How to bluff your way in wine, with tips from Master of Wine Debra Meiburg.
Words Cherrie Yu Illustrations Tim Cheng
*Featured in Crave’s Issue 78, November 2016
Hold a glass of wine below the chin to test the intensity of aroma.
Wine lovers are crazy about aroma. Here’s a bluffing tip: any wine should smell like fruit, so you can say, “Amazing fruit!” Or, “Check out that lovely fruit!” To test the strength of the aroma, (subtly) hold the glass below your chin: if you can smell it the aroma has high intensity; if you need to bring the glass up between the nose and chin it has medium intensity; and if you need to stick your nose in the glass and sniff then it has low intensity.
In general, New World wines (from anywhere outside Europe) are usually high intensity and European wines are medium intensity. For medium- to high-intensity wine aromas use words such as “perfume”, “aromatic”, or “forthcoming”. If you find a wine has low intensity aromas, say it is “delicate” or has “lovely fruit”.
Feel a wine’s weight on your tongue to test for body.
Take a sip of wine and hold it on the tongue, as if it were a surfboard. Feel how heavy the wine is and ask yourself: does it feel like milk or water? If it feels heavier, you can describe as if it were a man: full-bodied, robust, or powerful. If it feels light, describe it as though it were a woman: delightful, silky, or light.
Another test: if you can see your fingers behind a glass of wine, it is a light-bodied wine, and if you can’t it is a full-bodied. The lighter the body the better it goes with lighter food such as salads and seafood. More full-bodied wine goes with heavier food such as lamb or pork.
Use your taste buds to test a wine’s acidity.
Acidity is critical to good-quality wine, because it gives wine freshness and helps to preserve it. Think of your tongue as a map with different types of taste buds spread across different areas. In general, sweetness is tasted at the tip of the tongue, saltiness in the centre and sourness at the sides. Here’s a test you can do at a wine party: take a sip of the wine and swish it along the side of your tongue and feel the acidity. If it is too sour or tart, it is not good for wine. If you like the acidity, use words such as lively, crisp and refreshing.
The warmth of wine helps to indicate its alcohol content.
Take a sip, swallow and breathe out to feel the warmth: the warmer it is the higher the alcohol content and the higher the sugar content (during fermentation the yeast gobbles up the sugar and turns it into heat, bubbles and alcohol). Vines from hotter locations produce grapes with higher sugar content and higher alcohol, and vice versa. For example, wines from southern France have higher alcohol content than those from northern Europe and Germany.
Compare the texture of wine to fabric.
Take a sip of wine and rub your tongue against the roof of the mouth, the roughness you feel comes from tannins, which are very important to wines. The tannins make up a wine’s texture, so think about fabric when you are trying to describe it: use words such as silky, lacy, or velvety if feels smooth, and leathery or grainy if it feels rough.
Length of Finish
Length of a wine’s finish is essential to good-quality wine.
If wine has good length it is always good quality. Hold a sip of wine in your mouth for some time and swallow, and see how long the flavours last for. If you can taste the wine for a long time, describe it as lengthy, persistent, flavourful, or as having prolonged and endless flavours. The trick is to imagine it as horse racing: after taking a sip think of horses charging out of the gates, if they pass the finish line (pass the throat) then it is a winner.