We are all mortals until the first kiss and the second glass of wine. ~ Eduardo Hughes Galeano
Transcending mortality (in a purely metaphysical sense) after the first kiss can be well understood by those of us who have experienced the heady euphoria that accompanies such a kiss. Why, then, does it take a second glass of wine, the classiest social lubricant, to elevate your spirits to the levels of immortality? Well, just as you bestow worth upon a sweetheart whose affections you had to earn after much hard work, you need to put in some time and effort to understand the finer nuances of wine in order to fully appreciate its worth! For starters, there are more varieties of wine than you can imagine and you may not like all of them equally (you may, even, totally abhor a few!). In order to make up your mind about which ones you like, you need to embark upon a journey of wine-tasting. You need to take your chances with more than one variety of wine in order to come up with your 'favorite wines list'. Discovering various types of wine and acquiring a taste for them is a gustatory adventure and if you are passionate enough, it will take you places you never thought you would end up in (ah no! I am not referring to a police lock-up or a sleazy bar in some slimy neighborhood!)! That being said, here are a few tips on how to learn to enjoy wine and appreciate the difference between various varietals and blends.
How to Acquire a Taste for Wine
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to get introduced to, and get along with, the aristocracy among all alcoholic potions. Take heed and give yourself enough time as wine is not something you can expect to size-up on the first sip alone!
Do Your Homework
Read up about various types of wines, methods of winemaking and aging, grape varieties and cultivars used in making different wine varietals and blends, particulars of storing wine, history and geography of winemaking, etc. Read all about the basics of wine tasting such as what kind of glass to be used for which wine, how to sample different types of wine, storing and serving temperature, etc. Visit vineyards and get to see the fascinating art of winemaking with your own eyes. If you're anything like me and love reading and traveling, I'm sure you'll find information thus gathered very interesting. Trust me, once you acquaint yourself with all this background information, you will find yourself eagerly looking forward to the experience of tasting wine for the first time!
Seeking advice from the experienced is always the first step towards embarking upon unexplored territory. Talk to people who understand and enjoy wine. Ask them how they got acquainted with, and acquired a taste for, fine wine. Seek their suggestions on wine varietals/blends that are ideal for sampling by an inexperienced palate. This way, you will be able to avoid going for very dry and strong wines in the initial stages of acquaintance. You see, most people who do not like wine the first time they sample it usually go for varieties that are suited for more mature and experienced palates. The result is that they end up believing wine to be something too complex to agree with them, labeling it as the poison of the intellectual snobs and cultural elites alone. Few people realize their own mistake in selecting the right kind of wine for the right stage of experience.
Take it Easy
Here, by 'easy', I mean 'easy on the palate'. Start off with wines having a very low tannin content. You see, the 'dry' or acidic feel that your mouth experiences is induced by tannins which are astringent polyphenols. These give your mouth that 'sandpapered' feel. Remember, higher the level of tannins in a wine, the 'drier' it feels. Some good beginners' wines with low tannin content are Riesling, Merlot, Beaujolais Nouveau, Chianti, Rosé, White Zinfandel, etc. Many fortified and dessert wines such as Port, Madeira and Sherry are also good options to start off your practical journey of oenology.
Flirt with Variety
Sample a variety of wines before reaching a verdict. For instance, despite being red wines, Beaujolais Nouveau (light-bodied, less tannins, sweeter taste and kind on the palate) is as different from Cabernet Sauvignon (full-bodied, significant amount of tannins, stronger and dry on the palate) as white is different from black! The factors which differentiate two wines from each other are manifold and chiefly include the grape cultivars used, pressing method, aging, choice of storage material, fortification or lack of it, etc. Therefore, it is advisable to sample many different varieties of wines to make up your mind about which ones you like the best. Thereafter, you can experiment with different brands and blends of those varieties.
How Cold is Too Cold?
Serving temperature matters. Very low temperatures bring out the acidity of a wine while a temperature that is only slightly lower than the room temperature brings out the fruity and/or spicy undertones of aroma and flavor. If you're a wine-virgin, it is always a good idea to 'lose your virginity' to a sweetish wine served within a temperature range of 6°C-15°C, depending upon the variety served. Remember, the less cold a wine is, the more likely it is to indulge your gustatory and olfactory senses to its full capacity. On a general note, most of the white wines are served at or around 15°C which is the average room temperature. Most full-bodied red wines, on the other hand, are served at a considerably lower temperature as these wines release strong alcoholic undertones when they get warm. However, lighter-bodied red wines may be served below room temperature but chilling them too much before serving causes their fruity flavor to go largely unnoticed.
Experiment to Discover Your Calling
Read up about food-wine pairings and try them out yourself. Thereafter, experiment with your taste buds by pairing different types of food with different types of wines to see what agrees with you. This way, you will discover that a lot of times, your taste of wine and your preference of food-pairing differs significantly from all tried-and-tested formulas. I, for instance, discovered that I love drinking port 'on-the-rocks' (weird? Not for me! I like the way the ice dilutes the heaviness of the flavor without interfering with the sweet aroma!) and a Chardonnay-Roast Turkey combo just does not make sense to my palate! Therefore, there's nothing wrong with your own tastes differing from that of a professionally trained sommelier. Just stick to whatever combination agrees with you no matter what the 'experts' say. Also, apart from pairing with different food items, try drinking different types of wine at different times of the day, in different seasons and in different surroundings to get a hang of what works for you. You see, there is seldom such a thing as 'one person, one wine' as most people like to have different wines in different situations.
One of the most important ways of understanding the complex essence of a particular wine is to make complete use of your ocular and olfactory senses besides your sense of taste. After pouring out a glass of wine, raise the glass to your eye-level in a surrounding which has natural or soft light. Take in the chromatic splendor of a red or pink wine and visually relish the effervescence of a sparkling wine - if it doesn't make you marvel, your senses probably aren't elevated enough to appreciate the finer aspects of life! Gently swirl the wine in the glass and take in the subtle aroma that escapes the surface - the olfactory message works as a fuel that fires the anticipation of tasting fine wine! Finally, take a slow sip, allowing in just about enough wine to sprawl over your tongue without filling your entire mouth. Allow the wine to stay in your mouth like this for a second or two before gulping it down. This way, all your taste buds get to process the complex (astringent-sweet, woody-spicy, fruity-dry, etc.) gustatory information in a comprehensive manner, allowing you to unravel the mysterious layers of the wine's flavor. I would like to extend another piece of advise before signing off - do not compromise upon quality. Even if it seems expensive or even overpriced (trust me, a good wine is NEVER overpriced - it is ALWAYS worth every penny spent on it!), it is extremely important to purchase a premium quality wine for a first-time sampling. A mediocre quality wine can ruin the first experience and this can be a big turn-off and discourage you from giving wine another chance! Remember, no one ever forgets his/her first love or the first kiss - things aren't that different when it comes to that first glass of wine either!