As college students, our social lives tend to be accompanied by beers and grain alcohol — wine makes little or no appearance in most of our weekends. It is a misconception, however, to think that wine is only for the pretentious and snooty. Wine and beer serve very different functions. I enjoy a beer, or hell, even a cup of jungle juice, as much as the next girl when I’m at a frat party. But on the nights when I want to relax and kick it, there is nothing more delicious than a glass of wine.
As much as I’d like to say you can buy any bottle of wine at Broadway Liquor and drink it out of a plastic cup, my integrity insists that I tell the truth. Wine takes a little more effort to enjoy, but worry not: The steps of wine tasting are simple, and the rewards are more than worth it. If you can mix a batch of jungle juice, you can definitely enjoy a glass of wine.
First things first: Do not buy wine from Broadway Liquor. Ever. Just don’t do it. Instead, visit Wine Thief, located between Crown and Temple streets. Selecting a good bottle of wine is hard when you’re just beginning, but the folks at Wine Thief make it easy. After you’ve decided on red or white and what your budget will be (there’s no need to spend more than $15 a bottle), ask the people at Wine Thief for a recommendation. All of their wines are very good, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable.
Generally, all wines should be drunk at a temperature between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. You do not want the wine to be any warmer, or else it will oxidize and turn acetic; any cooler and the wine will not give off any volatiles, leaving you with a scentless glass of wine (more on that later).
Remove the foil, either by hand or with a foil cutter. Uncork the bottle — this step may seem stupidly obvious, but I will confess that I broke many corks before grudgingly investing seven dollars in a better corkscrew. I advise you to do the same. Floating pieces of cork do not belong in a glass of wine.
After you’ve poured yourself a glass (around ¼ of the wine glass), take a minute to note the color of the wine. For example, German Reislings tend to be a greenish yellow, while a Spanish Albariño is a golden yellow.
Swirl the wine around the glass in order to release the scent. Smelling wine is just as important as tasting. Because wine is volatile and contains a complex set of flavors, each type of wine has a different scent. Depending on the year and the region, scents of the same kind of wine will change. Differences like this keep wine interesting. It is also why a bottle that is produced from a terroir or domain is infinitely preferable to a wine that is mass produced, like Yellowtail, though it is not a bad wine for everyday consumption.
Identifying the different smells in a glass of wine is extremely difficult, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t immediately distinguish the individual components. A Reisling might have citrus scents, while an Albariño might smell of lemon and honey. You don’t even need to go that far if you’re simply enjoying a glass of wine with friends — simply give it a good sniff, and move on to the tasting.
Give your glass one last swirl, and take a good mouthful. You want a fairly large sip so that the wine can fill your mouth and move over all your taste buds. Again, identifying the different flavors of a wine is difficult. Even professional tasters disagree over certain notes. However, you can give a basic description of a wine with only a few key words. Is the wine dry or sweet? A wine that is too dry, or acidic, is tart, while a wine that does not have enough dryness is flabby. The happy medium is called crisp. Cheap wines are often cloyingly sweet, without enough acidity to balance it. A good wine will have a balance of sweetness and acidity.
Weight is another important aspect of wine. Is your wine full, medium, or light-bodied? The weight of a wine depends on the alcohol content. A full-bodied wine has at least 13 percent alcohol content, and a light-bodied wine has less than 10 percent. An easier way to distinguish body is the weight of the wine in your mouth. How intense are its flavors? Does the wine taste watery?
Wine is complex enough to be a full-time hobby, but for those of you who are cooler than me and have real interests, you can simply take it for what it is: a drink. I’d still suggest that you sneak in a swirl and sniff, but you do not need to extrapolate on the myriad of flavors in front of your other cool friends.
And that’s all there is to wine tasting — it may sound a little complicated at first, but like other many things in life, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. In other words, the more you seek out good wine and taste it, the easier it will be to learn more about wine. As Jean Michel, general manager of Union League Café, wisely says: “Wine does not come to you. You must come to the wine.”