We all know someone who when presented with a glass of the good stuff spends the first five minutes swirling it around and offering tasting notes that no one asked for (“I’m getting cinnamon, I’m getting rosemary, I’m getting Pinoclean”).
No one wants to be that person.
And yet I have to admit that I’d like to know just a modicum more about wine. After all, I like wine. A lot. That first crisp sip of a Pinot Grigio, that first fizz of Champagne, that first slurp of….something or other.
Fortunately, it turns out that appreciating wine - actually, properly, tasting wine - is easier than you might think, and it needn’t make you look totally pretentious.
I learnt this one particularly beautiful day in Tuscany while quaffing vino in an 12th century castle called Castello del Trebbio as part of a Trafalgar tour. As you do.
One of the estate owners, Alberto, welcomed our group from Trafalgar and ushered us in to the sort of impressive room (chandeliers? Tick. Roaring fire? Tick. Stained glass? Tick) that would not be out of place in a re-telling of Cinderella.
There, we gathered around a table laden with the estate’s renowned Chianti, and Alberto cheerfully taught us the basics of tasting red wine. He delivered his instructions with such passion and precision, they need to be shared:
Don’t pour too much into the glass
Overfilling a glass is the quickest and easiest mistake to make. Most wine glasses have a curve in the bowl. Pour wine up to about the point where the glass curves inwards. This stops the wine getting too warm and allows lots of air into the glass to really let it breathe.
Always hold the glass by the stem
Never, ever, ever by the actual glass unless you want to make an Italian cry. Finger marks on the glass stop you seeing the wine clearly (more on that later) and body heat will warm up the wine, which is a Very Bad Thing.
Check the colour
Tilt the glass on an angle until it’s nearly horizontal – is it light? Dark? A light red or a rich burgundy? This will tell you how old the wine is. A rough rule of thumb is the darker the liquid, the older the vintage.
Take the glass and swirl the wine around. You want the liquid to go up the sides of the glass without actually spilling out. Then quickly hold it up to the light and you’ll see trails of liquid running down the glass – these are called “legs”. The more “legs” a wine has, the more alcohol.
Taste the damn stuff
Now for the good part. Take a small sip and using your tongue swish it around your mouth. What does it taste like to start with? How does it finish? Now, this is the point where you don’t want to start pontificating like you really know the difference between the 2012 and the 2014. Just think about the taste and then swallow.
Here’s the easy part – enjoy your vino. But the emphasis here is on ‘enjoy’. Taste it, think about that flavour and savour it. After all, that’s how the Italians drink, in a considered, pleasurable way.
Made possible by Trafalgar