Many of us enjoy a glass or two of wine. But how much do we really know about what we’re drinking?
During my early 20s, my choice of the very occasional bottle of wine with a meal would be based mostly on price – generally something chosen from the ‘two for a fiver’ deals – this was the time when Bulgarian reds were flooding the European wine lake.
These days, price is still a factor. But I’ve done some research (it’s a hard life) and found some ways to get more even more enjoyment out of wine.
There are lots of courses, tasting sessions, tours and parties available to teach you a little more about different types of wine, and giving you the chance to sample some different stuff than you’d normally buy.
Most FE colleges run a variety of short wine-tasting courses during evenings and weekends. With a group of friends, we signed up for a one-day wine-tasting course at our local college.
We all turned up at 10am one Saturday morning, ready with packed lunches, a packet of cream crackers to share, and our own wine glasses. This particular course was focussing on New World wines – those made outside Europe.
Tasting wines before lunch did feel rather strange to start with, but after sampling a few, some of those inhibitions receded!
For each wine, we were given a description by the instructor and a small sample of the wine to both smell and taste.
It’s totally different to drinking a glass of wine with dinner or in front of the telly. This experience of slowly savouring each sip and thinking carefully about what tastes were present was new to me.
Because flavours tend to remain on the palate, it was recommended to eat something neutral – so the cream crackers were brought out between each wine.
By the end of the day, we’d all had a great time, experienced some new wines that we wouldn’t otherwise have tried and learned a little more about our own personal preferences.
Organised wine tour
Where there are different wineries located close together, there are often companies that run wine tours, in places like France, California and New Zealand.
The tour we chose to do was in New Zealand, as we were planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip there.
This was called ‘On Yer Bike’ – a tour around wineries in the Hawkes Bay area by bicycle.
In the morning we picked up the bikes, a packed lunch and a map of the wineries in the area.
Each winery had a selection of wines to try with either tasting notes or personal explanations from the staff. There was a small charge in each case for the tastings (generally up to six wines), but often if you purchased a bottle of wine then they took this off the price of the tasting.
It may be a good thing that there was quite a distance to cycle between each one, to work off the wines sampled, as we managed to stop off at about five different wineries.
As we were travelling on the bikes, there was another good point of organisation – you could leave any wine purchased at the Winery and the On Yer Bike company came around towards the end of the day and took them back to the start/finish point.
However, managing to transport them back to the UK at the end of the holiday was another matter!
One year I decided to host a wine-tasting event – including blind tastings of various wines.
It’s amazing what can be found on the internet. Knowing that there are different tastes and aromas found in wines, I managed to find some lists of key ones and print them out for my guests.
I selected three bottles of red and three of white – deliberately choosing different countries and grape varieties for each.
Each bottle was disguised and numbered, and each person was given a sheet of paper to write tasting notes against each number.
The aroma and tasting descriptions were pinned around the room for reference and great hilarity ensued as everyone tried to decide whether they were detecting vanilla, tobacco or violet in a particular wine!
I think we all learned not to judge a wine by its bottle but found out a little more about what tastes we preferred.
My top wine-tasting tips
- Your own personal taste is most important (I never did like New World Chardonnay – even when it was just about all you could get in a pub). There is an almost infinite variety of flavours, so if you think you don’t like a particular grape or country, it is still worth trying something else as it may be quite dissimilar to your original dislike.
- Going on a wine-tasting event is a great way to find out which wines you like – and perhaps more importantly, those which you don’t like. You don’t have to travel all the way to the wineries to take part in a wine tasting – you could either organise one with friends, but also high street wine stores and independent wine merchants like Majestic often organise wine tastings there.
- Take photos or keep notes on wines you like, or use an app like Vivino. Try giving each wine a score out of 10 to help you find the same or similar ones again.
- If you build up a stock of wine, it may be worthwhile marking or labelling those you want to keep for a special occasion – perhaps using coloured stickers. I use green stickers for ‘drinking anytime’, yellow for ‘Sunday lunch wines’ and red for ‘special occasion wines’. This has stopped me inadvertently using a £20 bottle to make mulled wine (see the picture above).
- Note down ‘drink by’ dates – handy for some white wines that are best drunk within a year or two (if they ever last that long!), and for remembering to keep specific red wines for a surprisingly long time if they are known to improve with time.
A few of my favourite wines, which are generally available at supermarkets or larger wine retailers:
- European French (especially Loire valley), Sauvignon Blanc
- New World Dry aromatic wines such as Gewürztraminer or Riesling
- European French (especially Languedoc area) Picpoul de Pinet
- New World ‘Bordeaux blends’ red wines from the Hawkes Bay (Gimblet Gravels) area of New Zealand
So next time you’re uncorking, unscrewing, decanting or pouring, maybe give a thought to finding out a little more about what’s in your glass.
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