Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

How to conduct a wine tasting and FAQ’s on wine

One of the small pleasures of my life is conducting wine tastings. I really enjoy imparting information to eager learners, and wine lovers are perfect students. You ask good questions, are usually very attentive and truly want to learn more about the wine you drink.

My tastings go something like this: I’ll usually give you a short history of wine and then demonstrate how to get the most out of the tasting by teaching you how to use your senses to fully appreciate wine.  

Think in terms of the ‘five S.’s of wine appreciation: (1) sight – observe the wine and judge its clarity, color, etc; (2) swirl- rotate the wine in the glass to unlock the flavor and aroma; (3) sniff – place your proboscis deeply into the glass and smell and try to describe what you are smelling; (4) sip – my favorite part of the tasting where you roll the wine around in your mouth allowing it to touch all the surfaces; (5) swallow – judge the impressions the wine leaves when you swallow it.

Generally, a wine tasting will consist of examining six or seven wines beginning with lighter and sweeter wines and moving to fuller-bodied and dryer ones. Tasters should receive about one ounce of each wine so the total amount you drink over the course of the tasting approximates one full glass of wine.  

Tasters are encouraged to critically examine the color as well as the aroma and taste of each wine, and to render an opinion as to what they liked or disliked about a particular bottle.

After years of conducting these tastings, I have compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions and today I would like to share them, along with my answers to them, with you.  

What is the correct serving temperature of white and red wine?

White wine is best served from 45F to 55F except for
Champagne or sparkling wine which should be served around 40F. Red wine should be served between 58F and 65F. I usually put my reds in the refrigerator – particularly in summer – for about 15 minutes to cool them.

How do I know which wines will benefit from aging?

Most of the wine, both red and white, that is on the shelf for purchase is ready to drink now. Certain full-bodied reds such as cabernet sauvignon,  Bordeaux, Barolo, Brunello Di Montalcino, can benefit from bottle aging in exceptional vintage years. To determine which vintages and wines warrant aging, research them on the internet or read wine magazines or periodicals to find the information. A few whites such as Sauternes and other late-harvest sweet whites along with some chardonnays can benefit from extended bottle aging too.

Does the old axiom of white wine with fish and red wine with meat hold true?

Sometimes, but there are exceptions. For example, grilled tuna and salmon along with spicy grilled chicken are better accompanied by red wines. One rule I follow is the lighter the food, the lighter the wine and the fuller flavored the food, the fuller –bodied the wine. Vinegar based salad dressings are a no –no! Wine, with perhaps the exception of Sparklers, clashes with acidic dressings destroying the taste of both the wine and dressing.


Does decanting wine help improve its taste?

In my opinion, all wine, white and red, benefits from the aeration that decanting provides to wine. Exceptions are very old wines (those over twenty years old).You’ll also need to be careful to pour slowly and watch for sediment in the last few ounces of red wine.    


Should I be concerned about sulfites in wine?

Sulfites are used sparingly in the wine making process to prevent oxidation and assist in keeping the wine clean. People who have hyper-sensitivity to sulfites should speak with their physicians. By the time commercially produced wine is bottled, there should be no or only trace amounts of sulfites present.

How can you make white wine from red grapes?

Color in wine comes from the pigment in the grape’s skin. If you remove the skins from the juice of red grapes, the resulting wine will be white. For example, Champagne is made from the blending of two red grapes (pinot noir and pinot meunier) and one white (chardonnay) yet the resulting wine is white.

I’m sure you have many more questions about wine and I encourage to post them at the end of this blog and I’ll get back to you with the answers.

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