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

Current Favorite Wine Bars in Seattle

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetFor the last couple of years I’ve made the same resolution: that I’d get into wine. Why? Because it was time. Because it pairs with food—my one true love. Because it’s history and science and art. And because it makes me feel warm and like my jokes are landing while I swirl my glass like an intellectual and a sophisticate.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that, to get in to wine and to learn about wine, you must do exactly what you’re hoping you need to do: drink as much of it as you can. Wines of different regions, varietals and production methods; reds, rosés, oranges, sparklings, and whites (if I can get over my Chardonnay prejudices then so can you, bud); wines that make you uncomfortable because you can’t say their name which means the server is going to think you’re less cool than you were trying to convince them that you were. All. The. Wine.

The best place to taste? Wine bars (duh), and Seattle has some great ones. Here are a few that are nursing my grape cravings at the moment:

Revolution Wine — Capitol Hill

Revolution Wine first blipped on my booze radar when I learned about a sweet and satisfying summer treat they were serving in 2016: frozen rosé aka frozé (of #frozéallday fame)—a slushy unlike anything that poured from the tap of those circus tent striped Icee machines of yesteryear, and instead contained ingredients like Lillet and Pinot Grigio; Coconut and Sauvignon Blanc. I slurped them all summer long on their sun soaked patio through pink and white-striped paper straws. Try and tell me there’s a better way to beat the heat.

Wine bar and wine shop, Revolution Wine (now Revolution Wine and Cocktail Lounge) sits at the corner of Pike and Belmont on bustling Capitol Hill. Leather couches, candle light, and soft textures and tones throughout the space are offset by the pop art-style mural that spans the entirety of the back wall, making the room feel comfortable but not stuffy.

The wine’s listed on the menu are limited, but you’re welcome to purchase a bottle from their selection on display to enjoy there as well. Last time I visited I had a glass of red that I can only describe as, “colorful leaves in the fall and maple straight from a tree tap.” It was a Tempranillo and I think it might’ve forever changed my mouth.

Recently Revolution has added a full cocktail list to their menu, as well as a selection of beers. Oh, and snacks. Do not sleep on the snacks. Probably just go with a group for a happy hour sitch so you can order everything on the menu (because, truly, there’s something for everyone).

Hot Tip: In the window facing Pike Street there’s a running list of tastings and wine events that are being hosted in-store. You’re gonna want to check those out—they’re where the real revolution happens. The wine revolution (that might be overkill I’m sorry??)

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Bar Ferd’nand — Capitol Hill

A selection of carefully curated wines on display around every corner, warmly toned string lights effortlessly draped amongst the exposed wooden support beams, and an open kitchen complete with a cooking fireplace—walking into Bar Ferd’nand feels like walking onto the newly renovated patio of your cool friend’s Euro villa. A friend who is clearly living their best life, and you’re along for the ride.

The first time I went to BF (not what the Seattle sophisticates call it) was a day I’ll henceforth refer to as: The Day I Drank Too Much Wine in Public and Joyfully Frolicked Around My Neighborhood In The Rain, but that’s another story for another time.

***Important tidbit no.1 about visiting Bar Ferd’nand: Do not be mistaken—even though the sandwich board is on the left side of the hallway, the entry to the bar is on the right. This is probably obvious to most people, but I once spent five minutes looking for a secret entrance into (what I can only assume was) a storage closet.***

At the time of my first visit my wine knowledge didn’t stray far from what was available in the wine aisle at Safeway.  As I glanced above the bar, it became clear that I was unfamiliar with many of the varietals written on the three chalkboards that displayed the menu, but the bartender quickly assuaged my wine worries by inviting conversation about what I’d liked before and which wine profiles set my palate on fire. I asked her about 200 questions and she was able to answer them all with ease—it was clear she knew her shit. She poured some tastes of wines she thought I’d enjoy, we discussed, and then I settled on my first glass of red—a mouthful of olive tapenade, balsamic, and sun dried tomatoes. Nailed it.

I know what you’re thinking, “What about the snacks,”. Oh, there are snacks. Remember that open kitchen I mentioned? Yeah, it’s plating up things like a pâté of pork and dried tomatoes, cured fish and meats, pizzas and my current favorite: buttery chantrelle “alla carbonara”. You can view the entirety of the current food menu here (including the tasting menu!)

With their focus on quality, artisanal and natural wines, Bar Ferd’nand always leaves me feeling comfortable, excited, and like I’ve learned a little something. They even encourage wine education by hosting weekly tastings on Wednesdays from 5-7pm with a different theme every month. In February they did a Badass Women of Wine series and I am SO upset I missed it.

Not a wine person? They offer a CHILL list of beers, ciders and sakes.

Check it out and grab a glass—or a whole bottle from their bottle shop.

Bottlehouse — Madrona 

People had been telling me about Bottlehouse for like two years before I ever finally made my way to Bottlehouse. And I’ll tell you what, the first thing you need to know about Bottlehouse is that you have got to go to Bottlehouse. [insert clap emojis between all of those words].

First of all, Madrona is the most charming neighborhood in Seattle—so it makes sense that this is where you’ll find one of the most charming wine bars. I went for post-BBQ wine with five friends on a Friday (an untraditional series of events, but it was my birthday and I was queen) . While we waited for a table we perused the selection of wines and trinkets that were for sale at the front of the store. Before even seeing the menu we’d mentally swiped right on about thirteen bottles.

Bottlehouse’s dining room has walls of windows, so I’m sure it lets in all kinds of Seattle “sunlight” in the day time, but at night it’s candle lit and full of animated wine-fueled chatter. The artwork was eclectic, and so was the wine menu. Wines of all colors, vintages and styles. I couldn’t begin to tell you everything we ordered, but I can tell you that between the five of us we probably had glasses from 75% of the menu—including Tawny port. The wine list is extensive and easy to navigate, so it doesn’t feel as intimidating as a chalkboard might.

Other things they have:

  • Cheese boards
  • A killer happy hour
  • A BIG patio where I’ll be getting too tipsy on French white wines this summer

Le Caviste — Downtown

Le Caviste translates to The Wine Cellar, but personally for me it translates to, “I’m really trying to become a regular because I love it so much.” As I’m sure you’ve already assumed, Le Caviste specializes in French wines. They also specialize in the best meat/cheese boards of this entire list so really planche out and order something unfamiliar like the chicken liver paté (do puns work with French words?).

Every time I’ve been to Le Caviste it’s been filled to the brim—from the windows to the… chalkboard walls. I like sitting at tables but I LOVE sitting at the bar because their bartenders are, how do you say, the literal best. They are so educated in the wines and will absolutely point you towards what you’re feeling, or perhaps something you really didn’t expect.

So, go have an evening’s worth of an Eat, Pray, Love experience in this wine bar that will absolutely transport you across the Atlantic—except you’re still in the same city, everyone speaks your language and the only thing that’s French is the wine (and maybe that attractive person to your left) so better just fill yourself up on that.

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Left Bank — South Park

Did ya’ll know there’s a neighborhood in Seattle called South Park? Did you know there’s a wine bar there? Did you know that not only is there a wine bar there, but they’re serving up some of the most interesting bottles in the city? Because I sure didn’t—until a few weeks ago. Left Bank is hidden behind gray, industrial walls, and the only thing announcing it’s presence is a sandwich board proclaiming the holiest words: WINE WINE WINE.

We walked in at 4pm on a sunny Saturday. After sitting down at the bar we were greeted by the owner, Campbell Scarborough. One thing lead to another and we’d decided to do the red flight. It was made up of both natural and conventional wines from all over the world. The most memorable two for me were this natural Gamay (that we got to compare with a more conventional Gamay) and a crazy Chilean red that I SWEAR tastes like Mezcal. I bought a bottle of it so I can relive the craziness at ANY moment.

All along the back wall, wines for purchase are displayed like colorful, alcoholic bouldering holds at a rock climbing gym—a focal point that I’ll soon be striving to recreate in my living room. Other than the bar seats there’s a community table in the middle of the small room, and a spacious booth in the back.

The playlist was perfect (SO much Thundercat). The wine was affordable. And the vibes couldn’t have been better. I’d highly recommend a visit as soon as you can figure out where in the hell South Park is (hint: south of Georgetown, YW).

In the mean time, check out their wine cub (LB Wine Clique) and Tuesday Vinyl Wino event.


So what are you waiting for? GO DRINK. Also, talk to your bartender/somm. Ask them questions! It’s what they’re there for and they want you to have a great experience.

Cheers!