From a fellow wine tasting enthusiast, this is how I learned to taste wine in Napa Valley.
Have you ever found yourself with an upcoming trip to wine country feeling like you don’t know enough about wine? Besides its jaw dropping landscape and delightful weather, California also has the perfect opportunities for wine tasting and learning about all the different varietals that its multiple wine appellations are comprised of.
When it comes to producing wine, specific weather conditions are required to reach the ideal fruit quality. As a matter of fact, California offers an incomparable combination of sunny summers and mild winters for growing grapes, a reason why you shouldn’t miss out on wine tasting in Napa Valley. Second to only Disneyland, The Napa Valley attracts the most yearly visitors in California. It is kind of a “Disneyland for Adults”.
As a beginner, we all go through the same feeling of anxiety when entering a wine tasting room. What is a good wine? How am I supposed to distinguish an exquisite vintage from an old and decayed vinegar? Being a wine dummy myself, I went to a few wineries here in Napa Valley, and by asking a few certified sommeliers and browsing through some articles, I have come up with 8 tips to help you break the barrier between apprehension and pure enjoyment.
1. If you like it, you like it!
The opinion of a wine connoisseur is always a valuable way to start, however, your wine tasting story should be written with your own judgement in mind. Trust your palate and focus on your own senses, what do you feel, what aromas arise, what flavors are present? It really doesn’t matter if the bottle is $8 or $80, if you like it, you like it!
2. A wine label can be deceiving.
Don’t trick yourself into appreciating a wine just because of the label. Even though wines can be costly and aged, the high prices and vintages are not always evidence that you will have an enjoyable tasting experience.
Pro Tip: Do a blind tasting on your own with an expensive bottle and not so expensive bottle. See if you can tell the difference.
3. Observe your wine.
What does your wine look like? Wine can be characterized by several factors, including its color, shade and level of transparency. The color reveals the age. Inky, purple and dark shades suggest a youthful vintage; whereas a red, orange, brickish color will speak to the older age of a wine. The transparency will tell the varietal. For instance, a thick opaque wine will likely be a Cabernet and a more transparent wine may lean more towards a Pinot Noir. The level of alcohol in your wine can be determined by the drips it leaves on the glass curve. The longer and thicker “the legs”, the more alcohol the beverage contains.
4. Your nose knows.
Prior to your first sip, you might want to know more about what’s in your glass. The wine esters inside your glass will, while being moved around, release the flavors of the fruit.
Pro Tip: Cover your glass with your hand and swirl your wine. Not only will it make you look like an expert, it will release an array of aromas from your glass and trap them to make the flavors more intense and identifiable.
5. Let your mouth be the guide.
So you’re ready to finally take the first sip. Notice how the texture hits your palate. Is it smooth and refreshing or is it heavy and dry? It all comes down to tannins, which are compounds in the wine that affect the flavor, making a wine more bitter or dry.
6. Take note of the aftertaste.
So you’ve finished your glass of wine – what flavors remain? Wines contain particles that can stay on your tongue long after you’re done sipping. Based on the density, the flavor, and the finish, wine can leave a strong, weak, pleasant, or unwanted aftertaste.
7. Don’t be intimidated by the vocabulary.
‘I like it’ and ‘I don’t like it’ are fair opinions of a wine. You don’t need to have advanced and overdeveloped wine vocabulary. It will come in due time listening to the experts.
Finally, the last tip I can give you might be the most important of all:
8. Enjoy the moment – wine tasting is a matter of experience.
The atmosphere of the tasting room, the landscape, food, and other factors will influence your perception of the wine in your hand. The same exact wine might not be perceived the same way depending on the context in which you taste it. A wine develops in the bottles and barrels and the taste evolves over the years. Learn to appreciate the moment and not just the wine.
Those are my tips to get started on your path to being a pro in wine tasting… or at least the ability to enjoy your next trip to wine country a bit more.
Are there any tips I missed? Share yours with me!