If you want to throw a fancy dinner party, or mingle with wine aficionados without doing or saying something embarrassing, then you must learn the wine basics as quickly as you can.
Eventually, experience will make you a true wine expert, but this lesson will at least teach you the terminology you need to know and the correct way to select and serve wine.
How to Serve Wine the Right Way
Most wines benefit from “breathing” for a little while before you serve them. This means uncorking it and exposing it to the air, which generally improves a wine's flavor. Uncork red wines an hour before you serve them.
Red wines with a lot of tannin, like a cabernet sauvignon, should be poured into a decanter to breath. The greater exposure to the air, and the pour itself, takes some of the bitter edge off of the tannin. White wines should be uncorked half an hour before you serve them.
Pink wines have varying needs. Light pink wines only need to breath for a half hour or so. Dark pink wines, which have more tannin, should breath for closer to an hour.
Temperature subtly changes the flavor profile of a wine, and it affects every wine a little differently. Different wines should be served at different temperatures.
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White wine is best served cold. Keep most white wines in the refrigerator until half an hour before you serve it, when it needs to be uncorked. However, oaky white wines need to be even colder. Keep them sitting in ice while they are breathing.
Pale red and pink wines should also be kept in the refrigerator until uncorking time.
Most red wines should be served at cellar temperature, which is a little cooler than room temperature. Put red wine in the cellar a full day before you intend to serve it so that it has time to slowly chill. However, most reds will be just fine at room temperature.
How to Pair Your Meal with the Right Wine
The wine you choose depends on the meal you want to serve it with. Use the following guidelines to pair your meal with the right wine.
- Bread, Pasta, Soup, Pork : Light Red
- Most Roasted Dishes, Lamb, Duck, Sweet Sausage: Medium Red
- Beef, Goose, Barbecue with Red Meat, Lamb, Sausage : Bold Red
- Poultry, Most Seafood, Salty Dishes : Sparkling White
- Poultry, Flaky Fish, Vegetarian Dishes : Dry White
- Dishes with Rich Flavors: Rose
- Spicy Dishes: Any Sweet White
- Sweet Dishes: Any Dessert Wine
The first thing to do when wine tasting is clean your palate by taking a sip of water. Only when all traces of other tastes have been washed out of your mouth should you try the wine.
You should also breathe evenly and deeply for a few moments to quiet your mind so that you are in an open, receptive state before you start tasting.
Your sense of taste works in conjunction with your sense of smell. Smell the wine briefly before you take a sip. This will enhance the flavor.
Taste is a highly subjective sense. One person can think a wine has a taste like one thing, and a different person can think it tastes like a different thing. Neither person is wrong. Both are just subjective descriptions. However, wine lovers often use a standard set of flavors when they describe wine, in order to make communicating easier. Try these words when tasting wine:
Whites: Pear, apple, peach and citrus tastes are common ways to describe fruity tastes in white wines. Honeysuckle, rose, and orange blossom are words sometimes used to describe floral white flavors. Some white wines might have hints of vanilla, honey, beeswax, coconut, mushrooms, nutmeg, or butter.
Pinks: Cherry, strawberry, and kiwi are words sometimes used to describe fruity tastes in pink wines. Rose and hibiscus are words sometimes used to describe floral pink flavors. Pink wines might also contains hints of spice and sugar.
Reds: Strawberry, cherry, blueberry, raspberry, and currant are common ways to describe fruity tastes in red wines. Rose, lavender, and hibiscus are often used to describe floral red flavors. Some red wines might have hints of sage, anise, chocolate, tea, smoke, pepper, coffee, tobacco, or leather.
With just a little practice, you can select wines like a connoisseur. You may even develop some good wine-related insights. With a hobby that is as enjoyable as wine tasting, it should be easy to get enough practice.