Saturday, October 14, 2006

How to Taste Wine and Live to Tell the Tale

So you want to be a wine snob (why else would you be reading this column?). There are a lot of things that go into being a wine snob. An insufferably superior attitude is essential. An arcane knowledge of obscure wines that nobody’s ever heard of is indispensable. But most importantly, you have to know how to taste wine. Can’t be that hard, right? Wrong.

The biggest mistake that wannabe wine snobs make is to go to a tasting or winery without proper knowledge of how to taste. Nothing exposes you as a knuckle-dragging wine Neanderthal quicker than improper tasting technique. Remember, everybody is watching everyone else taste. If they notice the slightest weakness in your tasting technique, they will eat you alive – preferably with a nice Oregon pinot noir.

There is an entire ritual to tasting wine, not all that different from a Japanese tea ceremony, and you have to follow it to the letter if you want to live.

The first step in tasting is to examine the color of the wine. This visual inspection will tell you if you are drinking a white wine or a red wine. The proper technique is to tip the glass at an angle and stare intently (preferably with one eye closed) at where the wine meets the glass. To look really knowledgeable, do this while holding a white sheet of paper behind the glass. This will give you an idea of the density and color of the wine. Denser wines tend to be more full-bodied.

For red wines, pinot noir (PEE-no NWAHR) tends to be one of the lightest. You should be able to easily see through the wine. Really dense varieties include syrah (sir-RAH) and especially petite sirah (which can be absolutely inky). Is the color more purple or more red? Older wines tend to take on a brick red color, while young wines tend to be purplish or dark ruby.

For white wines, chardonnays should have a nice golden color, not too different from your last drug test. Lighter wines like sauvignon blanc (so-veen-YON BLAHN) and pinot grigio (PEE-no GREE-geo) should be more straw colored, not too different from the last drug test that you tried to doctor with tap water.

If the wine is pink, you’re wasting your time on tasting technique. Just down that swill and get on with getting juiced.

Spend a good minute giving the wine “the eye” while making critical faces. Tilt the glass at different angles. Switch eyes. Make “hmmmm” sounds. The more eccentric you look, the more knowledgeable you’ll appear. If you’re surrounded by besotted ignoramuses and want to look like an expert, hold the glass up to the light and gaze thoughtfully through the wine. Be warned, though, that if you do this in the presence of real wine snobs, they may break out the pinot noir because they know that indoor lighting will affect your perception of the wine’s true color.

Now you’ve successfully examined the wine’s color without sacrificing your life. Good work! Time to toss it back, right? You wish. There’s plenty more ritual to go before you can get started on that buzz. Unfortunately, we’re out of space for this week.

Next week: Smelling the wine (Yeah, we won’t actually get to tasting the wine for three or four more weeks. Hey, you want to live or not?).

Wine of the Week

Louis Guntrum Penguin Eiswein
Eiswein (ICE-vine) is a very concentrated sweet white dessert wine made from grapes picked and pressed when the temperature is below freezing. The resulting juice is highly concentrated. Eiswein's are orignially from Germany, but Canada also makes notable eisweins. Well-made eiswein's are like pure nector: dense, sweet, and pure. Not everyone likes eiswein, but everyone should try it at least once. You might find it an experience close to heaven. The Louis Guntrum Penguin Eiswein is one that's pretty darn close to heaven. Amazingly smooth, sweet, nector-like - just like an eiswein should be. The only place I know that you can get this locally is by the glass at Monks Wine Bar, downtown. $12 a glass might seem expensive, but this stuff goes for $60 for a half bottle - and in my opinion, it's worth it. For a real slice of heaven, have it with the cheesecake. Four and a half stars.

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