If you are reading these lines, you will fall into one of two categories:
You are a wine connoisseur; you can tell a Chateau Grand-Puy-Lacoste from a Chateau Leoville Poyferre by simply looking at the glass; you can recite all the grape varieties grown in the wine region of Klein Karoo; you can smell when a wine has been corked even before you open the bottle. You are Dionysus reincarnated.
Wine is so obscure that it seems a thing of magic, and unfortunately you are a muggle surrounded by Gryffindors and Slytherins; whenever you are handed the wine list at a restaurant you react like a vampire being shown a cross wrapped in garlic; for you there are only two types of wine: red and white (rosés are merely a red wannabe). You are not worthy.
If you identify yourself with the first group, turn away now. There is nothing for you here. If, on the other hand, you are a lost soul from the second category, fear not, for we are coming to your rescue. We will provide you with a few pointers that, even if they will not turn you overnight into a wine encyclopedia, it will give you a basic understanding of the most commonly used concepts at a wine tasting. Are you up for it? Yes? Well, then read on, young Padawine (sorry, I had to do it. It was the will of the Force…)
WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY DOING?
If you have been to a wine tasting, or simply have been sharing a glass of wine with one of those obnoxious know-it-all friends (I am looking at you, Lorenzo), you might have noticed that they are not content with pouring their wine and drinking it, they start playing around with their glasses: rise them, tilt them or swirl them. Why, you wonder? And you start doing the same just to blend in, without a clue of what you are doing (at least you look cool, you tell yourself).
THE COLOR (OF MAGIC)
Whenever a sommelier rises a glass, it will rarely be to propose a toast (I have never seen one that seemed happy enough to celebrate anything). They will hold the glass high and still for a while. The sole purpose of this is to look at the color of the wine. The true color. Here is the thing: liquids (and more so wine) have an inherent density that make them seem darker the more of it there is (that is why the deeper you dive into the ocean the darker it gets). In order to take this variable our of the equation, sommeliers rise and tilt the glass so that the edge of the wine (the lip) is as shallow as possible. By looking at this thin line against the light, you should notice that has a lighter color when compared with the center of the glass. Can you see it? Congratulations, you are looking at the true color of your wine.
And why should you care about this? Believe it or not, this will tell you if the wine has been aged. Wines that have strong colors (red, magenta, purple, sometimes even blue-ish), colors closer to that of the grape itself, will be young with little time spent in the barrel (or no time at all).
On the other side of the spectrum you have washed our colors: orange, brown, tile. This is a sign that a wine has been aged.
Once you have a little bit more experience, you might even be able to say approximately for how long the wine has been aged. For the moment being, I think this will be enough as far as the color is concerned. Time to move to something sexier. Time to talk about…
THE BODY (NOT ELLE MACPHERSON)
Low body, medium body, full body: you’ve heard it all before. What does it all mean? Well, like any other liquid, wines have a specific weight, and this changes how it feels in your mouth. The easiest way to understand this is to compare light, medium and full-bodied wines with skimmed, semi-skimmed and whole milk respectively. Even with our eyes closed, a sip of milk and we can tell which of the three we are tasting, and the same goes with wines. But as a little trick, you can rely on the amount of alcohol to tell them apart. Since alcohol increases the density of the wine, the more the alcohol, the higher the body. As a rule of thumb, wines under 12.5% alcohol are considered low-bodied; between 12.5% and 13.5% medium-bodied; and wines over 13.5% alcohol are full bodied. Please take this with a pinch of salt: there are other factors affecting the body of a wine such as the amount of sugars and fats.
But Simon, why should I care about the body of a wine? Well, that is a great question, disembodied voice in my head. Low-bodied wines are easy to drink (you can knock back a few glasses before you had time to say “who are you and what are you doing in my bed?”) and will fill you up less. Full-bodied wines will be consumed at a slower pace and they will fill you up faster.
As a rule of thumb, before a meal you should serve a low-bodied wine so that you can drink a little bit more and make the conversation with the in-laws more tolerable; and once you’re at the table switch to the full-bodied to slow down your pace and not make a fool of yourself in front of said in-laws. Low body goes with conversations; full body with food.
To be continued...
Simón Garcia - Junio 2018