One of the best things about working in a specialty wine shop is helping customers find the perfect wine. One of the benefits of Meza Wine Shop is that we always have at least 20 different wines by the glass and they change every few weeks. Our staff is knowledgeable in each wine and has different tasting notes, aromatic descriptions and preferences for our menu. One of the sayings we hear the most from customers is: “I know nothing about wine!!”
My response is always: FALSE! There is a TON we can learn about wine on first glance, first sniff, and first sip. After all, that’s how we all at Meza have learned: practice, practice, practice! (And by practice I mean drink a lot of wine). We all had to start at the beginning. So, if you find yourself a little lost sitting next to your friends at the bar who use words like “aromatic,” “balanced,” and “malolactic fermentation,” here are some tips to expand the way you experience wine:
1. Check out how the wine looks. Hold up a piece of white paper behind it to notice if it’s a lemon yellow or a straw yellow, or maybe a deep purple as opposed to a rusty red. Have you ever heard anyone talk about how wine has good legs? It’s a real thing. Legs refer to the trails of wine that trickle down the side of a glass when you swirl it. If it has strong, long legs (which we all love, am I right?) it could signify a better quality wine, or, it could mean that there are some tensions happening between the water and alcohol in the wine. Ethanol is involved and there’s even some fancy science words to go with it, but if you notice legs, mention ‘em. Whatever you see happening in your glass, make note of it.
2. What does the wine smell like? Most people start to struggle here. I often hear people say, “It smells like grapes.” Or, “I smell wine.” They get discouraged because they think they can’t go any further, when I want to say, “HEY! You can smell that it’s wine! BRAVO!” For real. That’s something. Don’t get down on yourself. Start somewhere! Does the aroma remind you of a color? A season? A place? A food? With each smell, take yourself one step further. If it reminds you of a food, which one? A grape? What kind, green, purple? Push yourself to think just one step further.
3. What does the wine taste like? Hint: whatever you smell and taste… you’re not wrong. A wine expert at a tasting once said to me, “Canned green peas. That’s all I’m getting from this glass.” I laughed, took a sip and thought, “Huh. You’re right. Canned peas.” Sometimes we hear the weirdest descriptions, but usually, whatever someone smells/tastes is genuinely what they smell and taste. Don’t feel overwhelmed; if you can think of only one palatable description, that’s okay! It’s one more than most wine sippers.
4. Lastly, I’m going to give you a little secret of mine. When I’m tasting wine, I imagine myself walking through the produce section of a grocery store. Do I taste: grape, cherry, strawberry, peach, apricot, green pepper? I picture myself outside. Do I taste: fresh cut grass, barn yard, straw, mineral, rock, salt? I have to envision myself being somewhere where these things are out in the open. As soon as I transport my imagination outside of the bar, I can come up with tastes almost instantly.
We all have to start at the beginning… and becoming an expert at wine tasting is WAY more fun to practice than practicing for a marathon run or something (no offense, runners). The only way to become an expert is to practice, be open to learning and have fun with it. So crack open a new bottle, start taking some notes and enjoy the experience. Cheers!