Sunday, 14 September 2008

Enjoying a taste of sophistication

More and more people are becoming knowledgeable about wine. And many of them are getting caught up in the trend to take it all terribly seriously. They attend wine tastings and as a result they buy wines that are much more expensive but which they enjoy almost as much.

Precisely because wine tasting is becoming so much more common, I felt I would be doing a public service to note down the few tips and guidelines that I’ve picked up down the years on this subject. Following them can make the whole experience far less daunting than it might seem, particularly when attending a tasting with people who have an already firmly established track record for sophistication in the field.

The important thing is to prepare a list of adjectives. In particular, you should remember the names of various fruit, such as strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant etc. as well as some of the sweets that kids enjoy so much, notably liquorice.

In the first stage of the tasting you have to stick your nose in your glass and mumble incoherently. Then you swirl the wine about a bit, something I’m told helps it oxygenate. Personally, I just think it’s fun to watch a real expert do this, especially with red wine, because it makes lots of pretty patterns as it trickles back down the sides of the glass. Then you stick your nose back in a second time and spend a while ostensibly inhuming the bouquet – don’t forget, wine doesn’t have a scent, far less a smell.

Now you have to place your first adjectives. Try something like: ‘Ah! Light and delicate, wouldn’t you say?’

It doesn’t matter if they reply ‘I’d be more inclined to say rich and full-bodied.’ All you do is take another noseful and then say, with a nod and a smile, ‘ah, yes, I see what you mean.’ You’ll get credit for having offered an opinion in the first place and even more for having agreed with them: the agreement shows real intelligence and understanding.

Next comes the actual tasting. Take a small amount in your mouth and swirl it around, as noisily as possible. You have to form your lips into a pout and try to look as though your mind was on higher things, with your gaze fixed on the middle distance. Now you can use your fruit and sweet adjectives.

‘Ah, I think I detect a hint of raspberry, with a touch of liquorice in the background.’

You can demonstrate even greater sensitivity to the finer points of the subject by speculating about origins. ‘I wonder if we're not talking about a south-facing aspect here and perhaps a shaley subsoil?’ South-facing's a pretty safe guess and no-one cares if the ground was nowhere near any shale, or even that you have only the vaguest idea what shale actually is, to say nothing of the likely effect on the taste of the wine. It's enough to seem to know that sun and soil have some kind of effect on wine to establish your reputation as someone with natural gifts.

Once again, you may find yourself contradicted by the experts, but as with the bouquet all you have to do is agree with them.

When it comes to identifying fruit flavours in wine, it doesn’t actually matter what fruit you select. After all, in my view what wine mostly tastes of is wine. In so far as I can ever taste any fruit in it, it tends to be grape, but that’s far too banal to mention.

It would be fun, though I have to admit I’ve never yet dared do it, to push the boat out a bit and try some unusual fruits. ‘Uhm, a touch of cassava, wouldn’t you say, with perhaps a little pineapple, and I rather suspect an after taste of toffee fudge.’ It would be interesting to see whether anyone agreed.

In any case, following this advice should give you hours of harmless fun. And as long as you’re prepared to dent the credit card and buy a few crates from time to time, you’ll quickly establish yourself a reputation as a budding connoisseur. And you should have the pleasure of drinking some good wines.

But if you’re after the flavour of liquorice, my advice is to stick to Allsorts.

A cheaper alternative to a fine vintage?

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