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The Wine Keyboard Guide to Learning to Taste Wine

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How to Taste Wine

Would you like to hone your wine tasting skills? Learn here how to taste and keep a personal record of the good and the bad at the same time.

Theories of wine tasting abound, but commonalities do exist. First, pour about four ounces of wine in a wine glass with a good bowl shape, one which, like some of our bodies, is wider in the middle and narrows at the top. This helps keep the wine in the glass and off your shirt when you swirl. It also concentrates the aromas rising up from your swirling.

Now that the wine is in the glass, you will want to focus mainly on three distinct qualities of the wine: the color, the aroma, and the palate. In that order please.

The color is best judged by tipping your glass slightly, to sort of spread out the wine, while you hold a blank piece of white paper behind the glass. (After several tastes, you might want to leave the paper on the table. Less coordination required.) White provides an especially sharp contrast to both red and white wine allowing you to pick up the subtleties of color. And now for a moment of duh. Color can be dark or light. Moment over. Don't stop at the obvious; think in ranges. Red wines can be brick, garnet, or crimson, and also orange or brown. White wines can appear yellow of course, but also yellow green, yellow brown, or opaque. There are also several other commonly used colors for both red and white wines. Your color descriptions really depend upon the size of your childhood crayola boxes.

You've poured some wine and you've held it over a paper to espy the color. Now for aroma and the infamous swirling. There are two main styles. In one, place the glass on the the table, holding the stem at the base and leaving the base on the table, rotate the base and glass with controlled vigor. It makes a bit of an annoying sound and is totally only for the advanced if the table top is not smooth. Too many bad things can happen, trust us. In the second method, holding the stem firmly in front of you - not too close though - rotate the glass with controlled vigor using mainly your wrist. This is not a yoga exercise or a butter churning motion, just a simple easy wrist rotation.

The purpose of swirling is to agitate all those aroma molecules in the confines of your glass so that when you then hold the glass up to your nose, you can better detect the aromas of the wine. Try a quick test. Just give the wine a deep in hale without swirling, then practice your swirl technique and see, ah well, smell the difference.

So what are you smelling? Large category descriptors such as berries, citrus, wood, flowers, and/or earth are good. But also try to hone the aromas down to the even more familiar. The particular berries you put on your cereal or in your protein shake - blueberries, raspberries, something else - the gravel in your backyard after a rain, the pineapple or star fruit at the Hawaiian buffet, cinnamon in your tea, tea itself, mushrooms from the farmers market, espresso pick me up, your favorite dark chocolate, butter on your toast, get the idea.

All right, you've eyeballed the wine, you've successfully swirled without embarrassment, and you've breathed deeply recording all of your newly expanded winespeak. Enough anticipation, now for the most fun part - the palate! Palate descriptors definitely overlap with aromas. Often what you smell, you will also taste. But the palate also refers to the feel of the wine in your mouth and to a larger sense of the wine. Okay, yes, the wine can have distinct berry flavor, but it may also be jammy, dry, acidic, or grassy. It might bring to mind a wet dog or a barnyard. It could be honeyed, concentrated, elegant or flat. Think of the palate as both the flavor and the feel, the taste and the overall being of the wine. Does it taste way too much one way without any balancing flavors? Do the flavors disappear or do you perceive them all along your palate?

Congratulations! You've analyzed four ounces of wine, but to what end? So many reasons. Primarily, just learning about wine and what you like or don't so much. Also, you may learn that although you dislike licorice or cloves or mushrooms, for example, you have really enjoyed wines to which those descriptors were applied. So by enabling yourself to describe more precisely the flavors you perceive when tasting, you will not only be able to identify those wines you might enjoy, but conversely also those you might want to avoid. This immensely fun to develop talent becomes very useful when shopping for wine, and equally so when pairing wine with food. Finally, wine is ultimately a social thing, yes? Social means shared and you most want to share the things which make you happy, so practice up and cheers!

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