Red wine sure can be intimidating, but does it have to be? Heck no! Fake it ’til you make it with these 5 tips that will get even the most novice amongst us through a meal in style.
Time to take red wine under your wing…
1) Pick a speciality
Unless you have the time to study for years, you will never master a knowledge of all wine regions so it’s time to pick your speciality region and stick with it.
This by no way means you can’t dabble into the mysteries of other regions, but when the wine list comes, you know exactly where to flip to.
My suggestion, keep it classic – yes ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to make Bordeaux your bitch.
- We are talking Old World wine – prepare to impress (Did you know some of the most expensive bottles of wine in the world come from this area?)
- This region is known for its limestone ‘terroir‘ (French word with no true translation but think of it as a wine’s habitat – soil, wind, atmosphere etc.) meaning pretty much all wine from Bordeaux is damn tasty
- Nearly all restaurants will have some sort of offering from this region
2) Know your vintage
So we have our region, now let’s talk about the year. Why is this even important? Well we all remember those years where the scorching summer never ended and those where the sun barely shone.
Grapes love a particular sun schedule and when the magical year blossoms it is known as an ‘exceptional vintage’. It’s also the reason the same wine, from the same chateau, but on a different year can cost 3x as much.
REMEMBER: Years ending in 0 and 5, stay away from 3’s
– 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015 = all amazing Bordeaux years (Psst! 2015 was amazing across Europe)
– 1993, 2003, 2013 = terrible Bordeaux years
So, even if you have no idea which wines are good, you know that if you pick something from the Bordeaux region, with a vintage ending in 0 or 5 you are pretty certain to be on to a winner.
3) Would you like to try?
IMPORTANT: You are NOT trying to see if you like the wine, if you don’t, well that’s tough luck. You are trying the wine to see if it is ‘corked’ meaning oxygen has gotten into the bottle and turned it bad.
Sommeliers can do this by smell alone and if you want to look super fancy then do not drink at this point. Swirl the wine around the glass to release as much vapour as possible – the more vapour, the more you can inhale and assess.
Does it smell of mould or a damp neglected cupboard? Yes? Then it’s probably corked and you can ask for another bottle. No? Then you are good to go!
TOP TIP – you can’t tell if a wine has gone off by smelling the cork, if your waiter does this he’s either uninformed or being an ass.
If you are in a fancy, or even not so fancy restaurant this should be taken care of for you, but if not then there are a few rules to stick to that would leave even the Queen impressed:
- The label should always be facing upwards to see what you are drinking (a red wine lush often has a hazy memory)
- Wipe the lip of the bottle with a serviette after each pour (to stop staining drips falling on mumsy’s best cashmere)
- Never touch the glass with the bottle (it could have been lost in the back of a filthy cellar for years – probably not but you never know)
- Only fill the glass a third of the way (to allow for all important swirling)
- As you finish pouring, twist your hand and bottle (stopping those last few drops from making a macabre scene of the table cloth)
- NEVER pour out the last dregs (leave a fingers width amount of wine at the end of a bottle as even the best wines will have a little sediment waiting to hit your throat on the way down)
This is a subject all on its own and so I won’t go to nitty gritty here or you’ll be at risk of panic forgetting everything – or is that just me? Just remember these simple steps and prepare for the poshest of tofts to fall down at your knees:
STEP 1: Swirl & Sniff
Unlike food, you distinguish a wine’s ‘flavour’ with your nose. But KNOW THIS whatever you think you are smelling is completely correct.
Never let a wine boff scoff at your fruity description – remind them that scent is based around experience. When you ‘scent’ a wine it is to establish that wine as a memory on which to recall should you wish to drink it again.
If you smell roses, then you say you smell roses with pride and without fear.
STEP 2: Taste & Swoosh
I know, swirl & swoosh? Remember, swirl is in the glass, swoosh is in the mouth.
YOUR MOUTH DOES NOT TASTE FLAVOURS. That was all in the nose.
With your mouth you establish the more chemical qualities of a wine:
Tannins – think cranberry juice, if all the moisture is sucked from your mouth then you have a wine with high tannins.
Length = Long/short – essentially how long the wine taste stays in your mouth after swallowing. You got it! Long means a while, short means hardly at all.
Acidity – tricky to distinguish from tannins, think eating a lemon, your mouth puckers but also waters, right? So if you feel puckering but the saliva is not sucked from your cheeks then you’re tasting acidity.
Alcohol – OK this one is decided in STEP 1 but makes more sense to write here. Swirl the wine around the glass – hold it at an angle so you can see the residue drip down the glass. These drips are called ‘legs’ – if they move quickly you have a lower alcohol wine, if they move slowly you have a higher alcohol wine.
SETP 3: Enjoy!
Whether you drink to get drunk, or genuinely love a good wine, make sure to enjoy every drop. Regularly perform STEP 1 and STEP 2 to see how oxygen, food and even atmosphere can change your initial reading of a wine.
Good luck my fellow drinkers, you are ready to face the world of red wine!
Did you enjoy the read? Of course you did! Then you will love our post on ‘HOW TO… Throw a Great Wine Tasting’ with even more helpful wine tips, ensuring you look and feel like a lavish lush.
Keep your eye out for our upcoming post on ‘HOW TO…Taste Wine Like a Pro’ for in-depth tasting tips and lingo.
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