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Wine Tasting 101

Discover Charlottesville

Sip, Swirl and Savor

I knew very little about wine when I started my job as a tasting room associate for a well-known winery in Nelson County. Fortunately, the man who hired me was a Sommelier and he was willing to train me. “You’re a what?” was my first reaction. I had never heard of the profession let alone had a clue to the specifics of the job and all it entailed. However, once I learned it was about wine tasting, and pairing food with the right wine I thought, “Oh yeah count me in.”  

Then I watched “Somm.” You would think a whole movie dedicated to watching someone learn to taste wine would be mind numbingly boring, however I found it more mind bending. A couple sips of wine and a Somm can tell you with accuracy the varietal of grapes the wine is made from and its percentages, as well as what country it hails from and which region. And that is just the beginning.  

Fortunately, as a tasting room associate, I just needed to know the basics. Due to having a good teacher, my boss, and in-service instructional sessions I developed a good understanding of some basic wine tasting techniques.  

Often when I was dolling out tastings, my customers would see the next group over going through the ritual of the swirl, smell, and sip and question the necessity of the ritual. Here was my opportunity to pass along my secret wine tasting knowledge. Not that it’s really a secret but it does feel a bit like everyone else is in the club and you have been left out.  

Welcome to the world of Charlottesville wine tasting 101! Here I will help you navigate the fundamentals of wine tasting, so you can confidently explore Virginia’s wines and impress your friends. So, grab a glass, sit back, and let’s dive into the basic wine guide that will transform you from a novice to a connoisseur. 

1. Do Not Chew Gum When Wine Tasting  

So often I would watch a customer spit their gum out right before they started their tasting. I implore you do not chew gum right before a wine tasting. As a matter of fact, make sure you have taken care of all your mouth hygiene well before you go tasting. Mint and wine are simply not a good combo.  

2. Evaluating Wine by Sight Is Not for the Novice 

You may see other wine connoisseurs look straight down into their glass of wine, hold it up to the light, and tilt it to and froe and wonder what they are trying to discern through these glass aerobics. Those in the know are looking for clues about the wine’s density, saturation, and even the grape variety. This exercise is not for the novice as it would require more in-depth knowledge of the different grape varieties. Since this requires a book unto itself let us move on.  

However, I can share simple yet cool trick that will make you look like an expert even if you are not. When tasting a red wine, tilt the glass and observe the wine near the rim. This will help determine the wine’s age and weight. A pale, watery edge might indicate a thin or younger wine, while a tawny or brown hue suggests an older or oxidized wine. 

3. Evaluating Wine by Sniff and a Swirl 

Your nose plays a vital role in understanding the world of wine. Here’s how to make the most of it: 

Sniff your wine then swirl the glass and sniff again. You will notice a big difference. The swirl releases the wine’s bouquet and allows you to better determine floral, fruit, or herbal aromas. It is fun to compare and contrast with your fellow tasters, but before you decide who has the superior sniffer keep in mind there are no wrong answers. 

Bad smells fall into the category of mustiness, burnt matches, vinegar, or nail polish. These smells are usually indicators that the wine is flawed or has been “corked” (air has leaked into the bottle due to a bad cork) and will not taste very good.  

4. Evaluating “Wine Legs” and Why It Is Not Important 

After swirling their glass, you will often see people observing a wine’s “legs” or “tears.” There is a misguided notion that the thicker the legs the better the wine. This is not true, it is simply because wines with thicker legs have a higher alcohol and glycerin content, indicating a sweeter and/or denser wine.  

4. Please Do Not Drool When Evaluating Wine by Taste  

Finally, it’s time to taste the wine and explore its flavors. Here’s how to do it: Take a sip and then take a second sip. The second sip is always a better indicator of how the wine tastes.  

Try holding the wine in your mouth while taking a small sip of air. While this is a bit tricky it will oxygenate the wine as it sits in your mouth giving you a fuller scope of its flavor. It is the same concept of swirling your glass of wine then smelling it. All this said, take care that you don’t accidentally choke or dribble wine on your chin. Drooling while tasting wine is not a good look.   

When tasting wine ultimately you are wanting a wine which is balanced, harmonious, complex, and evolved, with a satisfying, lingering finish. 

8. Charlottesville Wine Tours 

Embark on wine tasting tours in Charlottesville to explore Virginia’s exquisite wine offerings. Discover new favorites and learn from the experts at local wineries. 

The more you taste, the better you will become at identifying flavors, aromas, and wine characteristics. Attend wine tastings near you and explore different Virginia wine varieties to expand your palate. 

9. Wine and Food Pairings 

Experiment with wine and food pairings to enhance both your dining and wine tasting experiences. Understanding how flavors complement each other will elevate your appreciation of Virginia wines. 

10. Enjoy the Wine Journey 

Remember, learning about wines is a lifelong journey. Embrace the adventure, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek guidance from fellow wine enthusiasts. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is… if you taste it and you like it that is all that matters even if no one else shares your enthusiasm. Now that you have mastered the basics of wine tasting, it’s time to explore the Charlottesville vineyards and toast to your newfound expertise. Cheers to your wine tasting adventures!  

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