When you are planning your wine tasting trip to Paso Robles wine country, make the most out of each stop by really tasting the wine like a pro! It will completely change the way you look at wine, as well as how you buy your wine and also which wines you take to the dinner table! Wine has very specific tastes, looks and smells that can help educate your perception of the wine itself and how it was made. Here are the tips on how to taste wine straight from the wine tasting pros!
1. LOOK AT THE WINE FIRST
When you get cozy in your wine tasting spot and look over the menu remember that they usually put the wine in tasting order for a reason. The whites and light body wines go first, then the heavy full body wines and last the dessert wines. You can think of it like a meal…salad or apps first, then the big entree, and last the sweet stuff. If you do not prefer whites you can ask to go straight to the reds, but keep an open mind. Sometimes I have tasted a Rose’ that blows my mind as a red drinker and it is a great compliment to a hot night BBQ opposed to a warm red when you are dripping with sweat!
Your tasting room attendant will pour you about a 1 ounce pour (they do this for regulation so don’t feel like you are being jipped!) The taste should be enough for a few good sips but not so much that you can’t taste many more wines to diversify your palate.
First look straight down into your glass to observe the color. Is it clear, murky, dull, etc. Then hold it up to either a white background or to the light and tilt the glass to see the edge of the color as well. If your white wine has a brown tinge to it, or your red wine is orange or rust it might be older or sat in the barrel longer.
Also look to see if the “legs” or drips coming down the glass are strong or weak which determines how much glycerine or alcohol and fullness of body is in the wine. The thicker the “legs” the more body is in the wine! Usually a good wine is clear and crystal with a sparkle to it. Murky or dull wine can mean it is much older or there were chemical or fermentation problems. If the wine is pale or thin it means the wine could be young or thin in body.
2. SMELL THE WINE FULLY
Next comes the good swirl! You keep your glass flat on the table and use your fingers tightly around the base of the stem on the very bottom to swirl your wine around and evenly coat the glass. You do this to aerate the wine and coat the bowl of your glass for a full bouquet so you can get the most out of your smell! Swirl it for a good 10-12 seconds then really put your nose in there and smell. Try to figure out all the little aromas you can name even if they seem strange or different! If your wine smells bad, it could be bad! It is always good to ask the attendant if you smell something off in your wine to have them check it out. Most of the time you will get great aromas coming from your glass, like fruit, flowers, herbs, smoke or chocolate. Right before you take that first sip do another big smell to connect your senses with the wine.
3. TASTE, TASTE, then TASTE
First take a little baby sip and suck it in the front of your mouth like a straw. This gives even more air to the wine and lets the front of your tongue get the first taste. You have four parts to the tongue that give you different versions of the wine. The front or tip is the SWEET, the inner sides are the SOUR, the outer sides are the SALT, and the back is the BITTER. It is fun to roll the wine around in your mouth first to coat all parts of the tongue, then taste again to see what your mouth really thinks of it. Don’t judge the wine by the first sip, that is the “attack” phase. Really taste it after your mouth is coated and let the wine “Evolve” in your mind. Then notice the finish of the wine and how it sits on your tongue. Is it smooth, or tart, or acidic? A well balanced or harmonious wine has everything within proportion and is easy on the finish. A complex wine has a variety of flavors and textures and can surprise your palate, and a wine that is complete has both balance and complexity.
You may taste the tannin in wine which comes from the seeds and skins of the grape; this usually dries out your mouth or grips at the back of your teeth, much like sticky tongue or chalk cheeks. Some people love tannin and some people don’t! The taste of the wine is completely new and different to each person’s taste buds. Just like you may like sushi while some people hate it, the same goes with wine. Be open to new experiences and remember it’s only a taste, so you may actually like something you have never tried! I have had horrible Chardonnays and some amazing Chardonnays! Every grape is different depending on how and where it was farmed, how it was cultivated and processed and the artful finish that the winemaker presents. That is why it is great to take tours of wineries and vineyards, learn how different processes are done and then taste the wine! Maybe you like a specific grape, a specific area, or a specific winemaker!
Sometimes wine has a hint of green pepper, an earthy base, a lovely cedar finish, a burst of plum…the list goes on depending on your take on each wine. I personally hate green pepper in my wine but my friend loves it! I like plum and jammy wines and she thinks they’re too sweet! You just never know until you try them.
Don’t be timid about asking for palate cleanser either, like crackers or alternatives. Also, if they come back to a white wine after you have had red they should first “rinse” your glass with the white, dump it and give you a fresh taste or give you a new glass. Don’t mix it.
It is perfectly acceptable to tip your server unless they have a policy not to accept them. If they give you an amazing experience then reward them for their expertise and lovely smiles. Ask about case specials, great wine club deals and reserves not on the list as well. They might have a wine you can’t live without at a great price hiding behind the counter. If they have cheese or other nibbles to try with your wine it is a great way to see the SYNERGY between their wine and food! Just remember to taste the wine first, then with the food so you can truly see the difference on how the wine stands on its own.
So off with you! Gather your friends with your new pro knowledge of expert wine tasting and be the star of the group! And don’t be afraid to dump it in those handy buckets on the counter if it just isn’t right for you, your palate has the opportunity to experience many tastes and it’s good not to fill up on wine you don’t prefer. 😉
Paso Robles Wineries
560 10th Street Suite 201
Paso Robles, CA 93446