How to be a Wine Snob

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This weekend in Paris the temperature plummeted and it snowed for the first time all winter. What are the odds that this would be the weekend we had planned for so long to set off to the city? Alas, to keep warm from the biting winds and icy streets, we resolved to have ourselves some drinks – and what better way to spend a classy weekend in the city of lights than getting tipsy off some classy nice wine.

Though us Berkeleyans have been nicely spoiled by the renowned wines of Napa, Sonoma and other Northern California regions, it goes without saying that on our budgets we still tend to stick to our bottles of Two Buck Chuck and boxes of Franzia nine times out of ten. So to learn a little more about the connoisseur techniques of drinking, we booked a wine tasting at the Ô Chateau Wine Bar.

Because I’d feel awkward being the only snob in the room when I get back to Berkeley next semester, I’ve decided to be generous and share some of my knowledge. So break out a bottle and follow along!

The first thing I learned was that Parisians don’t select their wine based on the type or grape. In fact, you will rarely find it listed on the label. Instead, the most important signifier is the appellation d’origine contrólêe (or appellation), which tells you the exclusive region the wine comes from.  For example, you may have heard that legitimate Champagne only technically comes from the Champagne region of France. All other “champagne” can technically only be called “sparkling wine.”

The appellation actually says a lot about the wine because the territory of the wine greatly affects the temperature, climate, roots, soil and more in the process of the grapes’ development. Then, there are particular laws that regulate exactly what grapes or combination of grapes can be used in the wine for it to carry the specific appellation on its label. There are actually appellations for all sorts of things including cheese, butter, olive oil, and more!

All right, so getting on with it…how do we taste?

First of all, to prevent ruining your palette for your multiple wines, make sure you start with the lights and then move on to the darks, or move from dry to sweet. When pairing with foods, the weight of the food should match the weight of the wine (i.e. do seafood with white and steak with red). Then, there are three major factors to consider:

Look:

When tasting a particular wine, we first start by checking its clarity and brightness. Do you see sedative in it when you hold it over a white background? Does the light reflect well upon it? This will show the crispness and acidity of a white wine.  The first glance can also tell you about the age of a red wine. If it has an orange tint, it’s aged; an orangey-brown color means it’s very old. You can also tell the age of a wine from it’s meniscus (Berkeley students you should know this one, but in case it’s slipped your mind, it’s the curve on the surface of the liquid). The closer in color the meniscus is to the rest of the wine, the younger it is. Finally, if you slowly turn the glass around in a circle, tilting it so the wine slides up the sides of the glass, you can watch the “legs” of the wine roll down the edges. The thicker and slower the legs, the more alcohol content in your wine.

Smell:

Our host shared a secret with us about smelling wine – whatever you smell, you’re right. Ok, so some professionals actually know exactly how to describe wine as fruity or woody or whatever. However, olfaction is really a personal thing because you link what you smell to what you know, so don’t let it get you down. If it smells like grapefruit, then that’s what it smells like. After your initial whiff, swirl the wine around in your glass a bit. This alters and intensifies the second aroma you’ll get.

Taste!

I know, a lot of foreplay right? When you finally taste your wine you can ask yourself things like: Is it crisp? Is it musky? Does the aftertaste linger? Another test is a very noisy technique (not recommended for a first date). Take a sip of your wine and before swallowing, suck it in as if you were trying to inhale it through a straw. This won’t leave you with the best taste in your mouth, but will tell you about the alcohol content and flavor.

Ok, so there’s a little to get you started. My notes might have gotten a little more sloppy as I “tasted” a little more wine, so take my advice with a grain of salt. But remember, wine is like pizza and sex: even when it’s bad, it’s still good. And, in the end, it’s really just your opinion.

So drink up and don’t forget, pinkies out!

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