How To: Have More Fun Tasting Wine

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I used to mentally roll my eyes into my forehead when I heard people talk about what they tasted in a glass of wine: wet rock, black cherry, tobacco, candied lemon peel, “jammy, red fruits”, oak, leather, clay, EARTH. It all seemed so contrived, RIDICULOUS, but I’d smile across the table with a slightly purple stained upper lip and nod—all the while silently thinking, “OooOKay. Tastes like wine to me.”

Despite what most wine guides would lead you to believe: there’s actually no definitive list of What Wine Tastes Like. That list doesn’t exist. We taste what we know. Sometimes when I taste a wine it brings back a specific memory from a transformative trip, other times it’s a flashback to my childhood. It doesn’t have to be all tannin, acidity, and finish.

 The fact is that common tasting notes, like those of our thirsty friend at the table, just don’t translate the same way for everyone. We haven’t all eaten the same foods or smelled the same smells or met the same well-spoken sommeliers who had a vast vocabulary of attractive and repeatable wine descriptors. And ultimately it’s not about what you’re supposed to taste. It’s about what you actually taste. It’s your experience.

So, backtracking a bit, what’s tasting wine other than tossing that third pour back at the quaint coastal winery? It’s a process consisting of two parts: what you smell in the wine and the actual taste once it’s in your mouth. Perhaps for you wine tasting is the ritual of identifying the primary, secondary and tertiary aromas of the contents of your glass. Perhaps not. Actively tasting wine is different for all of us. While I definitely now lean towards being one of those friends who swirls and sips at happy hour, my spouting off of tasting notes has been known to contain phrases such as:

  • It’s like licking the outside of a peanut shell served table side at a roadhouse.
  • Slightly old Bubbilicious gum from my grandma’s purse.
  • Clementines and honeydews.
  • Bruschetta on a patio in Italy in the summer.
  • Sweet, buttery, breadiness of just-heated King Hawaiian Rolls.
  • The aftertaste of watermelon fruit-by-the-foot (if you know you know).
  • Steak juice.
  • Flat coke that’s been sitting in the sun with a spicy candy in it (Fine. This was Fernet.)
  • Dried apricots.
  • Olive Tapenade.
  • Maple.
  • Green strawberries.
  • Biting into a peach fresh off a roadside truck.
  • Running through a forest in the autumn.
  • Strawberry soda like they served at Elementary school Honor Roll parties.
  • Eating a tart lemon bar at the peak of an alpine hike.
  • Like popping a snap pea in half.
At 27, it’s safe to say that the majority of my life hasn’t been spent eating sophisticated meals, so my points of reference for taste and flavor come from a place a bit different than those in the upper echelon of the Wine Community. I take pride in my southern upbringing and my relationship with food. I’ve got strong opinions about biscuits, country ham, and red eye gravy.  I appreciate the well-known undertones called out by wine professionals, but I also firmly believe wine should be approachable to everyone—not just those who’ve had every Cru, can define which bank their grapes were grown on, and who base their worth on the list of vintages in their cellar.

While my palate is influenced by a smattering of fine dining experiences, flavors of international dishes, spices, herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and wines I’ve had in the past, it’s also one of a girl raised in Little Rock, Arkansas who’s favorite foods were deconstructed Burger King cheeseburgers, reheated mozzarella cheese sticks from a store like Costco, and fresh-out-the-microwave meatball and mozzarella hot pockets.

The plastic champagne flutes of my youth might’ve been filled with the juice from a cold red SqueezeIt, that too sweet purple drink that came in a plastic container resembling a barrel, or that barely citrus-flavored fizzy drink my mom kept in the fridge called Diet Splice (during that phase where we were trying to get off Diet Coke). We ate thawed out enchilada TV dinners on the patio paired with pitchers of tea tinged with the taste of Sweet N Low, and our favorite meals out were at places like Macaroni Grill, Red Lobster, and Catfish City.

It’s nothing fancy, but it’s where I come from and I love it.


Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re drinking and tasting wine to experience it a little differently:
  1. First and foremost: not all white wines taste the same, not all reds taste the same. Nor rosés. Nor orange wines. Nor bubbles. Break down the barriers you’ve built for yourself and EXPLORE.
  2. Be creative. Think about what you’re drinking. Write it down. Who cares how weird or irreverent it is? Use your ~ imagination ~
  3. If you want to taste more, TASTE more. Go to wine bars, go to wine tastings, go to wineries. And don’t just try wine, try new foods and flavors that you’re unfamiliar with. Smell the salty air more fully when you’re at the beach.  Take in nature when you’re on a hike. Expand your points of reference at any given opportunity.
  4. Next time you’re sharing wine with your friends go around the table and see what kinds of tasting notes ya’ll come up with. Me and four friends did this on my 27th birthday and it was a real hoot (then again, maybe that’s because we tasted almost the whole wine list at Bottle House).
Oh, and if you’re three weeks out from taking that Somm test…just disregard everything you read.
Cheers,
L

TBT | Italy Travels (+ITALY GUIDE)

italypromo IMG_1975 IMG_4896 IMG_1972IMG_4653IMG_2202 IMG_4687 IMG_5231IMG_2074 IMG_2421IMG_2462 IMG_5269 IMG_4886 IMG_5424 IMG_2582  IMG_2402 IMG_2429 IMG_2444IMG_3280 IMG_5411The first time I traveled outside of the U.S. was when I was 20. The college I attended offered a class where you would jet abroad and then learn about the art, architecture and culture of a place across the globe. The destination of my trip was Italy.

We landed and immediately where chauffeured in a coach bus through the stylish city of Milan. Just from watching the aged buildings whiz by I was almost immediately entranced by the beauty and antiquity of it all. That trip took us all over the Northern half of the country: Milan, Vicenza, Verona, Venice, Tuscany, Florence, Siena, and Rome. By the end of our 14 day journey I was sure of a couple of things; one of those was that I suddenly understood the term “wanderlust,” and I had it bad; the second was that I would be returning to Italy. My heart had started to beat for the patina on the walls and the piazzas; for the silent, spiritual moments spent in ornate churches in small cities; for the way the Italian people spoke in a sing-song language I couldn’t understand but wanted desperately to. I wanted to go back, so I did.

The next summer I was moved into an apartment in Florence with my best friend. I had acquired a summer internship with a small men’s fashion label (Borgo28) and she was to teach English to children. Our landlord, Vincent, placed us in a second floor unit overlooking Via De Neri, the street right behind the world-renowned Uffizi Gallery. Our evenings were spent strolling across the Arno river to our favorite place for Apertivo, purchasing a 2 euro bottle of wine from the market across the street and people watching from our window, and dreaming of a life where we never had to leave. We spent the weekends adventuring with our newfound Italian friends (or just having dinner parties), or taking the train somewhere we hadn’t been before. It was the most exciting 3 months of my life, and the gateway to the person and dreams that I have now.

italy guide

YOU SHOULD GO:

•Make your way to Cinque Terre, It’s my favorite place in Italy so far. Find a bed and breakfast (they’re a little cheaper outside of the town centers and often offer a shuttle service), and make sure to spend some time in each city because they are all super special (there is a train that links them all). Start in la Spezia and adventure your way across to Monterosso al Mare. Hike the trail,  if it’s a nice day, to Riomaggiore where you’ll get your first glimpse of the Mediterranean color scheme that paints the cities of the region;   fall in love with the charming, colorful hillside buildings of Manarola (my favorite); stroll the Via dell’Amore near Vernazza; find a restaurant overlooking the sea and order some risotto con funghi in Corniglia, and don’t forget to block out some time to spend on the beautiful, hill secluded beach in Monterosso.

•Visit a winery in Chianti. Go on a tour of the grounds, and treat yourself to a tasting. If they produce olive oil, make sure you try some because it there is nothing quite like fresh, authentic Italian Olive oil. Not only will you learn a lot, but the views of the Tuscan country side from the hilltops are unreal.

•Siena is the most quintessentially Italian town I’ve ever gone to. The Siena Cathedral is one of the most beautiful that I’ve seen during my travels there (Also on that list are the Milan Cathedral and the Duomo in Florence).

•If you have to choose between Rome and Florence, I’d choose Florence. Though it is tourist heavy, there is more of a small town feel than the over-saturated tourist hub of Rome (but also go to Rome because it has some of the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen).

•Renaissance monuments. Examples: The David, the masterpieces in the Uffizi Gallery (they have SO MANY Botticelli paintings. And I love Botticelli), the Duomo (and all of Brunelleschi’s other works in Florence), the Palace of the Medici’s (and the Boboli Gardens), etc. Also, if in Rome the Vatican is breath taking and the Colosseum and the Forum ARE worth seeing. Strolling the streets in most of the towns will give you a glimpse of the renaissance architecture; it is what makes up the building blocks of the country.

YOU SHOULD EAT:

•Spaghetti alla Scoglio – Spaghetti with clams is my all time favorite Italian Dish.
•Apertivo – An Italian pre-dinner ritual that is similar to Spanish tapas. You order a minimum of one drink (traditionally you order a Spritz) and are given a small plate to fill with the smorgasbord of food on display in the restaurant. Apertivo outings were one of my favorite parts of living in Italy. (If you’re in Florence there is an apertivo restaurant called Moyo and it is GOOD.)
•Gelato (I hope this is a given).
•Also try: Prosciutto con Melone, Authentic pizza/calzones, A panini with melanzane (GO TO PINO’S), and crostini. All of the crostini.

YOU SHOULD DRINK:
•Limoncello – Lemon flavored liquor that is often served as a dessert.
• Grappa – a brandy-esque Italian grape based beverage. Another after dinner drink that I would highly reccommend. Prepare your palette, because it’s different than anything I’ve ever tasted.
• A bottle of Chianti. In Chianti.

& I’VE YET TO SEE (BUT WANT TO ):
• Lake Como
•The Amalfi Coast (Capri, Positano, Sorrento, etc)
•Sardinia
•Milan (I did vist, but only for an afternoon)
•More of the country side, because what better way to see the true beauty of a country than that.

 

Speak to you all soon!

 

 

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