Wine was regarded in Ancient Greece as a gift from the Gods, one of life’s great pleasures. The exciting world of wine can be opened to you too, if you know a few of the basics.Firstly, wine is a beverage that is mainly water, with 12 – 15% alcohol (which is sweet), food acid (sour), red tannins (which are bitter) and many flavour compounds in micro amounts; as you would expect from a fermented fruit juice.
Secondly, it is important to know how your eating system works.
There are two competing senses involved – the mouth/tongue and the nose. The former tastes or feels (sweet, acid, bitter, salt, savoury) what has entered the mouth while the latter checks out the aromas – twice – by sniffing, and then while the food or drink is warming in the mouth. This second time is interesting because the aromas are passing over the nasal sensors in the reverse direction, carried there as we breathe out (bacaroma). The word flavour refers to the persistent feeling in the mouth combined with the bacaroma. Thirdly, wine is not like other beverages. If you drink wine in the same way as water or beer, as many do, then you are missing much that a wine has to offer, in particular the flavours and a more complete experience of the wine’s balance. On the other hand if you treat wine as a food (liquid food?) and eat it, then everything that a wine can offer becomes available. Here’s how it’s done: Keep the head level (don’t throw the chin up!), tip a small portion of wine into the front of the mouth, don’t swallow, hold the wine there and chew lightly. Wait and enjoy the experience. Now that you are equipped with the above knowledge any wine can be approached with confidence. That doesn’t mean that you have to like everything you taste, but you can make better judgements. For example, it is much easier to spot the ‘short (ie. cheap) wines as opposed to those with lingering flavours (ie. quality). Wine is no different to other foods like strawberries or tomatoes; the mass produced cheap ones will be short and watery whereas the quality ones linger and are memorable. Foods that are delicious and interesting need care and expense to produce. Here are some other useful hints:
- be open to trying a range of wines, such as the same grape variety from different areas or vintages. It’s fun to discuss and share with friends.
- a food and wine “match” is a delight, when the best is brought out in each, or a poor match is awful – it will be obvious. Chicken or fish really do go well with a dry white wine, as do lamb or beef with a dry red. Sweet wines with sweet foods of course.
- it is normal to be able to discern only one or two aromas. People who claim more have vivid imaginations!
- use large open glasses, that don’t have to be expensive.
- second and third tastes are more reliable than the first taste.
- a high wine price does not always indicate quality. Keep away from the bottom; the $20-$50 retail bracket will serve you well.
- There is an Australian myth that red wine quality and price is related to “full-bodied”. Full flavoured wines are more exciting and better with food. (The women were right!)
- there are different wines for different occasions. Picnics and BBQ’s may require a light fresh wine, whilst formal dinners use wines as conversation pieces, hence an individual styled wine is appropriate.
- try wines that are a little older (6 years plus) as they have little or no preservative remaining and are more interesting.
- avoid decanting or breathing a wine, unless they are very young and you want to reduce their preservative level to bring up the flavours.
- be brave and curious!
Nicholson River Winery
January 2011 (updated October 2018)
[For more information see these other articles “How to Eat Wine” and “New Modern Wine Course”.]