If you’re new to wine tasting, the time is perfect to venture out and visit one of Lodi’s many wine tasting rooms and sample a flight. It’s getting warm, and it’s the perfect weather to enjoy a beautiful white wine—chilled, crisp and, a delightful surprise for your palate!
Wine tasting is a sensory experience. It involves sight, smell, mouth feel and taste. And each of your senses plays a significant role in how you not only perceive the wine, but whether you wind up taking that second taste, or even buying a bottle to take home. So, if you’re ready, here are a few tips.
• Call ahead. While many local wineries accept drop in visitors, it’s always best to call ahead and book a reservation. This allows the winery to let you know if they have any policies that you might not be aware of and ensures that you’ll have a good visit. If a winery is booked at a particular time, you may not get the level of educational service that you’d like, and quite honestly, most tasting room staff know the wines on site and can provide you with a wealth of information.
• Ask questions. Tasting room staff will be happy to share insights regarding the wines that they’re pouring—as well as they’re favorite(s) and why. Many have been into the production facility or even the vineyards and can tell you about harvest or even what it’s like during bottling.
Our staff have hand-picked grapes, worked the bottling line and tasted right out of the barrel and/or tanks during fermentation. They’ve become a part of our family and can speak with pride regarding a particular varietal or vintage.
• Tasting conditions. You’ll gain the most from your wine tasting experience if you set the stage for success. Pick a table or location where you can concentrate and there aren’t any competing aromas or distractions. *Don’t wear perfume or cologne. Perfumes, strong food smells, etc., will hamper your ability to get a good sense of what the wine’s aroma is, and isn’t. Likewise, make sure that your glass is clean. If you’re sampling more than one wine. You need to condition your glass by giving it a quick rinse with a small amount of wine, not water, swirling it around to cover all sides of the glass.
• Enjoy the color. Hold your glass up to the light and notice the color. A wine that looks clear and brilliant is a good sign. A white wine that looks tawny or has a tinge of brown may be older, not necessarily bad, but something that you should be aware of before you purchase a case. White wines range in color from pale yellow [straw] to light gold, all the way to deep gold.
• Smell. Each wine has a distinct aroma, and that aroma is specific not only to the varietal, but the specific wine in your glass. I enjoy taking a sniff before I swirl the wine for the first time. Just hover over the glass and take a short sniff. Think about what flavors you smell based upon your knowledge of what you’re familiar with—citrus [lemon, lime, orange], grass [herbs], grapefruit, stone fruit [peach, pear, nectarine, apricot, apple], tropical fruit [pineapple, mango kiwi, passion fruit], honey, minerals [think wet earth, wet asphalt], or floral [flower smells from light white flowers to fragrant roses].
Now swirl the wine in the glass and take additional short sniffs as your nose hovers over the glass. You’ll notice a difference in that first sniff and the sniff that you take after you swirl the wine. Swirling the wine releases different aroma compounds found within that wine. These compounds are so small that they literally float on the evaporating alcohol directly into our noses. The aroma is a large part of wine enjoyment, don’t believe me, plug your nose and taste the wine. All the aromas of fruit will disappear and the true taste [sour, bitter, sweet, and salty], as well as the texture of the wine will remain in isolation from the aromas. Not the same experience!
• Taste, it’s fun. Take a small sip, not a large swallow, of wine into your mouth and try sucking on it as if you’re pulling it through a straw. This aerates the wine and circulates it throughout your mouth. You’ll get a better sense of the wine as will the taste buds on your tongue. Now you’re using your taste to determine if the wine is balanced, complex, evolved and complete. A balanced wine should have an even mix of flavors.
If a wine is too sour, too sugary, too astringent, too hot [alcoholic], too bitter, or too flabby [lack of acidity], then it’s not a well-balanced wine.
And when you hear folks talking about complexity, these are the wines that have layers. They change with each sip. The more you sip them [tiny sips], the more there is to taste; basically, layer upon layer of flavors.
Pause and notice how long the flavor lingers in your mouth after you swallow. As beginners, we tend to move on too quickly to the next sip or the next wine. Don’t. Take the time to sit with the wine, swirl, smell ‘n sip. Don’t hurry a complex wine, otherwise you’ll miss out on the layers of beautiful surprises that await your palate.
• Spit. Really, it’s okay. Quite honestly, if you’re serious about tasting the wines, then you can’t drink every drop of every wine in the flight and get anything from the experience. *Most wineries will have spittoons available so that you can pour the wine out. Remember, tasting wine is a sensory experience, not a competition. Do it at your own pace, taste what you like, and don’t force it. If you don’t like a particular wine, that’s fine, it’s your unique palate. But do give that varietal another try at a later date, you might be surprised.
• Eat. Don’t go to two or three wineries and taste without eating food. Some wineries offer snacks, others will let you bring outside food into your tasting to elevate your experience. Charcuterie [shar-KOO-ta-REE-] boards or boxes are a delicious way to enhance your experience and may include any combination of cured meats, cheese, crackers, nuts, dried or fresh fruits and dipping sauces.
Beginning July 1, guests at Nostra Vita Family Winery will have the option of ordering a charcuterie box when they make a reservation for a tasting flight. We truly believe that the charcuterie food items will serve to enhance the flavors of the wines on our flight menus. Order one and determine for yourself as to how they add to your tasting experience!