Comparing wines should not be thought of as a “competition,” and yet we need some way to differentiate the really good ones from the so-so ones.
Around here, we’ve always embraced the 100-point grading scale that we came to know and love (or not) in school. While the system has its critics, I’ve yet to see a better way to separate the best from the rest without a 1,000-word essay to explain the nuanced differences.
That said, wine appreciation is all about personal preferences because every palate is different. Personal prejudices also come into play, among them the idea that one does not like red wine even though the only red they’ve ever had was a full-bodied, tannic, built-to-age Cabernet Sauvignon that was opened in its youth.
After years of tasting and judging wines, and watching them evolve in the cellar, I’ve embraced five “truths” that I hope will help you on your own wine journey. And keep in mind that it is a never-sending journey, because each new vintage brings new and evolving experiences.
- For consistent wine assessment, you need a systematic approach. Even if it’s as simple as swirl, sniff and sip, you need to do it the same way for each wine you’re comparing.
- Don’t judge a wine by the first sip. This is particularly true if you just opened the bottle. Some wines need a little time to “open up” while in the glass — a process that can be hastened with swirling.
- “Full-bodied” does not necessarily equate with “full-flavored.” That’s why “big wines” often are best enjoyed with a hearty meal, as the food and wine help to bring out the best in one another.
- It pays to pause. Most people simply lift the wine glass to their mouth, take a sip and swallow. But if you want to experience the full flavor spectrum of the wine, hold it in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing.
- The finish is the prize. Virtually all of the world’s greatest wines have a long finish — a mix of flavors that linger in your mouth long after the wine has been swallowed. A good finish invites another sip, and lets you know that you made a wise choice by opening the bottle.