Wine Tasting 101 

Judging wines is not as easy as it looks

Snorting is allowed, slurping is acceptable, and spitting is encouraged in the classy art of wine tasting

I wore a dark shirt and dark pants to the seminar. It was my understanding that wine swirling was part of the course, and I wanted to walk out of that room without any visible stains.

It turned out that the swirling was elementary… a mere flick of the wrist and a quarter pivot counter-clockwise. My real concern turned out to be drool.

I confess to my shame, that the subtle differences between an $8 and an $80 bottle of wine are completely lost on me. I’m no connoisseur, but since I find myself buying more wine as I get older, it was high time to learn some of the fundamentals. Like beets, wine appreciation is an acquired taste. A little education doesn’t hurt either.

"When we talk about wine, it’s important to use the right words," says Mark Davidson, a sommelier for the award-winning Beach Side Café and the instructor of a seminar called Grape Beginnings: An Introduction to Wine Tasting, which was held as part of this year’s Cornucopia celebration. He also teaches Basic Certificate and Higher Certificate Wine & Spirit Education Trust Programs at the Dubrulle International Culinary and Hotel Institute of Canada, and helped found the Vancouver Wine Academy.

"There is a vocabulary to wine tasting that you learn over time that helps you to describe the little differences between wines. When someone asks you if you like the wine you’re drinking, you can say yes or no. But when someone asks you why you liked it, or why one wine you tried is better than another, it gets a little more difficult to qualify."

We use three, maybe four senses, in the wine appraisal process; sight, smell, taste and sometimes touch – some palates are so advanced that the wine drinker can actually get a tactile sensation from the wine.

For any of these senses to have meaning, however, you have to understand a little about how wine is made. For example, wine that is aged longer or in warmer climates may appear darker in colour than new wines or wines that are produced in cold climates. This is important because wines that are darker because they were aged tend to be richer in taste, while wines that are dark because they were produced in a warm climate tend to be sweeter and fruitier because the fruit itself is usually sweeter and fruitier.

If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is – some people spend a lifetime acquiring the skills necessary to become a wine connoisseur. That’s also why every classy restaurant worth its stars has a sommelier (wine expert) on the payroll: when you have wine on the menu for $300, and a customer asks why they should shell out, an "I don’t know" is not going to close the deal.

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