Magazine article Sunset

A Matter of Taste

Magazine article Sunset

A Matter of Taste

Article excerpt

* The idea that any of us needs to learn how to taste seems almost ludicrous. By adulthood, after all, we've had considerable practice.

But does simply having mastered eating and drinking really mean we know how to taste? I would submit that it doesn't. When it comes to wine, if you don't taste and smell correctly, you miss a lot of delicious pleasure in the glass.

Now I admit that wine tasting seems to invite affectation. But wine-snob exhibitions aside, there is a way of tasting that professionals use to maximize a wine's flavors. Look at the wine. When I first started studying wine 20 years ago, I'd watch the experts examining glasses so intently you'd think there was buried treasure in them. I'd wonder what they could possibly be looking for. Primarily color, as it turns out. Color is a clue to the wine's age. White wines get darker as they get older. Red wines do just the opposite; they get lighter.


Compare the pairs. In the "finish" category, which do you think has the longer?


* Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Riesling 1997 (America), $9. A super-crisp Riesling, so light-bodied it's almost sheer.

* St. Francis "Old Vine" Zinfandel 1997 (Sonoma County), $24. Big, exuberant, jamlike fruit gives this wine a round, full body.


* Covey Run Fume Blanc 1997

(Washington), $7. Zingy, snappy, and tart, this wine has a thirst-quenching texture.

* Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 (Napa Valley), $22. As soft as a blanket, this Cabernet is also packed with juicy red fruits.


* Domaine Grand Archer Chardonnay 1997 (Sonoma County), $15. Beautiful balance, with creamy apple-tart flavors and a (you decide) finish.

*Grgich Hills Chardonnay 1996 (Napa Valley), $30. The wine equivalent of French vanilla ice cream, with a (you decide) finish.

Color is also a clue to the grape variety. Because the pigments of grape skins differ from variety to variety, so do the ultimate colors of the wines. Pinot Noir grapes make brick-colored wine. Gamay is Jell-O red. Zinfandel can be electric purple, Nebbiolo almost black. Observing the color prepares your mind for the sensory experience to come. Swirl it. Prove to yourself how critical swirling is: Pour the same wine into two glasses. Swirl one glass; don't swirl the other. See which one you can taste better. I guarantee it's the swirled one.

Swirling "opens up" a wine by mixing it with molecules of oxygen, which makes the flavors and aromas more pronounced. …

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