A recent RVF forum thread brought to my attention the degree of ignorance that exists when it comes to tasting and appreciating wine. This saddens me because I respect wine as a beverage, an industry, and a tradition.
You don’t need to shell out thousands of dollars on some exotic label to find a delicious wine that’s right for you. But the first step is to know what your tastes are, because if you don’t know that, then it’s hard to know where to start looking.
I’ll use girls as an analogy. If I asked you what kind of girl you’re after, are you going to give me some vague answer like “motherly virtue,” “great personality,” or “confidence”? No, you’re going to tell me you want tits, ass, legs, and great muscle tone. These are objective and measurable attributes. Likewise with wine it frustrates me to no end when people can’t properly describe what they are tasting. “I just like it” or “it’s just nice and fruity” won’t cut it.
This is going to be a quick and dirty guide just to get you started on thinking about the wines you drink. I hope you’ll have a better idea about your likes and dislikes as you go along. (Much of this is based on the WSET level 3 Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT), and the notes are available to peruse here.)
Before approaching a girl, you observe her from afar to see if she’s hot enough for your tastes. Does she have a cute face or a man-jaw, is her ass round or flat, is she incessantly staring at her smartphone or reading a book on the grass?
Likewise with wine, before drinking you look at it through the glass. The basic things to consider are Clarity, Intensity and Colour, and other miscellaneous stuff like “tears” or sediment.
Clarity – Dirty ho or innocent Madonna? Is the wine hazy or is it clear?
Intensity – Does the girl look like another fucking bimbo airhead or does she look like she can hold a decent conversation? Is the wine light and pale, or dark and deep?”
Colour – You like your girls black, white or Asian? Maybe even mixed race? Pale Asian or tan Asian? With wine, first decide if it’s Red, White, or Rose, then go into detail – e.g., if Red, is it purple, ruby or garnet?
Miscellaneous – Is she wearing flats or high heels, has she shaved her armpits, any piercings or tattoos, etc.? Does the wine have small bubbles, thick legs/tears, sediment? Small observational details can be surprisingly telling.
Time to approach the target. You’ve observed her from afar, now we close the distance. Things to consider are Condition, Intensity, Aromas, and Development.
Condition – Has she taken a shower? Does she use shampoo or perfume? Is the wine corked or sour? If everything seems fine, continue. If she smells like cats, head to the chopper!
Intensity – Has she put on way too much perfume or is it just a bare whiff that you can’t quite put your finger on? Is the wine subdued or very expressive?
Aromas – What exactly is it that you are smelling? Perfume, shampoo, or old cat lady stench? Is her shampoo floral, coconut, citrus, herbal? Are you getting red, black or blue fruits in the wine? Tropical?
Development – Was the perfume applied 5 minutes or 5 hours ago? Does it smell refreshing or is it getting stale? Is the wine still showing primary fruit or is it showing oxidative/developed elements (e.g. leather, game, toffee, etc…)
Time to break out the opener. Open your mouth and have a sip. We all know the feeling of over-analysing openers before the approach, and likewise with wine there are going to be a lot more factors to think about. Things to consider are Sweetness, Acidity, Tannin (Red wines only), Alcohol, Body, Flavour Intensity, Flavour Characteristics, Miscellaneous and Finish. Simple, isn’t it?
Sweetness – Is she a cool ice queen or a sweet angelic specimen? Is the wine Dry or Sweet or somewhere in between? How far along the scale is it on?
Acidity – Does the chick have a quick wit, or is she an intellectual marshmallow? Acid gives wines its vibrancy and freshness, so wines lacking in this department are sometimes described as “flabby.” Don’t look for “sourness” when detecting acid, other flavours can hide it. Acid can be detected by “hanging” your tongue so it doesn’t touch the sides of your mouth and seeing how much saliva production the wine induces. More saliva = more acid.
Tannin – This applies to red wines only. Tannins are what causes the mouth-drying sensation when you drink the wine. Sorry guys, can’t think of a girl-related anecdote for this one.
Alcohol – Is the girl soft-spoken or fiery? Alcohol is detected by the sensation of heat on the back palate. This isn’t always correlated with the alcohol percentage indicated on the bottle. I’ve had wines at 15%ABV that were approachable because all the other elements came together nicely, and others at 12% where the alcohol was very evident because there wasn’t much else going on.
Body – This is kind of a “whole package” consideration – Has the girl demonstrated she has a lot of depth to her, or is she as interesting as a feminist hipster? Has the wine shown you enough depth and complexity to be full-bodied, or is it just a light-bodied wine, nothing wrong with it but nothing to write home about?
Flavour Intensity – Is the girl outgoing or is talking to her like pulling teeth? Is the wine naturally expressive or do you have to swallow a mouthful to get any flavour?
Flavour Characteristics – You’ve gotten to know her, so what are the girl’s hopes, dreams and passions? What flavours are coming out of the wine? Wood? Spice? Fruits? What kind of fruit, and in what condition – fresh, dried and canned fruits all have their distinctive attributes.
Miscellaneous – Anything that hasn’t been discussed above – has the girl been congruent? Does she say she’s a virgin but has lots of tattoos and piercings? Is the wine well-balanced or is it all over the place? Tannin is something I like to focus on here, because there are lots of different expressions – silky, velvety, astringent, chalky…
Finish – Did your conversation with the girl end after one minute or one hour? Does the wine linger on the palate forever, or does it fade quickly, forcing you to take another sip?
Judgement time. Will you call her and set up a date? Drinks, dinner or just pizza and movie at your place? Things to consider are Quality, Readiness for Drinking, Identity, and Price.
Quality – Obviously this is a very personal and subjective category and as a wine aficionado I like to be generous. Most girls have done nothing to deserve a harsh rating, so be gentle. If she was a total bitch, give her the benefit of the doubt because maybe she’s had a bad day. If the girl is outstanding, lock her down and enjoy. If the wine is poor just put aside the glass and order another. If the wine is outstanding, buy a hundred cases and stash them in your cellar.
Readiness – Is she breathing heavily and dripping wet for you, or is there LMR to overcome? Is the wine ready to drink now, or too young and needing time to open up?
Identity – Is she a ONS or LTR material? Maybe she even reminds you of your ex. Does this wine remind you of anything you’ve had before? Where is the wine from and what varietal is it?
Price – Is she easy to please or a golddigger? Is the wine fantastic value for money, or will you only splurge on special occasions?
So that’s about it. It’ll take lots of drinking and tasting before you can consider all of the above in a natural manner, but the point isn’t memorization. You just need to be aware of these factors when tasting wine, not just whether or not the label looks pretty. We all know how feminist landwhales deceive us with camera angles on dating sites.
In the end it’s not about the wine, it’s about you. You’re the one who’s going to have to drink it. Just like with girls, in the end you’ll be the one who will have to deal with her bullshit. So know what you want and never compromise.