What’s the difference between a Merlot from Napa Valley, and a Syrah from Sydney? If a “blush” is a mix of red and white, then why can’t I just mix red and white wines? What’s the big deal with wine anyway?
I often hear these kinds of questions and more, from those who have little experience with tasting and drinking wine. And I can understand their confusion to a certain degree, but wine has been a lifelong passion of mine. You see, my father grew up in the Champagne region of France, where the refinement of wine has been a staple of that part of the world for hundreds of years. So I grew up, listening to tales of his childhood, running around hundreds of acres of vineyards. Of course, those tales involved getting drunk and often getting into trouble, due to the fact that France, despite its bureaucracy and rules, exhibits far more freedom in the official drinking age, than here in America. I listened to these stories, and I learned from them, and when I became an adult of my own, I continued to pursue and expand my knowledge of wine. Now, I wish to share some of that knowledge with you, so even if you aren’t a wine expert, you won’t be left clueless at your next dinner party.
Why is it that when people taste wine, they look ridiculous? Wine tasting is ritualistic; remember, wine is just not to drink, it is something to experience. That ritual helps promote that experience. But there is also a science behind it as well. The next time a glass of grape is put in front of you, take a small sip. Don’t swallow immediately. Instead, let the wine sit on your tongue for a moment. Inhale through your mouth to bring in oxygen. The tannins within the wine dry out your mouth, which forces your saliva glands to start working. This doesn’t sound exactly pleasant I know, but that dryness causes your tongue to sweat, and when that happens, the taste buds on your tongue to go wild. Sending in a small amount of oxygen causes those flavors within the wine to swirl, acclimating all of your mouth with the array of tastes wine has to offer. Then, get your drink on. If you have a good wine, each sip will taste progressively better, as the flavors continue to fill your mouth. A few sips of good wine will get you satisfyingly warm for the entire evening. This is how people are able to go through several bottles at a wine tasting, and not get completely drunk. Keep in mind, wine is meant to be enjoyed, not get you smashed. Of course, you can get smashed if you want to, and trust me, there has been many a night where my cup runneth over, so to speak.
As for what type of wine to get, that’s something better left to your own discretion. It’s dependent on the situation of course, where you are, what the occasion is, and who is actually serving the wine. Whites tend to have fruity, citrusy flavors, and are often sweet and zesty. They also tend to be more wet than red wines, although many white wines are dry as well. Red wines lean more to having earthy flavors, like wood and nuts and spices. Red wines too can be sweet, but their sweetness is a rich one; many good reds have a chocolaty hint to them that I have always appreciated. Traditionally, they are also more warm-tasting than white wine, which is why red wine is often served at close to room temperature, while white is usually chilled. Blushes or Rosé wine is also often chilled, to enhance its crispness. These light pink varieties are gaining strength in the market, rising as a result of more successful red and white grape hybridizations in recent years. They tend to be very, very sweet, a more ideal drink for late summer, rather than the chilly winter.
These were just a few tips and tricks of the trade. Hopefully, I have better acquainted you with the in’s and out’s of wine, so at least if you’re not a true wine expert, you can fake it well enough the next time someone asks you what you think of the wine.