, particularly if the leader of the group pauses to explain and describe the wines being served, is "I certainly learned a lot tonight."
That's a principal reason wine lovers, and wine lovers in the making, gather together to taste. Yes, wine can be evaluated by one yardstick, how it tastes, but if that is your only standard you are missing the real pleasures of wine.
Full enjoyment of wine is based on three crucial elements. Its color, its bouquet (also known as "the nose") and finally its taste.
First the color. Hold your wine glass by its bottom or the stem and tilt it away from you so the liquid approaches the rim. Hold it in that manner with something white behind the glass, a napkin, a tablecloth or white stationary. You will notice that some red wines are ruby colored, some are almost black, others are in between. The color is determined by the grapes from which the wine was made.
Thick skinned grapes such as the syrah, the zinfandel or the cabernet sauvignon, can produce wines that are so dark you can hardly see through them, particularly if that year's vintage enjoyed a great deal of sun.
Wines that are virtually brick colored are made from grapes with thinner skins such as the merlot. Even in an intensely warm year they will never approach the color of the thick skinned grapes.
Lighter in color still are the wines made from pinot noir grapes among others. Some of these have almost orange tinges with a tendency toward pink coloration.
This does not mean that one type is better than the others. But the wine itself must be pleasing to your own particular eye and it must be clear. Cloudiness will tell you the wine inside the bottle is very suspect and probably not drinkable.
When evaluating white wines, color is also a factor. Chardonnay grapes produce wines with a lemon yellow color. This is true of champagne or chardonnay. The color will vary somewhat depending on the weather of the year it was grown or the technique by which it was made but basically the color will be light and lemony.
Sauternes have a deeper color and as they age the color becomes darker and darker. In any other wine that would make the bottle suspect but, because of the amount of sugar in a sauterne, it does not generally affect the wine itself. We drank a 1967 French sauterne the other night that was deep gold when it went in the bottle and now was almost the color of suede and it was marvelous. You could not say that about champagne or a chardonnay.
The riesling grape, so common in Germany and Alsace, is almost white. It is generally grown in cooler climates and it shows by its lighter color. Younger German wines, without the breeding of the great areas in that country, will be a whiteish straw color.
As for the nose, it is difficult to distinguish the run of the mill wines which have little or almost no pronounced aroma. But some of the better wines will respond by filling the room with a great bouquet literally as soon as they are opened. They tell you they are ready to be enjoyed. There are wines with a nose so wonderful that I have had tasters tell me it was a shame the wine had to be drunk. We had one like that at the recent Spanish wine tasting.
As for the flavor, your mind and your tongue will be the best judge of its pleasure with the wine but there are several things to look for. Do not attempt to deceive yourself into believing that when a bottle tastes vinegary or has an odd garbage like flavor it is the fault of your tasting apparatus. It is not. It is simply a bad bottle that has admitted air somewhere along the line and has spoiled. Take it back and your wine merchant should replace it.
Another characteristic of bad wine is described by the term "corky." This is a musty flavor and is a symptom of a cork that does not fit as tightly as it should and therefore develops a mouldy taste. That too should be taken back, or in a restaurant sent back and replaced by the seller. Do not try to kid yourself that good wines taste mouldy. They don't.
Finally, do not make excuses for brown colored wine, garbage like odors or corky bottles. After you have drunk enough wines to learn the difference between good and bad you will never again tolerate an off-bottle, nor should you. Just as you expect bad products purchased in a grocery store or a dress shop or from a car dealer to be made right, you should expect the wine you buy to be what the vinter says it is. And if your package store will not make it right, take your business someplace else. In buying wine, as in any other purchase, the customer should always be right.