Tasting Wine Series (Intro) – Learning The Most You Can During A Tasting, Questions To Ask

Tasting wine is a blast. Whether you are in your own home or visiting wine country, it’s just fantastic, any day of the week. Here are some tips and tricks for you to maximize the experience of your wine tastings, and to keep in mind when drinking wine at home.

First let’s review a couple tricks I use while drinking wine at home, then we will go into best practices for tasting wines at the wineries.

I often take home a bottle of newly released wines from any of our 9 wineries so that I can stay on top of which wines are tasting best now, and which have the most potential down the road. This is an important part of what i do…but it’s a blast.

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TIPS FOR AT HOME TASTING:

1    Open the bottle 30 minutes before your meal if you’ve never tried it before, especially if it’s a single bottle that you picked up to taste, before purchasing more. Pour a half glass. Taste it immediately. Get your first impression. Then just set it on the counter, and give it a little spin, rolling the wine in the glass every 5 minutes or so until you’ve finished making your meal. Taste it again at that point.

Judge the differences in taste. Many times a big wine that is still young will be very tart straight out of the bottle. Giving it a 30 minute period to open up a bit in the glass, letting oxygen reach the wine, breaking down the tannins a bit, will often completely change the wines perceived flavor. If the results are favorable decant the wine left in the bottle (or at least as much as you think you will be drinking that night).

For red wines this is definitely preferred. Can also be done with big Chardonnay.

If the taste is great right off the bat, this is still very helpful. If after that 30 minutes in the glass the wine starts to diminish in quality, it’s recommended not to age the wine. Do not decant. It’s ready to drink as it is in the bottle. Recommended to drink within the next 2 years.

2    Initial taste of white wines should be done at room temperature (65-70 degrees). There are two reasons for this.
-Chilling a wine will hide alcohol.
-Chilled wine does not give off as much flavor or aromatics
You will have a much better idea of what a wine actually tastes like and get a much better impression of its quality/balance. Balance of alcohol and flavor components is typically more noticeable in whites.
WHEN I do drink white wine with a meal, I do chill it. So use the same 30 minute rule. Open whites up 30 minutes before dinner and taste it. Feel free at that point to throw it in the freezer for 15-20 minutes and your wine will be down to 45-55 degrees at that point. Keep in mind that even if a wine Is chilled initially, if you’re sitting on your porch on a hot summer evening, your glass of wine will warm considerably over the course of 30-45 minutes. So ensuring that your wine will taste great at room temperature is highly important.

3   Use good stemware. Wine classes have not changed shape for 100 years or so for good reason. The shape of wine classes are “tuned” just like an engine so that they give off as much aromatics as possible while you drink. Most of what we perceive as “taste” comes from smell. Trust me on this. You’d be shocked by a side by side taste test.

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TIPS FOR TASTINGS AT A WINERY:

1   Enjoy every bit of the experience!!!

2   Before buying anything, ask for a quick re-taste (revisit). This is where the fun stops and you turn on the sommelier side. I’ve been to a lot of tastings, tasted the wines, loved them, bought a whole bunch of wine, got home, opened a bottle…bleh…. What?…how?…Your emotions can get the better of you at wineries. They’re pretty, they’re exciting. Keep in mind that taste is first if your taking home wine.

3   If a wine tastes tart, the wine is probably quite young. Spin it in the glass a bit and ask about the wine.. (Questions below)This will give you a good impression of when it will be best in its life cycle as well. A small poor will open up quickly if you roll it in the glass for 5-10 minutes while talking.

4   Whites are typically poured very cold at wineries. Hold the glass in your hand to warm it up. Spin it around and let it heat up. You will be able to taste more when it’s warm, and really make a true judgment on the wines quality and judge the balance of its sugar levels/ alcohol integration.

Questions to ask:
Many people working at the winery will be happy you have asked these questions. They are typically a point of pride amongst the winery staff. If they are not well versed on the details, or don’t even have this information available somewhere at the tasting room, its a sign that there’s probably not that much focus on the overall quality, they are just a sales outlet.(sadly happening more and more) ****Also these questions can be instrumental, if you really like the wine, to learning WHY you like it.****

—-I will add sample answers (a good answer to the question with facts and relevant information)

  • Where is the vineyard(s) used to make this wine?
    (Oakville AVA, just north of Rudd Estate. A small 10 acre vineyard there that puts out some really great grapes.)
  • What does the vineyard location do to affect the flavors in the wine?
    (The vineyard is located in kind of a rocky patch that has great drainage and let’s the roots dig really deep, which gives the wine a really dusty spice and the warmth of the area really bring out the riper components while keeping the rich darker fruit flavors there.)
  • Reds. What kind of oak barrels were used?
    (We used 100% French oak for this one. 75% new which sound alike a lot. But we used a finer grain, softer flavored oak so that it’s not too overpowering, so that we still got that nice cinnamon, spice and cocoa and a richer texture rather than Carmel or vanilla. It gives power without ruining the balance or drinkability with food. )
  • Whites. Did the winemaker use oak, and if so how much of it was new oak?
    (We used very little oak on this Chardonnay. That’s why it’s so much crisper that what you might be used to. But it still has that richer body from the coastal grapes and fermentation process we used.)
  • What is the winemakers name?
    (Marco DiGiulio. He loves making this style Cabernet.)
  • What is the winemakers style or winemaking philosophy?
    (Well he tries to influence the wine as little as possible. So he makes sure the fruit he gets is perfect. He always says that 90% of a wine is from the grapes. 10% is from his influence. So if he can get the first 90% right, he can focus on the last 10%. He like a bolder style that will still sits great next to food. He’s Italian you know?)
  • What were the conditions like for this vintage at the vineyard’s location?
    (The 2008 vintage was interesting. It got a bad wrap straight off the bat because it was really cold early in the year. We lost about 30% of the crop. But what was left was more concentrated later on. So you’re gonna get a lot more tannin structure which means this will actually age better than a higher rated vintage like 2007 over the long term.)

These are important facts that you should know as the wine drinker. The staff should definitely know these if they’re making really nice wines. You can learn a lot about what you like from just these questions if they are answered fully.


AS ALWAYS : If you aren’t currently following THE VINTAGE….ya..just do that.

Keep up to date on-

  • local winemaking practices
  • winemaking trends
  • insights on the complex business of wine production
  • things to look for when buying wine
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