We love opening a bottle of wine with dinner or celebrating with a glass of bubbles. Despite our proximity to Napa, when we wanted to learn more about picking the perfect pairing, we didn’t hop in the car. Instead, we stayed in San Francisco and visited Bluxome Winery. Owned by Peter Chouinard and fourth generation wine maker Matt Reider, Bluxome Winery is reviving wine making in San Francisco. Tasting Room Manager Meghan Shaw showed Rue where they make their wines and gave us all the tasting tips we craved. We’re here with “Wine Tasting 101” so there’s no need to feel intimidated when facing the wine list.
How to hold. The stem keeps the wine from warming too much from the hand, so hold the glass from the stem or base. If you’re at a cocktail party and balancing a glass in heels, however, hold the glass the way that is most comfortable for you.
The swirl. The purpose of swirling wine is to fill the bowl of the glass with the wine’s aroma. You don’t have to get dramatic with the swirl; the safest way is to keep the glass on the table and move it in small circles with one hand. You can also hold the glass to swirl, if you feel comfortable. This is why a glass of wine is only poured to the widest point, typically one-third to one-half full.
Acid vs Tannin. Acids are tart and commonly found in white wines. You can feel the effects of an acid on the sides of your tongue. An acid will make your mouth water whereas tannins, found in ‘big reds’ are bitter and will suck your mouth dry. Tannins are a chemical in grape skin that bonds to salvia molecules, causing the dry mouth feel. To train your palate to identify these flavors, Meghan suggests tasting lemons for acid and black tea for tannins.
Nice legs. You may have heard about “the legs” on a glass of wine. Forget about it! The legs are useful for learning about a wine, but they don’t tell you anything about quality. The legs, or the drips you see on the side of the glass after swirling, signify the different rates of evaporation of the water and alcohol. Higher alcohol content wines have quick, thin legs while lower sweeter wines have thick, slow legs. It’s always interesting to see, but ultimately has nothing to do with quality.
Picking wine. Whites for chicken and seafood, red for beef, right? Megan agrees these simple rules can be helpful… but rules are meant to be broken… or in this case, improved! You can match the wine with the meat or you can match the preparation style. Say you are out to dinner with a group of carnivores and are looking to share a bottle of red without ordering steak as well. Try a barbecued chicken or blackened fish.
How to find the wine you love. Go to a bar and drink. More specifically, find a wine bar and talk to the sommelier. When you like a wine, ask about it and see if they can recommend something similar. Try to identify the similar tastes that you appreciate. Then in the future, use those words to describe the type of wine you’d like when at a wine shop or restaurant. Another great way to taste many wines is to arrange evenings of wine tastings at home with friends.
Meghan’s last piece of advice? “Drink the wine you feel like drinking.” What other wine faux pas do you worry about?