Wine Tasting 101–Read All About It
Paul Kreider’s book Uncorked: The Novice’s Guide to Wine ($15, Turner Publishing, 2011) may not earn you your somm pin but it will certainly get you through any wine-tasting event, wine dinner or winery tour. It will also help you navigate wine purchasing, wine clubs and tricky wine convos (natural or synthetic corks—discuss). But where Krieder excels is in making sense of winemaking and evaluating. If you’re still getting your syrah crossed with your petit syrah, Kreider, a winemaker and wine consultant, comes to the rescue with 202 pages of straight talk about winemaking, wine appreciation, cellaring and even what to do with leftover wine, God forbid. His dry humor regarding wine snobbery breaks the ice for neophytes and refreshes the enthusiast. For example, see what Kreider has to say about the etiquette of spitting out wine at a public tasting:
Spitting in Public
First, locate the spitting receptacle. After you have taken the wine into your mouth and done your tasting of its components, pick up the receptacle and bring it to your mouth and gently expectorate. If the receptacle is too large and heavy, you are allowed to bend your head to the receptacle and gently expectorate into it. The objective is to get rid of the wine with as little noise as possible. Don’t be surprised if you get a reaction from your fellow tasters, something like “Eew!” or “Yuck!” You may be comfortable offering the explanation, “I’m going to a big wine tasting and want to save my sobriety.” Now you know.
Wine Tasting 201–Sage Advice From the Somms
“First, nose the wine, pick up any nuances—floral, fruits, spices—then reconfirm on the palate, but also sense certain textures and intensities.” – Robert Smith, master sommelier and wine director, Picasso in Bellagio
“When ordering wine in a restaurant, feel free to ask the sommelier for advice. And it is OK to tell them the price point that you are looking for. A discreet way to do this is to point at a price on the list and say that you are looking for something ‘in that range.’” – Jason Smith, master sommelier and wine director, Bellagio
“I believe that to taste wine, one needs to learn the basic knowledge of wine, especially geography. So, in order to approach a wine-tasting course one needs to read and read before tasting. Get your friends together and practice with each other.” – Phil Park, sommelier, Restaurant Guy Savoy in Caesars Palace
“Relax. Remember: You are just tasting wine. Swirl, sniff and slurp. A quick look, smell and taste should let you know right away if the wine is good and if you like it. There is a great website I look to for events around town: LocalWineEvents.com.” – Harley Carbery, wine director, Joël Robuchon and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in the MGM Grand
“When doing a wine tasting with no food involved, it is recommended to start with the red wines and not with the whites! Why? Because the white wines have more acidity than the reds and this acidity would stimulate your taste buds. If you are tasting some red wines after this, the tannins only contained in red wines would be sensed too much by your tongue and your ability to taste would be affected and not objective because all you can taste is tannin. The acidity and sugars could not be felt.” – Alexandre Brard, sommelier and wine director, Morels in Palazzo
“When beginning a wine-tasting course, the most important thing to remember is to relax. There are no rigid right or wrong answers, and what you experience from a wine is your own personal journey. We all start somewhere, and being a true oenophile is respecting that it is a lifelong process. Every year is different. Regions grow, winemakers experiment with different clones and winemaking techniques. This is truly a never-ending education, which is what drew me to this profession originally. Everyone can enjoy wine. Surround yourself with open-minded individuals and explore the wine world together.” – Krista Rediske, sommelier, Rao’s in Caesars Palace
Wine Tasting 301–Is This Wine Corked?
The chemical compound 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole (TCA for short) can cause your wine to become tainted or “corked.” But only once the bottle is open would you be able to discover this. “TCA contamination usually comes from corks,” says Yukiko Kawasaki, sommelier at Yellowtail in Bellagio. However, “it can also come from barrels, other cooperage or from wood within the cellar, including walls or beams.” The somm lays it out for us:
Look: After the bottle is opened, first look at the condition of the cork. When the cork is very dry, there is a high possibility the wine is corked.
Smell: The wine will smell moldy, musty and not attractive. If the TCA is a low level, it usually declares as a flat taste with little or no change in the aroma.
Taste: On the palate, it will be an astringent, sour taste lacking in fruit with a harsh finish.
Confirm: It is absolutely all right to return a bottle of corked wine. We encourage guests to bring it to our attention if they are not happy with their bottle of wine. As a somm, it is our job to ensure guests are satisfied with their selections. The proper way is to politely mention your observations and ask to speak to the sommelier and modestly request a replacement bottle.
Wine Tasting 401–Take It to the Boards
You are now a lean, mean wine-evaluating machine. And you have your hands full: wine glass, UNLVino program, pen, camera, napkin full of cheese cubes—this will never do! You need a Tasting Board (pictured, left). A cross between a clipboard and one of those snazzy buffet plates that holds your wine glass at picnics, the Tasting Board gets your wine notes, pen and glass all in one place so you can keep a free hand for swirling, sniffing and slurping. Snobby? No. Civilized? Overwhelmingly. $28-$30, TastingBoards.com.