We're going to go through a few very important wine basics as the new year begins.




There are many wine folks out there who have, for example, not taken the time to go through the beginning steps of how to truly evaluate wine. This drill, elementary as it might seem, really enhances the appreciation of wine on just about every level. This step-by-step approach to evaluation is one of the first things I teach my students at the university. Here we go!




It is important to understand that wine is simply another food group not unlike seafood or stir fry (well, I don't know if you'd call these "food groups" but you get my drift). If we think of wine as something different or "special" from cuisine, you will fall into a trap that a lot of wine snobs get into: wine elitism, which can get really nasty.




Wine is, for lack of a better basic definition, 25 ounces or so of fermented grape juice. If we keep this in mind, we should have clear sailing when purchasing and evaluating vino. Make it simple and don't get carried away by point systems or glossy hype from the wine press.




Okay, here's the basic evaluation techniques when we see wine in the glass:




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162; Sight: Wine should be clear in the glass. For seeing clarity, we need a clear and clean glass. This might sound elementary but you'd be surprised at how many tinted wine glasses there are out there. They seem pretty but are useless for the true evaluation of wine.




Try to find a glass that has a big bowl and a narrow opening so that swirling can rock along without spilling and also so that the nose flavors can concentrate at the top. The wine should not have haze or hunks of stuff floating around doing the backstroke. We should also not see any browning in the wine. A bit of tawny in an older wine is fine but browning (not amber as in older, sweeter wines) might show us an oxidation problem. This is not good on any level. Clean and clear is the ticket.




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162; Smell: This is the big one. We can tell almost everything about a glass of wine by the "nose" of the wine. Just about any defects in the wine will be sensed by the nose. Not unlike old seafood or stale bread, "bad" stuff (this isn't the time to go into all of the problems we can have in wine) really comes out in the nose or bouquet pretty quickly. The issue is to swirl the wine in the glass (half full) until all of the flavors are up and out directly to the nose.




Take your time and really evaluate what it is that you are smelling. If the wine has any flavors not associated with clean fruit or spicy oak, be suspicious of the vino. We can feel that perhaps the wine might be too fruity or lacking in fruit but this would not be a flaw &

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but the pathogenic smells are the trick to find.




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162; Taste: The complexities of taste are very deep and broad and are not to be taken lightly when we are evaluating a bottle of wine, especially an expensive bottle of wine. As we look at wine flavors, we understand that (for the most part) a particular wine varietal is, well, supposed to taste like that varietal. Sometimes "fancy" wine making can mask or, on the other hand, enhance the flavors of a particular grape variety.




We see grape growers having fun in the vineyard with yields, canopy manipulation and tight pruning (among other things) to get as much flavor and length from certain grapes, and this will drastically alter the taste of these varieties. Soil variations, growing seasons and where the specific grape is grown, besides wine grower technique, will vastly alter like varietals from glass to glass. It is not uncommon for five chardonnay (for example) in one tasting to taste vastly different from each other for these reasons! This is what makes the world of wine so fascinating.




More on "taste" next week.