Well, another Christmas has come and gone. I always get a little sad once it’s over – we have to wait a whole other year to absent ourselves from regular life and soak up the slower pace that comes with Christmas Day. I know there are often other opportunities to take a break or go on vacation, but it’s not the same as feeling the world slow down in unison like on December 25th. Even if you don’t celebrate the day, the slowness and the pause is a nice offshoot of our Christian-established society.
So, now that it’s over, what do we do?
We celebrate the coming year, of course!
I know I’m not alone in feeling like 2016 was a tough, difficult year. On the macro level we were faced with Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, Orlando, Syria, and the loss of a hurtful number of artistic icons. On the micro level I personally felt incredibly challenged by career-related and mental health issues and while I’m taking action to (hopefully!) make some positive changes, I find myself feeling a bit raw as 2016 draws to a close. So I’ve decided I’ll be celebrating the new year with open arms and using the evening of the 31st to give 2016 a swift kick in the butt. Good riddance to this awful year! It’s served its purpose I guess, and I’m ready for better things.
I’ve talked in the past about how to taste wine in general, but it recently occurred to me that I haven’t talked about how I, specifically, go about tasting a new wine.
I should preface this by saying that this isn’t how I taste wine every time I open a bottle. There are definitely some days where I come home from work, pour myself a glass, and turn my brain off as I laze back on the couch, happy that the day is over. In those instances the wine is merely there as a delicious cherry on top of a relaxing, television-filled evening. I mean cake. Or something.
But when I am being intentional about my wine, when I really want to get to know it, this is how I taste.
How I Taste
I don’t usually pair food with the wine. Some might think this is an error, but when I’m meeting a wine for the first time I want to meet just the wine, not how the wine affects or is affected by food. It’s like meeting a blind date – I want to know how they act around me before getting to know how they act at a party.
I’m usually alone. Sad, I know! There are many people in my life who share my love of wine, but I can’t always find someone to sample a new bottle with me on a random Tuesday night.
I usually do it at home, on the couch, in front of the tv, with my macbook in front of me, jotting down anything that comes to mind as I sip, sniff and swirl.
I start by looking at the colour. I love wines that are so dark they become opaque, and ones that take on a purpleish tone – Malbecs and Carménères from Chile and Argentina often look like this.
Then I give the wine a good sniff. Often when I’m tasting I’ve just opened a bottle so getting something off the nose is a challenge for me. I often feel like I should pour the glass and let it sit for a bit, but in all honesty I’m an incredibly impatient person and can’t usually resist starting the process once the wine is poured and sitting next to me.
Next, and FINALLY, I get to taste it! I alternate between taking quick sips and long ones because the flavour can change depending on the two. While sipping I think about and try to discern the differences in flavour depending on where on my tongue the wine is hitting. I also pay attention to the flavour I’m left with as I swallow (the finish) and how lingering the wine is once it’s gone. I love when a wine stays with you!
Let’s be real. Some days I can’t get past ‘yep, tastes like wine’. And actually, I read an article recently that mentioned a study where they concluded that you can’t really taste more than three or four things in one go. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel MUCH better about times when I’m able to get much off a wine.
That being said, I do love the endless possibilities of flavour and enjoyment that come with each bottle. It’s a game I like to play. What am I actually tasting here? What’s going on on my tongue right now? And when I get stuck (because I do get stuck – OFTEN!) I do as Jancis Robinson says and try to pay attention to the dimensions of the wine, asking myself “how tough/tart/powerful/sweet/ready is it?”
I try to be methodical about tasting, mostly because I get a kick out of that process and am genuinely interested in the world of wine, with all its complications and vagaries.
I’m nowhere near these guys though, they take tasting to a whole other level. Underripe green mango? Crushed hillside?? FRESHLY OPENED CAN OF TENNIS BALLS?! COME ON!!
No, I fully acknowledge that the only real question worth asking is – do I like it? The rest is simply learning ways of learning whether you do/don’t or will/won’t like a wine.
I recently went home for the weekend to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. She’s celebrating a milestone birthday this year so I made an extra effort to go home – and also because I had a feeling that my Stepdad would pull out some delicious wines from his cellar to mark the occasion!
Weekends like these are always a treat – it’s great to see my family, nice to celebrate a special occasion, and a big treat to taste wines from the cellar. My stepdad has been collecting for years and has great taste, which means I have the great pleasure of tasting amazing wines I would not at all be able to afford, even if I found them.
We kicked off the weekend in fine fashion with these lovely wines:
double our pleasure!
We didn’t make it to that second bottle of La Playa, but believe me that both wines were delicious and went very well with the cheese and baguette we noshed on and the hoisin-glazed salmon we had for dinner.
Of course, this was all preamble to the big celebration the next night.
We started the party off with some Champagne – ooh la la!
From there we moved on to a lovely sparkling from Kew winery in Niagara. I thought this wine was quite lovely and plan to add the winery to my list of places to visit on my next Niagara trip.
A couple of glasses of bubbly in and it was time to move into the dining room for the main event!
even our table decor is wine-y
On deck was shrimp remoulade to start and then roast lamb, cauliflower gratin, roast potatoes, and broccoli, all to be accompanied with three French reds pulled from the cellar.
not pictured – my drool
On further label inspection we noticed that all three wines were GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre) which worked out very well – this blend is my mom’s favourite! Happy birthday to her!
The first red was a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and it was my favourite of the night. The flavour was so smooth that it had a velvety quality to it – something I don’t taste a lot in wines I come across, but a trait I love.
The second red was another Frenchie, and I thought this one tasted more like a typical GSM. It was hearty and confident in flavour and I found it slightly tannic but not so much that it gave me that mouth-puckering sensation. My mom and I compared the first two wines a bit and realized that, while I favoured the first one, she liked this one better. Just goes to show how personal wine can be – different strokes and all that!
Even though I don’t have an individual pic of it, we did manage to open the third bottle. However, after the Champagne and the sparkling and the two other reds and the delicious food (including birthday cake!) I don’t remember much from this wine except that it had good body and that I liked it. This might possibly a shame, but at the end of the day it was still enjoyed!
All in all it was a very enjoyable (and delicious) visit home. It’s always good to take some time to enjoy the things you love – in my case, food, family, and wine!
one of the corks from the weekend – great colour!
Have you treated yourself to any special wines lately?
I have to be honest with you, I love me some bubbles.
A few years ago I went through an extensive bubbly phase. Bubbly for any occasion, big or small (and sometimes made up), bubbly with any food imaginable (I still stand by that one), bubbly at any time of day/night/year.
I defy you to pop open a bottle with some popcorn or potato chips and not tell me I just blew your mind. Bubbles really are the best!
But – and pay attention, because this is important – not all bubbly is Champagne.
Say it with me now – not all bubbly is Champagne!
There are many kinds of sparkling wine out there, but only a very small section of it is Champagne. Champagne is sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of France. Made from mainly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, it also involves some very particular methods of production. In fact, the Champagne wine-making community is pretty feisty about it – they even created a professional association to formally set the rules of making Champagne. Serious business!
I know what you’re thinking. If the wine makers in Champagne are that intense about what they do nothing else must be able to compare, right? Wrong. There is a lot of sparkling wine out there that doesn’t come from Champagne, and let me tell you – it’s delicious!
Cava is sparkling wine that comes from Spain. I love Cava because I find it more dry and less sweet than other sparklings. Cavas also have the added advantage of being much less expensive than Champagnes.
Sparkling wine from Italy. I find Prosecco sweeter than other sparklings, and (though I have no scientific evidence to back this up) I find the bubbles to be a little bigger, which isn’t my preference. Of course, I will take most any bubbly over any other drink, so take that as you will. Like Cavas, Proseccos tend to be on the more affordable end of the scale.
Crémants are sparkling wines that come from anywhere else in France other than Champagne. Among others, there is Crémant d’Alsace (from the Alsace, duh), Crémant de Loire (from the Loire region just southwest of Paris), and, my favourite, Crémant de Bourgogne (from the Burgundy). I love Crémants because their bubbles are so small, the lovely dry wine just fizzes on your tongue and then drifts away. As soon as I finish I a sip I want more! I heartily suggest keeping an eye out for these wines at your local LCBO. While generally more expensive than Cava or Prosecco, a good Crémant still won’t set you back as far as a bottle of Champagne would.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the solid sparkling wines our own country’s winemakers create. Canadian sparklings can be delicious and I recommend giving them a try, especially the ones from the Niagara region. My only caveat here is that Canadian sparklings, while delicious, are fairly high priced – they usually fall between Crémants and Champagnes on the price scale.
My family was a liberal one by North American standards, and as soon as I turned twelve I had crossed the threshold into acceptable wine-drinking territory. My family began offering a tipple of vino as part of the weekly ritual – it was at my Grandmother’s dining table that I began developing my palate.
It might not be a surprise that I didn’t like wine much at those dinners. The taste was often overpowering, or bitter, or just downright unpleasant on my tongue. But, like coffee and olives, I acquired the taste and eventually came to love the flavour of fermented grapes.
Even though I’d been tasting for a while, it wasn’t until meeting my Stepdad that I got serious about wine. An experienced wino himself, he introduced me to the five Premier Cru wines of France, taught me how to choose a wine based on my personal taste and budget, and demystified how and why to choose a bottle to cellar. In short, he turned me from casual admirer to lifelong learner and full-in enthusiast.
I have spent many hours and many bottles in the last few years sipping and learning, and have added winery tours and structured tastings to my self-made roster of wine lessons. Now that I’m well on the path to wine nirvana I want to bring my novice knowledge to the wider world and get to know other wine geeks out there who are just like me.