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Savor the experience

How to taste wine like a pro

Published: Thursday, July 3, 2014 10:00 a.m. CDT

We can all certainly drink wine like a pro, but can you taste wine like one?  While there’s no wrong way to taste wine, there is a better way to do it; it’s called the 5 S’s of wine tasting.  They are the basic steps one should go through to truly enjoy a wine.  Before we tackle the steps, however, let’s take a step back to understand why we take the time to “taste” wine in the first place.

Simply said, it’s to decide if we truly like the wine.  However, experts taste wine to determine the complexity or character of the wine, the potential for age-ability and for possible faults.  If you follow these steps, you eventually will learn to do likewise.

SEE Don’t over-pour your wine; pour it just a quarter full (you will find out in the next step why).  Now, SEE the color of the wine.  Hold it in the light (preferably against a wine background like a white paper) and tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle.  If you are doing a blind tasting, the color will help to narrow down your guesses.  For white wines, is the color light yellow, straw yellow, or gold? For red wines, is the color pinkish, red or dark purple?

SWIRL Hold the glass by the base and give the wine a good whirl.  Note the streams of the wine going down the glass; these are called “legs” or “tears.”  Legs indicate the body, or thickness of the wine.  They do not indicate quality.  Again, the type of legs will help to narrow down your wine varietals.  

SNIFF/SMELL Swirling will have helped release the nose, or aroma of the wine, so give your wine a good sniff.  Don’t be coy; put your entire nose into the glass.  Do you smell fruits, spices, earthy overtones, or oak?  Can’t smell anything?  Swirl again.   Are you having problems grasping for words to describe what you are smelling?  When you first start these exercises, it helps to go through these steps with friends.  They just might find the words when you cannot!

SIP/SLURP Now for the best part, SIP the wine; better yet, SLURP it.  What is slurping?  Sip the wine but don’t swallow it.  Hold the wine at the front of your mouth and open your mouth like you are going to whistle.  Instead of blowing air out (whistling), suck in air (slurping).  Again, don’t be coy.  Slurping can be noisy, but it’s fun.  Similar to swirling, slurping helps release flavors and aromas in wine.

SAVOR After slurping and sipping, give your wine good swallow and savor the flavors.  Is the wine sweet, bitter, sour or salty?  Did it feel buttery?  Was it crispy? Was it tannic?  Describe the flavors. How long did these flavors last?  A wine that lingers in your mouth is said to have a long finish versus a short finish.  Typically, a ‘good’ wine will have a long and complex finish.  That’s it.  Enjoy!

Visal Kheam is the owner of Flight 112 in Elmhurst. He has more than 13 years experience in the wine industry operating several stores in addition to his Elmhurst wine bar and restaurant.

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