Now for the fun part! Before taking that first sip, remember that some red wines need to aerate, or "breathe," which means simply that you need to open and expose them to oxygen for a while before they're ready to drink. Serve all wines at the correct temperature. Consult your wine merchant, a good Web site, or a book to find out proper serving temperatures for the wines you're trying, as well as whether they should be allowed to breathe -- and for how long.
The proper order for tasting is: whites before reds, sparkling before still, light-bodied before full-bodied, and young before old.
If your guests are novices to the world of wine tastings, advise them to try the following techniques:
- Take a look: Fill the glass about one-third full. Grasping the glass by the stem (to avoid warming the wine with your hands), hold the goblet so the tablecloth appears behind the wine. Note the beverage's appearance. Is it bright? Murky? Dark? Light?
- Take a whiff: Close your eyes and swirl the liquid around in the glass to release its odors. Then inhale to note the aroma. Is it fruity -- like pears, berries, or apples? Or chocolaty? Is it woody -- like oak? Or earthy -- like mushrooms? The aroma speaks to the grape as well as the vessel in which the wine was aged.
- Take a sip: Start with a medium sip. Swish it around a little, thinking about how it feels in your mouth. Heavy or light? Sweet or sour? Greasy or smooth? Consider the flavors you're experiencing: Is it spicy or citrusy? Peppery, grassy, or gamy? Swallow, or spit the wine into a bucket, and be sure to consider the aftertaste, too. Does it linger? Is it pleasant?
- Take some notes: Encourage everyone to jot down thoughts. Guests can discuss each wine after everyone has tasted it. Or move on to the next selection and discuss all the types once you've worked through the array. Either way, before everyone tries a new wine, remind guests to completely rinse their glasses and cleanse their palates with a drink of water or nibble of bread.
Continued on page 5: Words for Wine Tasters