Bottle Service: Ring Out the Old

The new year often inspires us to try new things. So what if something new for you is trying something old? Are you game?

I meet a lot of people interested in wine — explorers, enthusiasts and experts. Whatever stage you’re in, discovering wine is an exciting journey. But why is wine so intimidating? Like any field of study, there is specific vocabulary and depth of content. The world of wine certainly has both. That’s why it fascinates so many. But there is only one question that every wine lover must answer: do you like it?

If you’re an explorer, forget the vocabulary and complexity; decide if you actually like the taste of the wine. If you do, see if you can find out why. If what you like is that it’s quenching your thirst, try water. If what you like is that it’s getting you buzzed, try spirits. Is it delighting you in any other way? Is it the smell, the taste, how it lingers on your palate, the way it makes your food taste? Do you like the way it dries out your tongue? Perhaps it makes your mouth water or leaves behind a bitterness. If you can identify any of these characteristics, you can begin to develop an understanding of what you like.

One thing that helps me decide what I think about a wine is breaking down the tasting process into three parts. First: how do you like the wine when it first enters your mouth? Some call this the approach or the attack, and the term “fruit forward” comes from this step. The second part: how does it feels as it’s crossing your tongue and moving about the mid palate? And the last step: the finish; what happens after the wine is gone? Once you’ve looked at the three steps, you can decide which one you like best.

I think the first and the last steps hold the most obvious characteristics. (There’s a world of complexities for enthusiasts to discover in the second.) As you taste more wines, you’ll begin to decide what’s important to you. A great wine will send you singing at each stage. And why is it great? Because you like it.

Now that you have broken it down, you can move on to trying to identify the characteristics you like. The more you are able to explain what you like, the more the experts (in restaurants and wine shops) will be able to point you toward more wines that will send your palate soaring.

On the first step, you’ll often taste fruit. Then on the second, you’ll discover additional tasting notes; perhaps it’s earthy, floral or spicy. The last step reveals the finish. It can be smooth, tart, spicy or bitter. The finish can be the key to successfully pairing wine with food, and for experts, the finish can reveal the quality and longevity of a wine — a characteristic important to collectors.

So start practicing this with one of your old favorites. Break it down. Figure out what you like about that wine, and pull together a definition of your preference. Now, go explore something new.