Tasting Wine

Of course when you drink a glass of wine you indeed taste it as you drink it.  It isn’t chugged like a beer might be or downed in a single gulp like you would if you were doing shots, or at least I hope not.

There are, however, different types of tasting.  There is tasting, as you would when you sit at the dinner table enjoying a glass a wine with a meal. And there is the other type of tasting, the one you do if you go to a winery or attend an event hosted by a sommelier, vintner, or other wine expert. 

This second type of tasting is more of an event than simply the enjoyment of a glass of wine.  Such wine tasting events take place for a variety of reasons, but the process is generally the same.  Perhaps you are visiting a winery and want to know which, if any, of their wines suit your palate.  In other situations you may be comparing and matching certain wines to various types of food.  That is how I acquired a passion for blue cheese, much to my wife’s chagrin, but that is a story for another day.  Another purpose of formal wine tastings is to learn how the various types of wines (grapes) relate to each other, whether it is dryer, sweeter, robust, etc.

In any event, the process for tasting wines in these situations is the same.  In order to truly judge the character of the wine to determine if it is to your liking, it requires the use of a few of your senses – your eyes, then your nose, and finally your taste buds.

The first thing to do once you are given the glass of wine is to hold it to the light to see how transparent or opaque it is.  Generally speaking, the more transparent a wine, the lighter the taste.  Although I have never tried it, it is said that you can read a book through a glass of Pinot Noir, where the same could not be said for a glass of Shiraz.  But I ask, why risk spilling the wine?

Second, you can determine the relative amount of alcohol in the wine by tilting the wine glass toward its side and then straightening it back up to see if there are “legs”, which are streams of liquid lingering along the side of the glass that was tipped.  The longer the legs, the higher the alcohol content.  The higher the alcohol content in the wine, the stronger the flavour.

The next thing you should do is swirl the wine in the bowl of the glass and sniff it to see whether there is an aroma or bouquet, and if there is, whether it is appealing to you.  Wine reviewers will describe what they smell, whether it be apples, pears, grass, etc. in white wine or hints of leather, turf, cocoa, etc. in red wines.  You may or may not smell any of these things; what is important is determining whether it is an aroma that is pleasing to you.

Finally, it is time to taste the wine.  It is best to close your eyes so as not to be distracted by the sights of what is going on around you.  When you taste the wine, let it linger in your mouth, being sure to completely taste before swallowing or spitting it out into the spittoon that will have been provided specifically for that purpose.  Spitting out the wine during a formal tasting is not being disrespectful.  If you are going to be tasting a number of wines, many people prefer not to ingest that much wine, especially if there are a number of varieties being sampled.

When tasting the wine you may find that there are recognizable flavours similar to what is found in the wine’s aroma, such as green apple or pear in some white wines, or cocoa or coffee, for example, in red wine.  Some wine experts will go so far as to say that red wines may have a hint of leather or an earthiness in their flavour, though having personally not chomped on a piece of leather or dirt, I am not sure how they can come to that particular conclusion.

Wine tastings are something that you can experiment with and conduct them with your friends and fellow wine enthusiasts in the comfort of your own home.  It is a fun way to learn about wines and experiment with wines you haven’t tried before.  There are all kinds of different things you can do and try.


Sláinte mhaith

France’s Standard of Quality

In a previous post I described Canada’s VQA standard for helping to ensure the wine you purchase is an enjoyable experience.  Not all countries take this same approach to standard identification.  Many countries, such as Australia and the United States, govern the wine industry with a general set of standards and controls and do not adhere to any particular categorization for wine quality.   However, there are other countries, such as France, Italy & Germany that do have quality standards specific to wine.

To begin I will focus on France, which has 3 primary quality groupings.   The first is AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), which indicates the geographical origin, quality and the style of a wine.  The Europe-wide equivalent of AOC is AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée). All Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines fall into the AOC category.

Grand Cru is the very highest classification of French wine. The term can refer to a wine in one of two ways, either the plot of land where the grapes are grown or the chateau at which the wine is made. The former applies most famously in Burgundy, Alsace and Champagne but is also used in Languedoc and the Loire Valley; the latter being exclusive to Bordeaux.

Premier Cru denotes either a vineyard plot (most often in Burgundy) of superior quality, or the very highest tier within a Grand Cru classification (such as the ‘Premier Grand Cru Classé chateaux of Bordeaux).

The second wine category is VDP (Vin de Pays), which means ‘wine of the land’, although it is often translated as ‘country wine’. The European equivalent is IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée). This category focuses on geographical origin rather than style and tradition, and gives winemakers greater stylistic freedom than AOC. Vin de Pays was introduced in the 1970s, and by the year 2000 there were more than 150 individual VDP titles, covering about a quarter of French wine production

The final category, Vin de France, replaced Vin de Table in 2010, but remains the most basic quality tier for French wine. This is the least regulated (and least used) of the three categories; Vin de France wines can be made from grapes grown anywhere in France, but their labels do not mention a specific region of origin. Vintage and grape varietal statements are optional.

Some of the French quality scales can be easily identified on the wine label.  For example, if applicable the term ‘Grand Cru’ or ‘Premier Cru’ will appear somewhere on the label.  You will also notice a correlation between the quality rating and the price of the wines.  Generally speaking ‘Grand Cru’ wines are at the top end of the price scale, with ‘Premier Cru’ are somewhat less expensive.

Here are some helpful hints when interpreting a French wine label; some of the terms are more obvious than others.

  • Blanc = White wine
  • Brut = Dry
  • Château = The name of the wine producer
  • Côte/Coteaux = Slope of a hill/hillsides, for example Côtes du Rhône
  • Crémant = A style of sparkling wine different from Champagne
  • Cru = Means ‘growth’ – it is used to denote the status of a winery or vineyard
  • Cru Classé = Classified vineyard, suggesting a certain quality or age of the vines
  • Demi-sec = Medium-dry
  • Domaine = Estate
  • Doux = Sweet
  • Grand Cru = Signifying the highest quality wines
  • Méthode Traditionnelle = Traditional method of sparkling winemaking, like  Champagne
  • Mis en bouteille au château/domaine = Bottled at the winery
  • Premier Cru = First growth
  • Propriétaire = Identifies the estate or vineyard owner
  • Rouge = Red
  • Sélection de Grains Nobles = Sweet wine made from botrytized grapes (grapes containing botrytis fungus, which is seen as being beneficial to the wine)
  • Supérieur = Wine with a higher alcohol content as a result of being made from riper grapes
  • VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure) = a mid-level classification used between 1949 and 2012
  • Vendange Tardive = Late harvest (sweet) wines
  • Vieilles Vignes = Old vines
  • Vigneron/Viticulteur = Vine grower/grape grower
  • Vignoble = Vineyard
  • Vin = Wine

Hopefully all of this will help take some of the mystery out of how to find an enjoyable French wine.  I have found that the French wines that are exported, especially any of those that appear on the shelves of the Vintages section of my local liquor store, are all worth a try.  I think you will find that French wine does not need to be expensive nor of a specific quality standard to be enjoyable.

In the future I will take a similar look at German and Italian wine classifications.

Sláinte mhaith

A Need for Speed?

There is beer in a can, coolers in a can, mixed drinks in a can, and now, … wait for it … wine in a can!  Reading through the summer edition of Food & Drink magazine (courtesy of the local LCBO) I came across 2 different ads promoting wine in a can.  The wine comes in a 250 ml sized can, which is the equivalent of 2 smaller size glasses. 

So the question is how would one go about consuming this wine?  I suppose you could down it like a beer; after all there is no re-corking it once you flick that zip top.  I just can’t imagine drinking it straight from the can.  Even when they introduced wine in a box, or ‘cardbordeaux’ as it has been jokingly referred to, it enables you to dispense it one glass at a time.

I am thinking that the advantage of packaging wine in a can is to allow it to be tossed into a backpack or food hamper and transported to your favourite picnic location.  After all, the cans would be a little less weight to lug along and if you drop it, it is less likely to result in a catastrophe.  However, the wine (especially red) still needs to aerate before drinking, which means it still should be poured into some sort of drinking vessel before consuming.  Therefore, at least an acrylic or plastic glass should be included in the picnic basket.

So who is the target of the new marketing idea?  Apparently it isn’t the picnickers and hikers but the millennials.  Marketers are taking aim at these time-pressured souls who need more conveniences, accessibility and approachability when purchasing consumer goods. 

You can expect to see lots of promotion of this new trend in the weeks to come as marketers hope to turn this novelty into a summer staple.  Canadian vintners, unlike some of their European and U.S. counterparts, are not yet as committed to this new endeavour, though there are a couple on the horizon and will be available very soon, if not already.

No matter what country the canned wine originates from, they are all the ‘drink me now’ varieties.  There are no keepers in this bunch.

Call me old fashioned or just simply old, but I for one will not be seeking out any canned wine anytime soon.

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