How to look like a wine expert in four steps
Wine. It tastes good and it makes you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. It can also make you exude sophistication (and no, we’re not referencing the anecdotal evidence that suggests insobriety has character-enhancing effects).
According to an article on wine habits published by the Independent, over a quarter of British men consciously serve fine wine to their dinner guests to create an impression. It’s not just about making a statement either, more than half of British men are also concerned about making sure the wine complements the food too.
We could excuse this social anxiety as a mere symptom of being British, but anxiety over wine knowledge is too easy to treat to ignore.
So, if you want to step up your wine game without having to go to sommelier school, here are four tips to help you look like you know your merlot from your malbec.
Learn what the age of a wine means
Firstly, wine does not always improve with age. Only high-end wines tend to improve in flavour over the years. Other wines are made to be consumed close to bottling.
White wine can last a couple of years at best, while a red will survive for two or three years before transforming into a vinegar-like solution. If you find an old bottle of cheap wine hiding in the back of your pantry, let the drain drink it.
If you ever find yourself dealing with high quality wine, knowing about its age can get you serious connoisseur points. Knowing about the weather conditions in the year of its production will be particularly impressive too.
Feel free to let your friends know that good wine is made when the environment and weather conditions have produced a perfect harvest. For example: the year 1980 saw terrible weather in the Bordeaux region, so the wine is considered to be equally bad. In 2000 the climate was absolutely perfect and produced incredible wine.
Selling wine: no intact cork, no party
The are companies specialised in helping people to sell their wine with their free wine inspection guidelines. Perhaps surprisingly, they won’t accept any bottles with gaps or holes in the foil capsule. If the cork is pushing through the capsule by more than 2mm, the wine might as well be worthless. This is because the cork pushes out when a bottle is exposed to extreme temperature.
When product labels advise storing in “a cool, dry place”, it’s because temperature and humidity can ruin them: this is absolutely true for wine. If you are presented with a bottle with a visibly pushed cork, you can send it back immediately.
If you are about to drink a bottle that has a screw cap rather than a cork, remind your guests that a screw cap is not synonymous with a cheap wine. Rather, it means that who produced it wants you to drink it at its best: 3% to 8% of wine bottles with a cork become tainted and are often undrinkable.
Learn to describe flavours and colours
Using big words to describe the taste of wine is fun. You can read through guides like Wine Folly’s glossary to pick up a few useful terms. For example, a wine is not elegant because it has a fancy bottle design: “Off-vintages are often referred to as elegant vintages as they have higher acid and tend to have more ‘green’ characteristics […]. Elegant is that retired ballerina who puts the fat-n-sassy retired cheerleaders to shame.”
You don’t have to know what everything means, but discussing some basic notions (like what light, medium and dark wines look like) will help you raise appreciative eyebrows as you raise your glass.
The final touch: swirl your glass
It’s science: swirling wine in your glass makes it taste better. It also makes you look as though you know what you’re doing.
This is because “orbital shaking”, or swirling, mixes and oxygenates the wine, creating a wave that intensifies the flavour.
If you want to get technical, Dr Farhat, the fluid expert from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, said: “The gentle nature of orbital shaking ensures a better viability and growth rate of the cells at reduced cost.”
Stop sniffing your wine like your life depends on it. Swirling your wine properly and smelling it once will be enough to look like a pro. If you’re right-handed, swirl counterclockwise. If you’re left-handed, swirl clockwise.
Give it a small sniff, and drink.
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