Tasting Tips

It’s wine time in spring, so we review classic tasting technique to help you get most enjoyment from your next wine festival, winery tour, or cork pulling with friends. We also throw in a few helpful notes.

The five-S method for tasting wine.

• See. Tilt glass in front of a white background to see subtle gradations and intensity of color. Malbec, for instance, has a magenta tinge against the rim.

• Swirl. Exposes wine to air and releases aromas, setting up next step.

• Smell. Masters of Wine smell at chest level, chin level, nose shoved into the glass. Most of us do not get much at chest level, but give it a shot—maybe your schnoz is special. More than half of taste is smell.

• Sip. Allow wine to caress your tongue. Inhale while wine plays inside your mouth to continue smell.

• Savor. Evaluate the sip. How were first moments—the “attack,” how did it evolve, finish?

This sequence may seem formal, but it really does enhance enjoyment of wine.

Quick notes on wine chat mistakes and myths.

• Legs—streaks that form on the glass after swirling—don’t have anything to do with wine quality. Known as lagrimas (tears) in Spain and Kirchenfenster (church windows) in Germany, they are pretty. That’s about it.

• “Meritage” not pronounced with French twist (mare-ee-TAHJ). Correct pronunciation rhymes with “heritage.” The name was coined in 1980s when the Meritage Association combined “merit” and “heritage” to identify American Bordeaux-style wines.

• “Champagne” is not generic name for sparkling wine. It is exclusive name of sparkling wine made in Champagne region of France. Quirks of law allow some American producers to call their sparkling “champagne,” but most of wine world frowns on this caddish practice.

• Sulfites in red wine probably are not to blame for your headache. Sulfites naturally occur in wine and more may be added as a preservative, but white wines contain more sulfites than red wines, and wine is not loaded with sulfites in any event. A single dried apricot slice contains more sulfite than an entire bottle of white wine. Wine may give you a headache, but sulfites are not the likely cause.

Last round: The best use of bad wine is to drive away poor relations. — French proverb