Wine. It has been around for millennia. It’s great at parties. It’s a fantastic choice for the beach. It’s a lovely picnic companion. It makes food taste better. It makes you feel all warm and sexy and delicious inside. It has been a preferred libation for ceremonies, rituals, celebrations and worship by several cultures for, like, ever. Dionisus. Geshtinana. Bachus. They all seem like fun loving dudes that like to party. So if wine is all about the fun and sexy good times, why the culture that promotes and respects the upturned nose and aristocratic (lame) behaviour? How did drinking wine become a playground for snobbery and pompous ego jousting?
I don’t really know. Maybe in the future after getting lost in research we’ll get into that but for now I can say that usually, most snobs are just assholes. It’s that simple. Often times, those practices and objects that we hold as valuable are socio-culturally developed because long long ago some far too wealthy dick-wad (usually a king) was bored. He'd come up with some ridiculous practice or import something from far away enough that it could only be available to him and perhaps some of his douche bag friends. Then they could feel all important like.
Snobby wine culture is simply an attachment to an outdated, traditionalist and exclusivist world view. Get over it. It’s not 'cool' to know what kind of wine you like. You’re not better because you have a ‘developed palate’. It’s like picking your favourite colour. It’s personal. And when you start off, your favourite colour just might be something that repulses you later in life as your tastes and opinions change. I know I loved bubble gum pick when I was a child, and now I fluctuate between taupe and aquamarine. I’m not being pretentious by being particular. That’s just what I like to look at now. It’s pretty to me! I mean, you wouldn’t go around turning your nose up at some girl that likes pink because she just discovered colour, would you? Shithead.
So now that we all feel good about not ever being shitty wine snobs, here’s a little tutorial on the basics of wine and how to taste it when other people are looking at you.
So you’re at a restaurant with your date and you begin the sweat inducing process of wine selection. But since you read this article (there are some handy tips toward the end), you’re feeling a little more confident and you select a nice syrah. Ok, everything is cool. You make light conversation about the menu, comment on the weather and then ffffffuuuuuuck, your server is coming back with your bottle of wine. It’s time to taste it. This can be extremely awkward if you don’t really know what the fuzz is going on. Why do you have to participate in this ridiculous ritual anyway? You just want to get tipsy and flushed and maybe bone later. Fuck. It’s all about to get embarrassing. Your confidence is on the line. Confidence is sexy. Can you be confident? What if you don’t do it right? Fuck.
Fear not. It’s very simple. Your server is merely here to give you a taste so you don’t get stuck with a bottle that tastes like vinegar and nail polish remover. Here’s the dance that happens and how to not get stuck with two left feet.
STEP 1. THE PRESENTATION
Whoever orders the wine gets to taste it. Your server will present your wine to you. This really is only to make sure you haven’t been brought the wrong bottle. That sucks. Your server will offer you a cork. You can smell it if you want. It doesn’t really mean much. Ignore that step. It’s old fashioned. And most wines are switching to screw caps because cork trees are dwindling in numbers. A corked wine is simple referring to a wine what wasn’t sealed properly, some air snuck in and the wine continued to ferment. Hence nasty nail varnish stank.
Ok here comes your turn. Ready? GO!
Step 2. GET YOUR SWIRL ON
Your server will pour a small taste of your wine. Hold your glass by its base or stem and swirl the shit out of that baby. Don’t be shy. It won’t spill. The reason for this is to “open up” your wine. It’s been sitting in a freakin bottle for YEARS! Swirling it around adds air and gets those molecules moving around. Its like tasting cheese. Cold cheese is good or whatever, but if you let it sit for a while at room temperature, you can really taste all the complexities and awesomeness it has to offer. Some wine-os check for legs at this point. All they’re looking at is the alcohol evaporation rate when they do this. The longer the wine takes to ooze down the side of the glass, the lower the alcohol content because alcohol evaporates quickly leaving sugar behind. Not a necessary step. But now you know.
Step 3. THE NOSE JOB
Stick your face into your glass. What you’re doing is preparing your mouth to taste your wine. Your olfactory senses greatly enhance your sense of taste so the better whiff you get, the better you’ll be at deciphering whether or not your wine is about to blow your freakin' mind or not.
Step 4. DOWN THE HATCH
Drink wine! Some wine-y types will let the wine sit at the back of the tongue and suck air into their mouths. This all has to do with the type of taste buds we have at the back of the tongue. They taste different elements in food and drink. And the air suck? More oxygen = more ability to taste. If you really want to do this, go ahead. But it’s really not necessary and if you haven’t practiced, you may run the chance of choking on your wine. Unsexy. You can tell pretty well if you like the wine or not just by swishing it around and swallowing it.
STEP 4½. DECIDE IF YOU WANT TO DRINK THIS WINE
Tell your server it’s great (or gross), and you’re done! Easy!
No need to stress. Swirl, smell, taste, nod. Or send it back if it tastes like rubbing alcohol.
Drink wine, speak freely.
People who do all the little extra steps are usually just wine nerds. They have drank enough wine in their time that they notice little things. They like to look for subtle nuances. Its fun for them. But if taking 10 minutes to assess a glass of wine, swirling it around in your mouth, and expunging it into a spittoon isn’t your idea of a party, don’t bother. It’s not imperative for having a great time and drinking good wine.
A COUPLE QUICK NOTES ON TASTE BUDS
DRY VS SWEET
This one fucked me up for a long time. How can a drink, which is inherently wet by definition, be dry? Well, dry, when talking wine, is referring to sugar content, not how wet it is in your mouth. Basically, when wine is fermented, a certain amount of sugar is left over in the process. Vitners (wine makers) can do many things to alter how much residual sugar is left in the wine, from leaving the grapes on the vine longer, shortening the fermentation process and adding sugars to fortify wine. So less residual sugar means a drier wine. From dry we move along the sugar meter to off dry, semi-sweet and sweet wines.
Tannins are a natural element found in grape skins, stems and leaves. They are what make wine taste bitter and astringent. Why would anybody want that in a drink? For many of the same reasons that craft beer lovers can’t seem to get enough skunky hops. Tannins add character and complexity to a wine that might otherwise taste a little bit too simple. Tannins split the flavour so that different taste buds on your tongue are accessed and thus your senses have a more engaging experience.
You can recognize when you are drinking a high tannic wine when the middle of your tongue and the roof of your mouth have a sensation mildly resembling sucking on rubber. Sometimes when you eat grapes, you get the same feeling. It’s weird, but it has a purpose when integrated properly.
Wine is like any other food or drink when it comes to developing taste buds. When we were kids, we wanted sugar and starch. Now we actually like eating brussels sprouts and asparagus. What happened? I don’t know. It’s something science-y and unimportant at this point. The pertinent info is that wine behaves the same. Almost every wine drinker of this and recent generations will begin with syrupy Shiraz and sticky sweet Riesling or Gewurtztraminer. That’s because it tastes like sugar! It’s yummy! It only makes sense to begin here. But as your taste buds change, many people find that they are oddly drawn to more tannic, dry and acidic wines. Don’t be fooled though. Just because a wine is on the sweeter side, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have character or complexity, it just means it’s less dry. This is where you get to taste a million wines so you know which sweeter wines are fucking fabu and which ones taste like purple grape drink crystals.
The point is, drink what you freakin like and don't be afraid to try mysterious things you can't pronounce. That’s what life is about! Trying wine is fun. And drinking wine is really fun.
Happy Holidays, Homies! ❄️
Some Time in the Future:
Wine Varietals and What They Mean