For all of the casual wine drinkers out there, I have a couple of questions for you: how much do you actually know about wine, and have you often wondered how to tell what good wine is supposed to taste like? There is actually a lot you could learn about wine- some pursue a lifetime career in it! Sommeliers (pronounced suh-mel-E-yays, in case you’re wondering) are trained wine professionals that know everything about wine and food pairings and wine storage and service. Though it is a difficult title to acquire (and we’re not even talking about master sommeliers), we have some wine facts and tips that will impress your friends the next time you have a wine and cheese night at your place.
What Even Is Wine?
I would hope that you at least know that wine is an alcoholic drink that is traditionally made from fermented grapes. There are single-varietal wines and wine blends, which is pretty self-explanatory but just to be sure: single varietals are made from one grape variety while wine blends are mixtures of several wines together. Pretty much every continent in the world has a wine region, which all produce different varietals all depending on the climate.
(Apparently) Basic Wine Knowledge
Did you know there are five defining characteristics that make up each bottle of wine’s profile? Each type of wine has a different level of acidity, alcohol, body, sweetness and tannin.
Acidity is what makes up wine’s tart flavour, and it determines the ripeness of the grapes that were used in a specific bottle. The riper the grape, the less acidic the wine. This can actually give you some insight into what kind of climate the grapes were grown in too!
Alcohol contributes to wine’s aroma, viscosity and body. Have you ever felt warm from drinking a glass of wine? That’s the alcohol content! A warmer wine has a higher alcohol content.
Body helps you determine how light or bold a wine will taste (it’s why a term like “full-bodied” is often used to describe how a wine tastes.) All four characteristics of a kind of wine’s profile affect its body. Lighter wines are more acidic, but less sweet, have less tannin and lower alcohol content, while bolder wines are the opposite.
Sweetness refers to the amount of residual sugar left over from the fermentation process. Wine can range from bone dry to very sweet. Also, if you’re watching your sugar intake or are counting calories, keep in mind that the sweeter the wine, the more sugar and calories it has per glass.
Tannin is not actually a flavour, but rather a texture. It usually comes from grape skins, seeds and stems, but can also come from new oak barrels. To be able to taste it, focus on the feeling the wine leaves in your mouth. High tannin wines are typically paired with carb-heavy foods or cheeses because of the “grippy”, drying feeling it leaves in your mouth.
How To Taste Wine Like A Somm
There are three things to take in when you’re drinking wine: its look, its smell, and of course, its taste. First, let’s focus on what to look out for in your glass of wine: its colour (and how intense the colour is), its opacity and then its viscosity. To inspect the colour, tilt your glass at an angle: how pale or deep does it look? If it’s a deep gold white, that means its been aged longer in its oak barrel. Then we’re going to swirl it around to see how viscus the wine is. If the wine “legs” are sliding slowly down the glass, it means there is a higher alcohol content in that glass of wine.
Now, what about the smell? The more you swirl your wine the easier it is to define its aroma. Apparently moving your nose to different spots around your wine glass will help you pick up on different aromatic notes. For example, fruitier aromas are found toward the bottom of the glass while floral aromas are easier to pick up on at the top.
With taste, we’re going to reflect back on the five basic characteristics there are to wine. When you’re tasting wine, make sure your first sip coats your whole mouth. Afterwards, you can take smaller sips so you can have an easier time picking out flavours (this is also why the professionals spit between sips!) Where does the wine hit your palate the strongest? If it’s towards the front it is a sweeter wine, and if it makes your mouth water the wine is more acidic. Fun fact: the sensitivity of your tastebuds will affect how you can pick up the different flavours in wine.
How To Pair Your Wine With Cheese
Learning how to pair your wine with meals is actually quite challenging because there are many things to consider. The six things to consider with pairings are the following: fattiness, spiciness, bitterness, sweetness, acidity and saltiness. For example, a bitter wine won’t pair well with spicy food. To keep things simple, we’re going to focus on how to pair your wine with some delicious cheese. Prepare to be the ultimate charcuterie connoisseur!
Fresh, salty or sour cheeses, like feta and chèvre, pair best with sparkling wines, or light or aromatic whites. Pungent cheeses, like gorgonzola and stilton, are a match made in heaven with full-bodied red wines or very sweet dessert wines. Firm cheeses like Manchego and parmesan taste best with medium or full-bodied reds. If you’re a fan of brie, gruyere or Swiss cheeses, you’re in luck because they pair so brilliantly with almost every kind of wine varietal!