Drinking wine and really enjoying it are two very different concepts, as any oenophile would agree. While we all love our reds, whites and rosés, when it comes to describing them our vocabulary is often limited to ‘Hmmm! Sparkling indeed.’
Pretentious flaunting aside, wine sampling can actually be quite a delightful experience. For one, you get to have all that wine. For two, your wine education will help you figure out your own preference. For three, you’ll actually enjoy the wine so much better (this one’s way up there with pretentious flaunting). The problem is that the million rules of wine tasting are downright intimidating. But as always, we’ve got your back.
We got in touch with owners Chris & Karen Fodor of City & Country Urban Winery to bring you some quick tips on drinking and sampling wine like a pro. To jog your memory, a while ago we visited City & Country, Alberta’s first-ever urban winery which happens to be right here in Calgary’s own Barley Belt. And, we were smitten.
They’ve got a crazy wine selection ranging from California white to Okanagan Merlot and everything in between, thanks to their ideology of not sticking to one vineyard or varietal. The wines come with no added flavours, colours or sugars. And they have the most chill ambience ever for a winery. Of course, we’ve frequented the place ever since that first trip.
On our last visit, we decided to sit the husband-wife duo down and get some tips on making the most of our wine drinking and sampling experience. As was expected, the wine-makers threw intimidation out the window and gave us a simple and logical ‘7S’ approach to drinking and sampling wine. Whether you are throwing a tasting party yourself or attending one, these will come in handy.
Serve it (Choosing the right glassware)
Contrary to traditional wine tasting rules that require different glasses for different types of wines, Chris & Karen’s version is pretty straightforward. Pick a large-stemmed glass that is wide at the bottom and narrow at the rim. Then fill a quarter of the glass with wine. This is simply because it’s the easiest to swirl the wine in that. And as you’ll see below, swirling is a major aspect of wine enjoyment.
Sequence it (Following proper order)
We always knew that wine sampling is supposed to have an order. The what and why of it is something we recently learnt. So, the reason the order is so important is ’cause if you have lighter wine after a heavy, rich wine, your palate won’t be sensitive enough to register the delicate notes of the light wine. Chris recommends this sequence- Sparkling, Light White, Bold White, Rosé, Light Red, Bold Red, Dessert-style or sweet.
Swirl it (Starting with a swirl)
Alright, we’ll admit, the primary reason to swirl a glass of Pinot Noir would be that it looks just plain fancy. But swirling actually serves more purpose. One very important one is that it helps determine the texture and alcohol content of the wine. If it is a slow-moving wine, it is richer and heavier and if it clings to the glass, it has more alcohol content (this is if there aren’t artificial add-ons in the wine). Another important aspect is that swirling airs the wine which is essential for the wine to release all its flavour notes.
Smell it… (Sniffing is crucial)
Ah, the sniff! Without getting into too much technicality, here’s the gist- our tongues can only distinguish salty, sweet, sour and bitter tastes. For the rest, we depend heavily on our sense of smell. So, when we give the wine a good sniff, it reveals a bigger flavour profile- citrusy, savoury, fruity, floral, etc. It’s only once our nose has caught these aromas will our palate register them. Of course, if you’re new, the only thing you might smell in the beginning is wine but with a little help and practice, it gets easier to appreciate the bouquet. Also, if the aromas aren’t strong (meaning the wine is tight), a good, long swirl is the solution.
Sip it (Tasting the wine at last)
It’s finally time to take that first sip. But wait, there’s a right way to do that as well! Get over the urge to take a giant sip and gulp it at once. Instead, assess your wine in a 3-sip process lingering each sip on by rolling it around your mouth. With the first sip, take into account the alcohol content, acidity, tannins, sugars and all the wonderful flavours. With the second sip consider which taste is predominant and whether all flavours blend well together. And with the third, take note of specific flavours like spices, sugar, vanilla, citrus, etc.
Sync it (Paring your wines with food)
We’ve all heard of classic food pairing with wine but Chris’s theory- throw it all out the window. As long as you like the taste, the wine and food are in sync. That said, he does suggest a few things that could be kept in mind like wine should have firmer acidity than food, wine’s sweetness should be the same or more than the food and opt for bolder wines with boldly flavoured food and vice versa.
Share it (Spreading the joy)
As wine lovers ourselves it is hard to imagine a scenario where we like our wine less but as Chris points out, just ’cause something isn’t less doesn’t mean it can’t be more. Drinking and sampling wine are at their delightful best when done with friends, family or even significant others.
Now that you’re familiar with the 8S’es of wine drinking and sampling, it’s time to head over to City & Country and test them out for yourself, or even hit up their Tasting Festival for unlimited wine this November! You can even grab a pack of 6 from their website and host a fun wine evening for friends- free delivery of course, don’t drive when you can drink!