Wine 101

Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper gives us a few lessons in Wine 101:

When asked to write an article about wine, it seemed rather intuitive to begin with a wine tasting primer. Undoubtedly, a large number of you reading this publication drink wine regularly, but you may still have numerous questions, while there are others who are just getting into wine and are thirsty for some basic wine tasting knowledge. Wine, I believe, is meant to enhance our life. It should bring us pleasure in many different ways. Wine aids in digestion; it can improve our health; and, it encourages friendships around the table. Understanding wine a bit more can enhance your enjoyment of it. It is from this premise where we will begin.

For discussion purposes we will use a specific wine so, if you wish, you may do this tasting primer as you read.  Please use a quality wine glass of eight or more ounces to fully appreciate this primer. Our wine will be the 2009 Honig Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley, California, with an approximate retail price of $20.00.  I actually helped pick (with an emphasis on helped) grapes one morning during harvest for this wine.

Three major points of emphasis in wine tasting are Sight, Smell and Taste.

Sight- Usually a full color will suggest a full wine and a light color will suggest a light wine. Our wine is pale yellow, clear and bright.

Smell- I use the acronym FEW to help remember this part of the tasting.  F stands for fruit and floral, E for earth and W for wood or oak. Fruit can cover the entire world of fruits, but think about fruits that are in the range of the color of wine.  For example, white wine may have flavors of citrus and apples; red wine may have flavors of red cherries and black berries. Earth can encompass everything from the smell of fresh tilled soil to mushrooms, minerals and beets. And lastly, wood or oak is used to age a good deal of wine, but not all. It can give a wine the smell of cinnamon, toast, vanilla and certainly the smell of oak. To better smell your wine, try swirling it in your glass to release the aromas and make it easier to describe its flavors. Our Sauvignon Blanc smells of lemon, grapefruit and fresh herbs, no oak and light wet stone minerals.

Taste – Our taste buds are equipped to sense four things: Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Salt.  Sweet is the presence of sugar in wine.  Dry is the absence of sugar in wine.  Medium-dry falls in somewhere between the two.  You usually detect sweetness on the tip of your tongue. To better understand dryness in wine, try this simple demonstration:  Place three glasses of water in front of you.  Into the first glass of water, pour an entire packet of sugar – this equals sweet.  Put a half packet of sugar into the second glass – this equals medium-dry.  No sugar will be put into the third glass of water – this equals dry.

Sour refers to the acidity in wine, and while it carries a negative connotation, it really refers to the zippy-crisp component in wine. It typically can be sensed on the sides of your tongue. Let’s take our three glasses of water again. Into the first glass of water squeeze an entire lemon – this would be very crisp. Into the second glass of water squeeze half of a lemon – this would be crisp.  Put only a few drops of lemon juice into the third glass of water – this would be low acid or not very crisp.

Bitter refers to the tannin in wine.  Like sour it carries a negative connotation, but it refers to the mouth puckering quality of wine. It may be sensed all over your palate. A heavily tannic wine can make any part of your tongue, gums, etc. contract and dry out. You can say a wine can be light, medium or heavy in tannin. Tannin can be sensed in grape skins, long steeped tea and espresso. Tannin is typically found in red wine because of the extended skin contact with the unfermented and fermenting wine during red wine production.

When you taste wine, allow the wine to stay on your palate for a minute, letting all parts of your palate touch the wine. This will allow you to more accurately use the various areas where you sense the flavors of the wine. The 2009 Honing Sauvignon Blanc is dry and very crisp.  Also, through taste you can establish the body or weight of a wine. The body of a wine is described as light, medium or full bodied; like a glass of water, milk and heavy cream respectably. Our Sauvignon Blanc is light bodied.

Hungarian vineyard

Your olfactory system senses smell in your palate as well as through your nose, so you will also be able to use your smelling technique again when the wine is in your palate. This helps you to connect the wine’s smell and taste. The aftertaste is the lingering flavor you get after swallowing the wine; an aftertaste is only bad when it tastes bad!  A good aftertaste is pleasant and persistent. Our Sauvignon Blanc has the flavors of lemon, grapefruit and fresh herbs and a very pleasant aftertaste.

So, we would characterize the 2009 Honig Sauvignon Blanc as pale-yellow with a nose and palate of lemon, grapefruit, fresh herbs, no oak oak and wet stone minerals. It is dry, very crisp, and light-bodied with a pleasant aftertaste. And don’t forget the easy descriptors like: this deliciously tasty little Sauvignon Blanc is superb.