Wine Myths, and What are Legs???
I was at a wine gathering last week with folks that like their wine but a few I spoke with had some misconceptions about wine and how to really get the most out of your wine tasting experience. I thought I would write a bit about wine tasting basics and discuss some myths as well.
So here you are with your glass of wine, what now? You’ve probably seen people swirling their wine, why is that? There are at least three things you should look at when tasting wine: color, smell, and taste. The wine maker has used his or her expertise to achieve the desired look, smell and taste of that wine so you should pay attention to all three.
First the color, the way you can see the color is to turn the glass slightly on its side and ideally hold it above a white sheet of paper (or napkin). Can you see through it? If so then the wine is on the lighter or medium side for color and color can range from pale to dark. You expect to see certain color profiles with certain types of wine and their age and that it is a more involved discussion for a later post.
So next is where the swirling comes in. At this gathering last week someone said that you don’t swirl white wine, which is not the case. White wine in many cases has more aromas than red, so you want to swirl to release those. An easy way to do this is to place the glass on the table and swirl it while the base is flat on the table. Don’t hold your wine by the bowl of the glass but only by the stem. Holding the bowl will alter the temperature with the heat from your hand and wine should be at a certain temperature ideally. As you stop swirling raise the glass up to your nose and yes stick your nose in the glass. It sometimes is good to start smelling as you approach the glass this way you can more easily pick up notes. Try to identify what you are smelling. Vanilla, floral, citrus are all things that you may pick up in a white wine. For reds it may be red or black fruit, spice, tobacco and even leather.
So now to these legs. Folks don’t seem to talk about them as much as they did a few decades ago, but they did come up last week and there was a misconception that this somehow indicated the quality of the wine, it does not. After swirling your wine you may see streaks that are left on the side of the glass. These are sometimes called legs (or tears of wine as the French say).These only indicate the alcohol level of the wine and not very accurately – look at the label for that. If the wine has a higher alcohol content then you will usually get more streaks.
So finally you are ready to taste this wine. Take a small sip and let it flow over your palate and hold it just for a few seconds and then swallow. Do you get a sensation of salivating? If so then the wine is more acidic. Take another sip. Does your mouth feel dry? If so, then the wine has a high level of tannins. Tannins you will find in a lot in red wines as they come from the skins primarily and white wines don’t have much contact with the skin. But with white wines you will have acidity or sweetness.
Then what are you tasting? Red fruit, black fruit, jammy, earthy, citrus, tropical fruit? There is a whole spectrum and as you test your palate more you will taste more in the wine.
So next time you order a glass try this tasting method and hopefully you will enjoy your wine drinking experience a bit more and it will make you more knowledgeable of what you like and don’t like.
Try and think of the wine maker and the hours of effort put in to achieve the desired color, smell and taste, these things did not happen by chance. But most of all enjoy it!