Enhancing Your Enjoyment of Wine

By Posted on Feb 12 2009 | By

grapes1What is the largest wine-consuming nation in the world?  France?  Italy?  Spain? 

If you said France, take a bow.  But, what nation will likely lead the world in total wine consumption next year?  Surprisingly, it’s the United States.   Yes, last year as a nation we consumed over 300 million cases of wine—or more than 3.6 billion bottles. And in 2010, it’s projected we’ll top that figure.  That’s a lot of wine.

Per capita consumption will remain the domain of France and Italy but next year Americans are expected to begin consuming more wine overall than any country on the planet.  This a remarkable change in our drinking habits.  For almost four centuries beer and liquor have been the dominant libations of choice in the United States.

colonialsWhy?  The reason dates to the first colonists at Jamestown.  The English settled Virginia in hopes of creating a profitable market for goods produced in America.  The profusion of native grapes led them to believe wine could be easily made in the new world.  And the market for wine in England was substantial.  Unfortunately, the native grapes did not make palatable wine.  The aroma was called “foxy” but a better descriptor might have been “wet dog”.  And, they could not successfully grow the delicate European vitis vinifera grape species because of Virginia’s climate and insect problems.  Clearly, the English palate, trained on quality Bordeaux wine, would not support a nascent industry producing a wine they considered undrinkable.

The early Virginians finally found a product marketable around the world—tobacco.  Virginia’s climate was perfectly suited for the broad-leafed plant and serious winemaking was mostly forgotten.  But, citizens still wanted an alcoholic beverage so the distilling of fruit and corn became popular.  Our nation was launched on a path of beer and liquor consumption that prevailed for the better part of four hundred years.  In the 1960s things began to change as science and viniculture—the science of grape growing–joined forces to produce high quality European wine grapes in Virginia.

Today, there are over 140 wineries in our state.  The dream of the early colonists is being fulfilled in the Old Dominion and its wines are gaining national and international attention. 

With this explosion of Virginia wineries—the first one opened in 1968–the stage was set for an ever-growing number of Virginians to begin experiencing the pleasure and health benefits of moderate wine consumption.

So let’s take a look at some of the basics that can enhance your enjoyment of your favorite wines. 

wine-glass6First, purchase and use a reasonably good glass.  It does not have to be expensive.  An average quality wine glass can start around $5 a piece but an elegant crystal glass can cost upwards of $70 a piece.  Ouch!  No need to start at that level.  But, higher quality stemware can increase the enjoyment of wine.  Think not?  Picture drinking a serious wine out of a black, ceramic coffee mug compared to a delicate crystal glass–the vessel matters.

Next, fill your glass no more that one third full.  This enables you to easily swirl the wine and release its aromatics.  One of the numerous beauties of wine is its unending array of aromas.  Don’t miss out on this aspect of wine tasting by filling a glass to the brim.  Give your wine room to move and breathe.

Now comes the fun.  Enjoying your wine.  All you need do is focus on four thoughts.  Eyes.  Nose.  Mouth.  Throat.  Yep, it’s that simple.  Deepen your wine experience and increase your enjoyment of wine by focusing on these four simple precepts.

The beauty of wine begins with its colors.  From the pale straw gold of a sauvignon blanc to the ruby hue of a cabernet franc.  When you pour your first glass, take a moment to embrace the clarity and depth of color of the wine.  Holding the glass against a light and letting it catch the various angles of natural and house lighting sets the stage for what you are about to further explore.

Swirl the glass to release its aromas.  Now place the glass under your nose and breath deeply.  Come on.  You can stick your nose in deeper that that!  Inhaling through you nose begins telling the wine story.  Smell the taste.  In fact, you might do this several times before you take your first sip.  Build tension—its has its rewards.

Now comes the heart of the wine experience–your first sip.  Take a few small sips and roll the wine around your mouth a bit.  It may seem odd, but all those flavors you are about to enjoy are actually a result of your olfactory bulb.  What?  OK, your nose.  The olfactory bulb is located at the top your nose and actually sends signals to your brain about what you are tasting based on what you are actually smelling.  Our palates only have four taste sensations:  salt, sweet, sour and bitter.  The raspberry, cherry, pineapple, mocha and sundry tastes are simply aromas rising off your palate and passing through the olfactory bulb.  The more you swirl the wine in your mouth the greater perception of flavors will emerge.

After tasting, swallowing the wine comes naturally.  No instructions needed here.  However, look for a sensation on your palate that experts call a “finish.”  Wine comes with an aftershock, albeit a nice one.  In fact, the longer a quality finish remains on your palate the better a wine is rated.  World-class wines can linger on the tongue for up to a minute after they are swallowed.

Perhaps at this point you may be thinking. Is he kidding?  I am expected to go through this process every time I drink a glass of wine?  Well, no.  It’s not the intent to assess a wine with every sip from every bottle.  After the opening examination, the wine’s aroma and taste will be observed and it’s time to simply start drinking as opposed to tasting.  But, periodically as you consume the wine, try stopping to enjoy one of the four basic aspects of tasting.  Eyes. Nose. Mouth. Throat.

Your enjoyment of wine will increase with your understanding of it.  Unlike most mass-produced beers and soft drinks, every different bottle of wine holds a new and interesting aroma and taste.  And that’s not to denigrate those beverages.  Consistency in taste is an art and science and our most popular beverages are successful in achieving their goals. But, wine drinkers are looking for variety.  And it exists in abundance.  Today, in the Unites States, about 55,000 different wines are available in the marketplace.  That’s not to imply such a broad wine selection is available in every local market.  But, it highlights how diverse the world of wine is today. 

In the years ahead I look forward to exploring an array of issues involving wine. I also will focus on evaluating wines from our Piedmont area wineries.  Let’s take that journey together.


In Vino Veritas—In Wine Truth.

Published January 29, 2009, in the Culpeper Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES