David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the article which ran on 6/24/2015:
The difference between tasting and drinking
I once heard a Master of Wine say, “The difference between tasting and drinking is thinking.” Besides being a fun rhyme, this is an important and easy concept. Like most things that are simply said, as often happens with poetry, the idea begs for a bit of explanation.
Often the term wine tasting is thrown around a bit loosely and probably most of you have been to a wine tasting at some time in your life. Wine tastings are often advertised as part of the entertainment at art galleries, fund raisers and community events. But often at those events the wine tasting portion is nothing more than someone opening a bottle of red or white wine, pouring a quantity into an appropriately shaped glass, and sending you on your way to chat with the assembled mass of friends and strangers. In these instances the wine is nothing more than a social lubricant. No one in attendance is really there for the wine, they are there for the event and the wine is there to be drunk. This is drinking not tasting.
To taste you need to slow down and consider. Often the consideration is accompanied with a comparison. This can be done at a class, at home while enjoying a meal, at a winery comparing their range of work, at a community event or fund raiser. The difference is that when tasting you need to consider the entire wine and that consideration takes a bit of thinking.
Here’s how to taste any wine:
- Look at the wine. You don’t need to hold it up to the light and announce loudly that it is this or that, just calmly look at it. It should look good. It should have the clarity of a jewel. It shouldn’t be cloudy or have anything floating in the wine. You instinctively know what good food looks like. Does this look good to you?
- Swirl the glass and smell the wine. Stick your nose in there and really get a good sniff! You should smell something. Does that something smell good or bad? Can you name that aroma? Are their multiple aromas? Remember, 80% of tasting is actually smelling.
- Taste the wine. Take a sip and roll it around in your mouth. Some people chew the wine, some suck in a bit of air through their mouth, some roll the wine around while exhaling through the nose. Whatever your technique, take your time and taste slowly.
Now comes the thinking part. Did the wine taste sour? Did the wine taste sweet? How well balanced is it? Was it too drying in the mouth? How thick was it? Was it lean like skim milk or thick like cream? When you swallowed did it burn on the way down? What kind of feeling does it leave in your mouth? Does it make you want another sip?
I do this every time I taste wine. I also do this with beer, spirits, cocktails and believe it or not, water. I do this because it helps me build a repertoire of tastes and this allows me to be a better judge of quality. I also keep a journal of particularly great tasting wines so that I can remember what they are and how they tasted so I can purchase them again and compare vintages.
There is nothing wrong with drinking. Be it wine, beer, cocktails or water. Drinking can be refreshing. It’s easy, relaxing, sometimes luxuriant and if taken to the extreme, intoxicating But if you take the time to think about what you are drinking, especially with wine, you will learn to differentiate between good and great. You’ll learn to pick out great wines at a store, restaurant, or at a wine tasting and you’ll be able to do all of this because you’ve based your opinion on thinking rather than drinking.
David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He teaches wine classes mainly in the Duluth, MN area. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.