How To Do A Wine Tasting


How to experience a wine

Do your research. Though wine is certainly a prominent element to many feasts and fetes, my uneducated palate is only beginning to cultivate a taste for the good stuff. I am, by absolutely no means, a wine expert.It’s just so fussy and kind of defeats the purpose of learning about the wines you’re drinking. Perhaps one day, when you are a highly ripened wine snob, you can go to such lengths. But for now, whether novice or somewhat seasoned drinker, get a good grounding with just a bit of research on the basics of wine (red or white? chilled or warm? what to serve with it? how to store it? how to taste wine?). There are many wine enthusiast sites out there that can give you answers to any questions you might have.

For the novice wine enthusiast, tasting a glass of wine can be an intimidating process. It may seem a bit peculiar that you need to learn how to taste something but once you are aware of the different nuances in each glass of wine, your appreciation level begins to rise. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to taste a glass of wine. Embarrassment really doesn’t belong in true wine culture. You are the one who is going to enjoy the wine, so all you have to do is cater to your own enjoyment. That said, here are some traditional elements you may want to incorporate into your own wine-drinking ritual.

Here is a handful you can consult to beef up your vintner’s vocab

Pick your venue.

With the basic primer in place, decide if you’ll taste in or out. Wine has always been kind of cool, but lately, it’s been on the trendy swing up. Your choices should be many.

Bistros and Bars~Many bars and restaurants have dedicated their raison d’etre to wine. In Chicago, Metro mix has a handy compilation of places to try out. Scout out local city sites and yellow pages for an appealing site to dabble the old taste-buds in some vino.

Wineries~It seems that all the regions of the States (in addition to all the wondrous corners of the world) can boast of wineries. Keep your eyes peeled for tours and tasting events. A simple internet search on the words “winery” and your state name should yield some starting points.

Home~It really takes little planning to host a decent wine tasting, How easy is that? Decide if you want to have your friends bring a mix of offerings or if you want to supply the wine. Serve simple cheeses and fruits (many wine or cheese stewards in gourmet delis can help you out here), or check out a few recipe sites for ideas on simple foods you can serve with your wines.

Toast your tastes.

This event can be as glitz as you like. Like the simpler things are, the less stressful. The aim is to spend some quality time with people you like, tasting and trying new wines.


Pick your participants.

You can ask for suggestions or ideas for who’s game for what. You can aim to have your final invitation, with the complete wine event details, with your guests the week before the do. You can send a reminder email if necessary the day before.

Suit up your service. You really do not need all the technically shaped and sized wine glasses for your first (or fiftieth) wine tasting party. This does not need to be a pretentious affair! Local discount department stores like Target or Kmart often have value packs that will serve you well. House ware mega-stores like Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Linens N Things also are great for the value. If you’re really strapped, you can probably tap your guests to bring a few goblets or wine glasses.

You can quickly and cheaply posh up the place with a clean tablecloth on the table from which you’ll be serving. A nice flat bed sheet will serve the same purpose just fine. You might have fancy serving platters and deluxe cheeseboards on hand-more power to you if you do. If not, not to fret. At my place, we use our various wooden cutting boards and butcher blocks for cutting and serving up our cheeses and crusty breads. Your basic dinner plates are also just fine for plating up the foodie portion of the wine tasting experience.

The only thing you might consider getting is a decent corkscrew, so you don’t stumble into an embarrassing corking incident that sullies the taste of your wine. And speaking of tainting the taste, I have heard from various sources that having strongly scented items (candles, potpourri) too close to the wine also can adversely affect the taste experience. Bring out the unscented babies if you want to add ambient lighting.

How to taste

There is a natural order to tasting wine: quite simply, sight, smell, and taste. When we pour a glass of wine for a tasting it should be 50ml. This allows for a look at the color while still having enough room to swirl the wine to release the wonderful bouquet.

Appearance: You should always check the appearance in front of a well lit white background. This allows for the proper color and clarity to be viewed. Clarity is of vital importance in a wine; cloudiness is a good indicator something is wrong. It could mean it is going through re-fermentation in the bottle or has bacterial problems. As well, old wine will be cloudy if not properly decanted.

Color:To find the true COLOR hold the glass at a 45% angle away from your self and against a white background. Most likely this will reveal first the body COLOR and then a rim COLOR.
RED wines loose their color as they age; the body of red wines get paler as they get older. The rim COLOR can range from purple, for a young wine, to ruby, through to russet, then to brown for a mature red. Other COLOR terminology are: tawny, garnet, brick.

WHITE wines can have a greenish tinge to their rim COLOR when young then changes to a deep yellow before aging to a gold. New oak can also give a golden tint to a young white wine. More COLOR terminology are: pale straw, lemon.
Some people like to look at the “legs” of a wine. These are traces left on the side of a glass when swirled around. This usually is a good indicator of alcohol content or high levels of residual sugar. Legs are often referred to a “tears”.

Nose:This is where wine tasting becomes more of a individual art. After swirling the wine in the glass you should start to smell the bouquet with your nose to the glass. Your first smell should be one of caution. The second sniff should be done with great concentration. You must now take note of the intensity and certain aromas you receive. Some aromas are quite distinctive while others might need a minute to recognize. A word of caution – a musty smell might mean the wine is corked (off). Tasting the wine should confirm this.

Taste:Different parts of the tongue and gums detect different facets so it is important to expose all parts of your mouth to the wine. The back of your tongue detects bitter. The sides detect sour. The very center of the tongue detects salt and the front detects sweet. The gums mainly react to tannins. Tannins produce a gum drying sensation after you swallow the wine. Tannin is usually found in red wine produced to age. Acidity is used to keep the wine from becoming flabby. Body is used to describe a wine weight, and referred to as light bodied, medium, or full bodied. Terms to help you describe the flavors found in the wine are:

Black current, Raspberry, Strawberry Grape, Soft fruits, Flowery, Violets Lycees, Apples, Peaches, Apricots Honey, Nuts, Almonds, Petrol, Oak Vanilla, Spice, Yeast, Bread, Smoke

The Finish describes how long the flavor of the wine lingers on your palate after the wine has been spat out or swallowed. A long Finnish is another sign of quality.

You should always make a general conclusion on the wine. Some people like to rank a wine from 1-5. I like to rank a wine against its price and use a number system for grading. Find one that works for you and stick with it; it will be a major benefit when looking back at your tasting notes. The best way to compliment your new found knowledge in tasting (and all your hard work!) is to create a wine tasters diary.

Beyond Beer: Discover German Wines

Pick up an icy, cold mug of German beer, raise it up to the light so you can admire its golden or amber color and — if you’re in Germany — it’s generous head.
Then raise the mug to your nose and smell its hearty, yeasty aroma. Now, at last, let this liquid gold roll across your tongue and into your mouth. It’s cold, refreshing, and flavorful.

But beer is only one of the beverages of Germany. Its wines are winners too. But sometimes travelers never get beyond beer because they have heard that it’s necessary to be a snobby expert to appreciate wine.

Not so. You just need to know what you like. For that’s the true key to wine appreciation: discovering what your taste buds like, as well as being willing to taste new wines to let your tastes change and grow. To enjoy a glass of wine, you follow a similar procedure for appreciating beer.

1. Hold your glass by the stem (so you don’t warm the wine), and raise it to the light so you can see the wine’s color and clarity.
2. Then swirl the wine slightly to release its aromas.
3. Now sniff the wine because this really influences what you taste. Talk about giving your taste buds a workout! Flavors can range from apples and berries to spring flowers.
4. At last, take a sip, distributing the liquid through your mouth, to see how many different flavors you can taste.

Learning about German wine can be fun.

Check out books on German wine at the base library or purchase one to keep with you.
Order wines by the glass so you can taste a greater variety.

Keep a wine journal (especially helpful if you can include the label) to help you remember what you’ve tried, what you like and what you don’t particularly care for.
Try new wines. Your taste buds will change over the years. Most people start out enjoying the sweeter wines and, gradually, work their way up to the dryer ones.
Whatever wine you drink, remember moderation and a designated driver are critical. Germans are vigilant about protecting their citizens against irresponsible drivers.

Distinguishing Red Wine Varietals

The flavor and aroma perceptions of wines have a set of central features which we call varietal characteristics. These are most easily discerned by tasting the fruit itself or wine made from that fruit in stainless steel fomenters and aged in neutral oak. When other factors are introduced – barrel fermentation, new oak, the malolactic process, blending, and aging – we trade some of the wines’ inherent varietal characteristics for other flavors, textures, and aromas which are preferred. And that is, precisely, why it is so hard to distinguish red wine varietals in their finished state.

Further, certain varietals are subjected to consistent styles. Fine Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is never made without at least some time spent in oak, typically new oak. The flavors contributed by the oak become associated with what we expect to find in Cabernet Sauvignon, even though these flavors are not really varietal characteristics.
Wine writers have given us lists of descriptors to look for in every kind of wine. Syrah which display strong varietal character are said to be “meaty.” Zinfandels are “jammy.” Pinot Noir tastes of ripe cherries. Cabernet Sauvignon, of blackberries, tea, and tobacco. You may agree with all these descriptors when you taste these wines. You might also find a few of your own, especially if the wine does not occupy a central position with respect to its varietal character. Maybe nuances of a special “terrier” or climate have brought out unusual characteristics. Maybe the use of wild yeasts have skewed the flavor spectrum. Perhaps cellar techniques, such as whole cluster fermentation or special methods of punching down or pumping over have given the wine special, no typical characteristics.

Wine is rather like an artist’s palette. When a painter uses primary and secondary colors, it’s easy to tell the colors apart. But in the real world of art – and wine – red is often blended with yellow to warm it up, or with blue to cool it down. We have “Forest Green” and “Kelly Green.” And in the world of red wine, we have Cabernet Sauvignons that could easily pass for Syrah. or Zinfandels

Focus on the Regions

It would be fun to taste wines from each of Germany’s wine growing regions, especially since many of these wines are consumed locally and are not available elsewhere. Most of Germany’s 13 wine growing regions are in the southwestern part of the country, and are invariably near a river such as the Rhine, which helps to maintain a constant temperature. Wines in each of these regions will be similar in taste from those grown elsewhere.

In general, the northern regions produce wines that are light, fruity, and fragrant, while the southern regions produce wines with more body, fuller fruitiness and, in many cases, a powerful flavor. Since Germany is situated so far north, about 80 percent of its vineyards are planted with white grapes, with only 20 percent in red grape varieties.

German wine labels are filled with information to let you know what’s inside. Some information is mandated by law and other is voluntary.

1. Appellation of Origin or Wine Growing Region – One of the 13 German wine growing regions such as: Ahr, Mittelrhein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Franken, Hessische Bergstrasse, Württemberg, Baden, Saale/Unstrut, Sachsen. (Rheinhessen)
2. Vintage – The year the grapes were harvested, and critical in determining quality of wine. (1991)
3. Village/Vineyard – The village where the vineyard is located (usually with an er suffix). (Winzerdorf Rebberg)
4. Grape Variety – This is the single most influential factor determining a wine’s taste. Different grapes have different flavors. For example: Riesling is a very fruit-driven grape variety providing a fine acidity, while Gewürztraminer has very floral, perfumed flavors reminiscent of rose petals. (Riesling)
5. Degree of Dryness – The taste/style or degree of dryness of a wine depends on the cellar master and is totally independent of the grape. These range from trocken (dry); halftrocken (semi-dry) and lieblich (sweet.) (Halbtrocken)
6. Ripeness Category – The ripeness categories are Tafelwein (tablewine), Qualitätswein, and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat. The latter is further divided into the ripeness levels such as Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauselese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. (Qualitätswein)
7. AP Number – The “official approval number” so official testing centers can identify a wine if there is any complaint or doubt of authenticity. (516 98792)
8. Producer/Bottler – The name of producer or estate. (Winzer Bacchus.

How to Get the Most from Your Wine-Tasting Experience

Eating food, no matter how tasty and engaging, is mono-dimensional compared to the wine experience. Drinking wine is much more like listening to music than eating food. You don’t get the full value of the wine experience without paying very close attention. The kind of attention you might pay to a physics lecture on which you will shortly be examined.

You can eat your tasty steak while conversing with others, laughing and carrying on all the while. A dessert course of tasty Pont l’Eveque might divert your attention for a moment, but your dinner companions will surely think you daft if you pore over the intricacies of the mold used, or wax eloquent over the exquisite balance between ripeness and facility.

So how should we approach the wine experience? First, shed all pretense and outmoded formalities. Think of wine as you would a cut gemstone or complex piece of music. Do whatever you can to foster an understanding of what is there to be noticed or appreciated. Here are some thoughts:

1. The glass does count. It should be clear, thin, uncut stemware with a bowl that allows you to swirl the wine without getting it all over your neighbors. Swirling the wine aerates it and allows it to release its esters. Put your nose into the bowl and take in a deep whiff. Enjoy the perfume of the wine.
2. A proper glass will also allow you to see the beautiful color of the wine. Red wines take on a warmer, redder color as they age. Take note of any “legs” or “tears” which form on the inside of the glass after you have swirled. Wine which flows down the inside of the bowl in sheets is probably young or undistinguished. Wines with texture or age will often “tear.” Such wines will also be silky on the palate. Notice how it feels in your mouth.
3. Note the specific flavors of the wine. More than a hundred distinct flavors have been identified in wine. An excellent source of aroma and flavor descriptors is the Wine Aroma Wheel. In fine wines the flavor components are often found to be “layered.” If the wine is ten or more years old, you will find flavors and aromas not often found in young wines: tea, tobacco, cedar, butterscotch, caramel, and dried fruits. Look for them.
4. One of the first things a professional taster looks for is balance. What factors are supposed to be in balance? Acid, flavor, and tannin. Few wines have just the right amount of each of these. Wines designed for immediate consumption will be strong on flavor, but weak on tannin. Acid is considered the sine qua non of age-able fine wine, but many consumers shy away from it. A huge market for soft, fruity wines has developed over the past decade. When you taste the wine, compare the level of acid with tannin (astringency) and body (flavor). These factors will always be in balance in a fine wine. If the acid is high, but also the body and tannin, then the wine will need some collaring to “round out.” If one or more of these elements is too dominant, then the wine will not cellar well; it is flawed.
5. Notice the finish. When you swallow the wine, does the flavor seem to diminish right away? Or does it linger on your palate. Great wines have long finishes.
6. If you are enjoying the wine with a meal, notice how the wine complements the food. In most cases, the wine will function as a beverage which doesn’t clash with the food, as would most other choices: coffee, milk, soda, fruit juice, etc. Tea is fairly neutral, as is mineral water. But wine can “marry” with certain foods to create a taste experience beyond the sum of the components.

Above all, enjoy your wine for what it is: A delicious drink which is not only tasty and enjoyable, but actually good for you when consumed in moderation.

Behind the levels


Cabernet Sauvignon (kaah-bair-NAY so-veen-YOAN)
A classic red grape (probably native to northern Spain) widely cultivated in the Bordeaux “château” region of France. The wine has a dense ruby color and is dry, with flavors characterized as black currant (cassis), cedar, and green pepper.

Merlot (mair-LOH)
Also identified with the Bordeaux region, this wine is a close relative of cabernet sauvignon, but a bit more berryish, with a somewhat softer acidity and less intense flavor.

Pinot Noir (PEE-no nwah)
A historic vine of the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France. As a Burgundy, it is a light, brick-red, dry wine, with briar and coffee flavors. As a Champagne, it is a light, earthy/flinty white sparking wine.

Gamay (gah-MAY)
The quintessential grape of the Beaujolais district of Burgundy, it produces a medium ruby-red dry wine that has a distinctive cherry flavor.

Note: Most reds (except Gamay) are extensively aged in oak and take on various intensities of woody vanilla flavor.


Chardonnay (shar-doe-NAY)
Made from a vine native to the Burgundy region of France, known for its dry (not sweet) white wines with olive, fig, and earthy applelike flavors.

Sauvignon Blanc (so-veen-YOAN blawn)
A selection cultivated in the Loire Valley region of France, it is often referred to as “fumé.” It is usually characterized by citrus and grasslike flavors.

Johannisberg Riesling (yo-HANN-ess-berg REES-ling)
A classic grape from the German Rhineland. It is made into dry and varying levels of sweet wines. The sweetest types come from overripened grapes purposely allowed to decompose. It typically has pronounced floral-apricot flavors.

Sémillon (sem-MEE-yoan)
A famous grape native to the Bordeaux region of France, it is grown primarily for sweet wines. Its flavor is rather pearlike in dry wines and raisinlike in sweet versions.

Gewürztraminer (gah-VURTZ-trah-mee-ner)
Gewürz means spice in German, and this wine has a distinctive spicy-peach character that is usually semisweet. Though the vine is native to northern Italy, its fame comes from the Alsace region of France, where it is now grown.

Note: When aged in oak barrels or casks, white wines take on various intensities of toasty vanilla flavor

Order Wine with Confidence

One of the pleasures of traveling around the world is that you not only get to savor countless cuisines, but enjoy the wines of the world as well. Unfortunately, many people are not comfortable ordering wine with their meals because they’re afraid that they will select the “wrong” one.

There are some terrific wine educators in the world. But other “experts,” with their esoteric exposition on the complex details of wine making and analysis, have definitely intimidated some people about entering the wonderful world of wine.

As in many other things, there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to wine. The wine that goes best with your meal is the one that you personally enjoy-not what someone else says you should.

Learning about wines, though, can help you appreciate and enjoy them more. Reading books, joining chat groups, taking courses about wine all can help. as long as you remember that it’s all a value judgement and enjoy the process of learning more about something you enjoy.

An excellent way to learn more about wines is to make friends with a sommelier (or wine steward) at a fine restaurant. Joe Pierce, who operates Pierce’s 1894, in Elmira Heights, New York, a restaurant that has been operated by the Pierce family for over a century, sets an outstanding example for what restaurateurs should be doing to help their guests learn more about wine so that they can enjoy it more.

In addition to serving gourmet meals, Joe Pierce has a nationally renowned wine collection – and a wine list that does much more than merely list wines and their prices. He has taken the time to give guests the benefit of his extensive wine knowledge by providing a short, readable introduction to various groupings of wine and recommendations for alternatives to more well-known wines to encourage experimentation.

In addition to the helpful information listed in Pierce’s wine list, this restaurant offers a “wine by the glass” program to allow you to try different wines to see which you like best with different foods.

With this personal taste view, we should all make it a point to sample wines from all over the world-and not fall into the trap of comparing a California wine to a French wine, or a New York wine to one produced in Australia. Wine growing regions are very different, with different soils and climates that produce different wine from the same grapes.

It doesn’t make sense then to compare it to wines grown elsewhere. It’s like saying that Palm Trees are better than Maple Trees. When in Florida, enjoy the Palm Trees; when you’re in New England, enjoy the Maples. Sampling the wines of a particular area lets us actually “taste” that region. Mike Doyle, owner the Pleasant Valley Wine Company in near Hammondsport, in New York’s scenic Finger Lakes Region, also advises not to let the many wine myths keep you from enjoying wine as well.

Established in 1860, the Pleasant Valley Wine Company, is the oldest winery in the region, the first bonded winery in the country, and the home of eight buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also known as the Great Western Winery because this is where Great Western Sparkling Wine is produced.

Wine is meant to be enjoyed, Doyle says, and encourages people not to let these myths get in their way:
MYTH: “Cork is the only thing to cap a bottle of wine or Champagne” – Really tests have shown that a small percentage of even the best corks have imperfections that allow air to enter the bottle and spoil the wine. The 100% air-tight closure is the screw top cap. Even the newer plastic “corks” that some wineries are going to in order to maintain the mystique of opening a wine bottle allow some spoilage.
MYTH “Extra Dry” Champagne is the choice of gourmets” – “Extra Dry” is actually the sweetest, “natural” is the driest with “brut” in between. U.S. citizens are thought to prefer sweet wines and the sparkling wine industry’s advertising developed the name “extra dry” to make them feel sophisticated.
MYTH: Older wines are not necessarily better. Mr. Doyle has been at tastings of very old, highly praised (“What a delicate bouquet!”) wines – that were obviously oxidized.
MYTH: Expensive is not necessarily better. He has also tasted some $350/ bottle that he wouldn’t “pour down my neck.”
Advice, “ If it tastes good to you, drink it, and enjoy.”


There’s no reason to be apprehensive about ordering wine in a restaurant, even in those that carry extensive wine lists. Immediately after being seated, ask for the wine list so you have enough time to study it. Look for the grape varietals that you know and like that are listed in your price range. Do you like Chardonnays or Rieslings? Cabernet’s or Merlots? Stick with what you know. Ask your dinner companions if there’s something they would enjoy. When the wine is brought to the table, check the bottle’s label to make sure it’s what you ordered. Taste it for quality. If it’s corks, ask the waiter or waitress to replace it with another bottle.

Follow these simple rules when buying a bottle of wine at the store.
Purchase your wine where salespeople are knowledgeable.
Stay away from wines displayed on brightly lit shelves – the rays and heat emitted from the light can damage the wine.
Buy wine that is lying on its side, with a moistened cork. Otherwise, if the bottle is standing up too long, the cork can dry out. If you’re buying.

Wine Tasting : From Plonk to Paradise

Ever wonder what really great wine tastes like? Not the wines you enjoy whenever the spirit moves you. I mean those bottles that wine merchants will unabashedly allow you to drop fifty or a hundred bucks for – the wines that are sold at auction for thousands of dollars a bottle. Great wines.

Most of us began our wine experience by drinking the wrong wines. Sure, there’s a kind of progression from cheap, commercial jug wines (plonk) that leads ever higher to those wondrous marvels of the winemaker’s art, especially for those who never really outgrew the notion of Plato’s Ladder of Being and Value. The fact is: Poor wine is poor. Great wine is great. One does not necessarily provide an avenue of approach to the other. How many of us have been diverted from the enjoyment of fine wine because we quickly learned to dislike Ripple or Thunderbird? Or because the stuff in the large bottles was either undrinkable or tasted like a soft drink with a kick?
Now think of this: Would you introduce a friend to the art of Rembrandt by starting out with children’s scribbles, progressing gradually through finger painting to urban graffiti? Would you introduce Mozart by way of Country Western music? Truffles by way of canned button mushrooms? Some things are better experienced directly.
Plato did get some things right. He suggested to us that life does possess qualitative differences. There is bad, good. And there is better! Bad architecture. Good architecture. Bad and good design. Good and better roses (there are no bad roses). Yes, there are qualitative differences in music, food preparation, literature, theater, art, hotel accommodations,
…and wine!

Now, the hard part. If we are completely happy with the inexpensive wines we customarily drink, why should we cultivate a taste for better? Here’s the answer (given as a question in the Platonic fashion): Why not prefer a Big Mac to Riz de Veau à la Regence? Shopping mall music to Mozart? Cool Whip® to real whipped cream (health aside)? Canned gravy to a homemade red wine reduction sauce with black truffles? Why not? Because to do so deprives us of some of life’s richer experiences. Don’t butterflies live better than slugs? (Before you debate that notion, try to imagine yourself checking the box next to “slug” on the Reincarnation Form.)

Life is a journey of discovery. We must never lose our passion for the high road. The pleasure that fine wine can give us is simply not of the same order as that gained from somebody’s Golden Goo in a Gallon.

How Important Is Proper Glassware?

How important is the glass into which we pour fine wine? Does it really make that much difference? Certain makers of stemware suggest that a glass of approximately 4 7/8 oz. is specifically suited to a particular wine, while one of 26 oz. is exactly the right choice for another. The best way to answer such questions is to conduct a personal test before running off to spend serious money on the “right” wine glasses. The following experiment was conducted -.

The Glassware:
1) 6 oz. clear glass tumbler designed for scotch drinking from Glenfiddich
2) 16.5 oz. Hungarian crystal “Bordeaux” stem ware from Williams-Sonoma – both glasses washed immediately before use.
The wine, which came in a slate brownish-green bottle, was poured into the two glasses in equal amounts while my lunch was cooking. I picked up the tumbler first and held it to my nose. Closing my eyes, I drew in the bouquet: nothing. Well.. something. Maybe. I smelled again, trying harder. Soap? There was definitely something in there, but I could not tell by smell alone what it was. There was certainly no bouquet at all; it might have been Kool-Aid. Desperately feigning fairness, I raised the level of the wine in the glass. Now it couldn’t be swirled at all. The wine just collected in the bottom of the glass in a darkish pool, unable to perform or inform, its bouquet lost, its color masked by the straight sides of the glass.
The wine in the 16-oz. glass designed for such things exploded in my face! Tons of fruit, ripe and appealing, its nose a little Bordeaux-like with dried herbs, tobacco, and pepper. A wonderful nose. Not just wonderful … extraordinary!
Back to the other glass. Still nothing. (I had not yet tasted the wine.) I decided to experiment a little. Another identical tumbler was filled to the same level with clear water. I put the one to my nose, then the other. I could tell them apart by smell, but only with focused concentration. A third tumbler was filled to the same level with cold French Roast coffee. I smelled one, then the others, always identifying the water, but having trouble distinguishing the other two.
It was at this point that my neighbor Virgil appeared. Aha!

This wine possessed a beautiful light garnet color, easily appreciated when the glass is tilted or the back lit wine is swirled. It was bright, lively, and fresh on the palate; acidity was perfect, transporting the fullness of the fruit to the palate. Tannins were very soft, adding a pleasant dimension to an outstanding and unique wine designed for immediate consumption. It drank very smoothly with a style somewhere between a Beaujolais and a light to medium Zinfandel. It was nothing like any other California Syrah I have tasted and made a terrific luncheon wine.

Advice on Wine Glassware

1. Use large, tulip shaped glasses – at least 8-9 oz. capacity; the larger, the better.
2. Glasses should have bowls which taper slightly at the mouth, permitting vigorous swirling.
3. Avoid colored glasses and fancy cut glasses; they may be pretty to look at, but they are rarely shaped properly for wine and almost always detract from the wine.
4. Remember that the aroma and appearance of a wine is fundamental to its proper appreciation. Using glassware that hides or minimizes those qualities is like wearing earmuffs to a symphony concert.


The brand name that is most often found in wine literature is Georg Riedel, an Austrian glass-maker who has designed a different glass for every type of wine. The glasses are excellent, coming in three quality levels, and moderately expensive.

“Faux-Riedel” glassware can be found in some wine shops; these glasses are inexpensive and serve their purpose very well.

The standard all-purpose wine tasting glass is called INAO, also available in many wine shops. It’s very inexpensive and utilitarian, but not as effective as the Riedel designs in showing off a wine at its best. Please don’t pour your fine wines into anything less than these.

Telling White Wines Apart
How easily can you identify the wine in your glass if you don’t already know what it is? Most beer drinkers probably believe that they could pick out their favorite in a blind tasting of beers, hands down. Indeed, there are still more than a few who would rather fight than switch. Yet, in a blind tasting of a dozen popular beers I once conducted for a group of twelve tasters, not one person correctly identified his own favorite.
With access to tens of thousands of professional tasting reports available online, it’s never been easier to find those characteristics which distinguish one wine varietal from another; but it does require a bit of effort. Here’s one example:
These are the words used by a popular wine magazine to describe hundreds of foreign and domestic Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays.

(Words used repeatedly appear in boldface type.)

green apple
light body

creme brulee
exotic fruit
full bodied
ripe apple
A careful reading of these descriptors shows that both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay share some common characteristics: citrus, floral, melon, pear, smoke, and spice. But there are a few words which are used repeatedly to describe one of these wines, but never the other.

SAUVIGNON BLANC – defining characteristics
green apple
When you find these characteristics in a white wine, it is very likely that you are drinking a Sauvignon Blanc, not a Chardonnay. Further, the more dominant these characteristics are in the wine, the more “varietal character” the wine is showing.

CHARDONNAY – defining characteristics
creme brulee
exotic fruit
full bodied
ripe apple
Chardonnays are typically full-bodied, creamy wines, characterized by tropical or exotic fruit, ripe apple, and vanilla (which is a product of storage in new, small oak casks).

Foxen Cabernet Sauvignon 1993

Foxen is a small, high-quality producer in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The tiny winery is located in an old barn on Foxen Canyon Road, several miles south of the valley. Foxen owns a small hilltop vineyard called Tinaquoc, planted largely to Cabernet Sauvignon, but most of the winery’s offerings are made from purchased fruit from the Santa Maria Mesa, home to Bien Nacido, Cambria, Byron, and Rancho Sisquoc.

Of Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignons, Foxen has always been at or near the top of the list. Producing top quality Cabernet Sauvignon in the Central Coast region has always been difficult. This varietal seems to be ideally suited to the Napa Valley and warmer regions of Sonoma and Mendocino County. In the Central Coast, it picks up vegetative qualities (herbs, olives, bell pepper) which most Cab drinkers tend to dislike; although these typically Central Coast Cabernets can provide an excellent match for Mexican and Southwestern foods.

Foxen, along with The Gainey Vineyard, was among the first to produce Cabernet Sauvignons which broke out of the Central Coast profile. In blind tastings, they often pass for North Coast wines. But there’s a secret to this success. The vineyard locations (in Santa Barbara County) are usually on the tops of rolling hills, often above the fog. In addition, the best vineyards are hand pruned during the growing season to expose the grape clusters to sunlight. The additional sunshine promotes fruit flavors and reduces or eliminates vegetative flavors. This carefully managed vineyard treatment, coupled with superior wine making technique, makes these Cabernet Sauvignons fully competitive with typical North Coast products – and a fabulous bargain, besides.

We have seen the best Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignons compete in blind tastings favorably with North Coast products costing twice as much money. The wine we are about to comment on was purchased for $18 at the time of release. Current prices of Gainey Cabernet Sauvignons are about the same.

Tasting the Foxen 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon underscored once again the need to leave California Cabernets alone for five years – my personal rule of thumb. If kept in decent conditions, these wines are sturdy enough to hold on to all their initial assets, while developing complexity and enhanced aroma. The Foxen was tasted alongside a 1983 Jekel Monterey County Cabernet Sauvignon. The Jekel cost about half as much as the Foxen and was not quite as rich or balanced; nevertheless, thoroughly delicious even after 15 years! The comparison suggested that the Foxen might easily have gone another ten years without decline. This has been my experience with the Eberle Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignons also.

What was the Foxen like? Explosively aromatic, with deep, ripe plum and blackberry flavors, along with cedar and tea. Tannins were soft, but not yet silky. The wine “teared” beautifully on the sides of the glass, showing its rich texture. And its wonderful finish lingered on the palate. A truly outstanding wine and a great value. If you are able to find Cabernet Sauvignons from this producer, don’t hesitate to purchase them; but stash them away while they mature.

Recommended Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignons: Brander, Gainey, Foxen, Babcock (Fathom), Eberle, Justin.
Raise a glass and toast to another enriching experience. Cheers!


Refers to the taste of wine. If there is too much acid, the wine will taste “sour.” Sugar balances acidity. A good wine has a pleasant sugar-acid balance. More acid will make a less-sweet wine seem even drier.


The aspect of wine that determines its “flavor” by smelling it from the inside of the mouth. White and rose wines have a fruit or berry aroma. If wine is made in oak barrels, it may smell like wood or vanilla.


Type of wine that comes from a region in Burgundy, France, and is made from the Gamay grape.


Also called the “density” of the wine. It describes whether the wine is “thin” or seems to hold some substance.


The aroma present in a wine after it is aged in a bottle.


Letting wine aerate by leaving the cork out of the bottle for about 20 minutes.


A region in France which is responsible for a variety of popular wines, including Chablis, Chardonnay and White Burgundy.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Often called the “King of Red Wines,” and is one of the famous grape varieties in Bordeaux, France. It possesses rich flavors.


A type of wine that comes from a region in Burgundy, France, and is made from the Chardonnay grape.


A type of white grape popular in Burgundy, France, that is famous for its rich aromas and flavors. Other noted Chardonnays are produced in California, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and Italy.


A descriptive term used for a wine that tastes zesty due to its high acidity level.


Also known as the “body” of a wine. It describes whether the wine is “thin” or seems to contain substance.


Refers to how sweet or acidic a wine is. Wines with no residual sugar are called dry. The presence of sugar can make a wine sweet. This may vary from barely perceptible to quite sweet.


The aftertaste that lingers in your mouth after tasting and swallowing a sip of wine. This effect is often used to determine the quality of wine. A good wine will have a pleasant lingering sensation lasting at least several seconds.


The prominent grape variety found in Germany and Alsace, France, that usually produces a crisp wine.


A substance found in the skins, stems and pips of grapes. It can make red wine seem bitter or dull, depending on the level of tannins in a wine. Without tannins, a red wine may lack substance. Tannins fade with time, helping wines age gracefully.


Texture is how the wine feels in your mouth, called tactile sensations. This includes sensing the body of the wine and the presence of tannins.


Refers to a wine named after the variety of grapes from which it was made. Some classic varietals include Chardonnay, Riesling and Zinfandel.


The year that the grapes for particular wines were harvested. Most wines have a vintage date.

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