Blogger Q&A: Everything you ever wanted to know about tasting wine

Hey-oh! I’m probably making an ass of myself at the pool bar right now, so I’ve lined up some fun  guest posts and Q&As to entertain you while I’m gone. 

First up: everyone say hello to my good friend Allison, who knows far more about wine than I ever will – and blogs about it over at A Glass After Work.

I adore her blog because her wine reviews are funny, honest, and written in plain English that even a wine rookie like me can easily understand. I recently asked if I could pick her brain about all things vino-related over a virtual tasting (thanks G-chat!) and she graciously agreed. I learned a lot – and I hope you do too!

Q: You know an awful lot about wine! Have you always been a wine person?

A: Well, if you’re asking if I’ve always been a wine drinker, absolutely. I started learning about what I was drinking about 2 years ago, though.

My husband was going to grad school and I decided I wanted to take a class, so what better class than one where I can learn and drink? And I was totally hooked…I became a wine geek almost overnight.

Q: What class did you take and how did you choose it?

A: I took took a 6 week class at the Washington Wine Academy.  It was described as being for beginners who liked to drink wine, but knew nothing about it…so I figured that was perfect for me. The class ended up being far more detailed than I expected…talking about soil types, climates for growing particular grapes. I hadn’t really thought about the science of viticulture before, and I was fascinated.

Plus, there was the tasting six wines a night.

Q: Um, can I sign up just for that last part?

A: Trust me, that’s what had me in the door from day one!

Q: Okay, so on your blog when you review a wine, you typically tell us a little about why you chose it, then go on to taste it, describe certain of its characteristics, and give it a rating. Can we walk through how exactly you do all of that? Because usually I just pick whatever is on sale, then drink half the bottle, and come back with “WELL THAT WUS GUD. I THINK.”

Your method is obviously a little more….refined.

A: For the most part, when it comes to the buying of a wine, I’ve started gravitating to particular grapes grown in particular regions…like Oregon Pinot Noirs. For imports, I’ve start looking at who imports the wine, since I’ve noticed that there are some importers that I just don’t like.

Q: That’s interesting! Do you have a favorite importer?

A: It’s not so much a favorite as much as a list of names I recognize. If it’s one I don’t recognize, I will often ask someone at the wine shop about the wine. I do have a list of a few importers I stay away from, but I probably shouldn’t list those out!

Q: Okay, so we’ve both got a Kim Crawford 2010 Sauvignon Blanc here. Can we taste it together?

A: Absolutely!

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Q: First up – let me make sure I’ve done this correctly. How cold would you normally chill a wine like this one?

A: I will usually keep my whites in my fridge, since I live in a small condo, and take it out about 5 minutes before opening it. With my reds, I usually keep them at room temp and put them in the fridge for 5 minutes before opening it. It’s my 5 minute rule, either way…

Q: Wow, that’s a great rule!

A: It’s not foolproof, but it makes it easy to drink whenever I’m ready, and you know me, I’m usually pretty ready!

The key to New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs is not letting them age. You want the most recent year you can find.  The older the wine, the more it’s going to taste like drinking a bottle of canned peas.

I always look at the wine first, just to see the color, make sure there isn’t anything funny looking about it. This one has a nice pale-to-medium yellow color…like the pulpy part of a lemon.

Then, I give the wine a good swirl – very important because it helps bring out all of the aromas – and stick my nose as far in as I can without actually getting wine on it. It feels silly, but the farther in, the better the whiff! Then I inhale deeply. This is my favorite part! I feel like it’s all about anticipation…it tells me what to expect from the wine.

Q: [Plunging schnozzle in to goblet] Oh wow…it almost smells…like flowers?

A: Actually, oddly enough, yeah…there’s a little bit of honeysuckle on there. Not what I would expect, but kinda nice. Also green bell peppers, granny smith apples. The green peppers are key to the fact that’s a NZ SB. Think of the smell of them as you’re cutting them, not as your cooking them. That’s what really makes this wine for me, actually. There’s also some fresh cut grass and a hint of grapefruit, limes, and pineapple, but the green bell peppers let me know it’s not from France or California.

What I like about this wine, as opposed to some other NZ SB’s is that it’s not hitting me over the head, so I don’t feel like I’m drinking liquid peppers. Some will bowl you over and it goes from being refreshing to being weird.

So, after all that build up, it’s the tasting part. Give it another good swirl…and then it’s tasting time. I always put it my mouth and swish it around like Listerine to make sure it touches my gums and the roof of my mouth, breath in through my mouth to get air in the wine, out through my nose with the wine still in my mouth, and then swallow. That’s because you really want to use your sense of smell to help taste the wine…and it makes a HUGE difference.

Q: So: swirl, sip, mouthwash-swoosh, breathe in through mouth, breathe out through nose, swallow?

A: Exactly! And you know you do the mouth part right because you hear the wine warbling around in your mouth.

Q: So when you bring the air in through the mouth, it’s almost like some of the alcohol and flavor evaporates and you taste it in your whole mouth….?

A: EXACTLY! Really, it’s aerating it in your mouth. The oxygen helps exaggerate the flavors. So, do you get the green pepper?

Q: I can taste something spicy. And I get the apple a LOT.

A: Definitely…lots of granny smith apple, green pepper, and fresh cut grass. That, combined with the acidity is what makes it such great summer wine. You drink this when it’s hot and that tart green apple will be SO refreshing. There’s also some good apricot, nectarine, limes, and pineapple in there, but they’re a little hidden in the finish of the wine. Definitely something you have to search for.

What’s great about this wine is that it lingers, so you can just enjoy the taste…or if you’re geeking out about the wine, the way I tend to do, you can really think about it and let the taste settle in, trying to decipher everything. Really, it’s not a very complex wine, but it’s really good. It has something for the novice wine drinker who just wants the cold, white wine, as well as the more experienced wine drinker who wants to decipher every taste.

Q: What would you eat with a spicy, fruity Sauvignon Blanc like this one?

A: I would pair this with a lighter food…some pan-fried flounder would be great or a grilled mahi mahi. It’s a perfect seafood wine.

Q: You usually rate wines from one to five corks – how many does this one get? Is it, in fact, worthy of A Glass After Work?

A: At $17, which is what I paid for it, it’s worth more than one!  I give this wine 4.5 corks.  It’s food-friendly, but also very drinkable on its own.  The balance of the acidity, the alcohol, and the flavors is spot on.  It’s all an all-around winner for me.

Q: Let’s talk a little about the whole social media wine scene, since I know it’s pretty extensive! Any Twitter tips for a novice wine enthusiast?

A: The Twitter wine scene is amazing! I have several other interests that have resulted in a bad Twitter addiction, but the wine folks are seriously the most welcoming, most talkative group out there.

If you like wine and you want to start talking with other people who like wine, just jump right into the conversation. If you see someone talking about a wine you like, don’t be shy…just start talking with them.  Wine bloggers/tweeps are a group that likes to chat. And wineries are starting to get into the mix, so if you have a few wineries that you particularly like, look them up and start talking about them. The next you know, you’ll be in conversation with the wine maker.

When it comes to social media and wine, there is a real movement. There is always a lot of talk about how to reach younger wine drinkers, and I think wineries are really listening…because the wine bloggers are out there talking. So, when you’re drinking a wine on Tuesday night, Tweet about it…there are people who are out there that are actually interested!

Q: That’s perfect because I drink wine (or something) almost every Tuesday night. And Monday…and Wednesday….ahem. Anyway.

A: LOL…you and me both. That’s why they made Twitter…so you don’t have to drink alone.

Q: Speaking of which…you’ve mentioned that your husband isn’t a big wine drinker. Any tips for drinking wine solo?

A: Actually, he doesn’t drink at all. So, drinking solo is one of those things that I’m an expert in.

Honestly, sometimes with wine drinking, in particular, it’s hard because ordering a bottle when you go out means that it’s potentially a bottle only for one person. However, don’t be self-conscious about it.

If you’re out and you see a wine on the menu that you want that isn’t by the glass, ask if they’ll make an exception and serve you by the glass. Sometimes, they may ask you to buy two glasses, but often they’re willing to accommodate. Restaurants don’t want to advertise it, but think of it this way…two glasses may get them halfway through a bottle. Once they’re half way through, getting the other half of bottle finished isn’t usually a problem.

If they’re not willing to do the wine by the glass, though, ask if they’ll let you take an unfinished bottle with you. DC recently passed a law that allows that, which makes it very nice for us solo drinkers.

I will say, it takes some time to overcome being shy about drinking alone…and there are days where I’m just not willing to do it in a restaurant, but you just have to get over that. There are too many great wines out there to let drinking alone stand in the way..

Q: So what would be your dream wine vacation?

A: It would be to head to the Southern Rhone Valley in France and spend a week tasting Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I never had a wine from this region of France before taking my first wine class, but they are some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted. Plus, the region has so much historical background and is so beautiful that my wine dreams could be filled while I also indulged the amateur photographer and the history buff that is raging inside of me.

Q: Sounds amazing! I’ll admit I almost never buy French wines because I find them intimidating. And also, they usually don’t have cute labels.

A: Yeah…they’re very stiff like that, but once you learn the key (Burgundy = Pinot Noir, Bordeaux = Cab Sauv or Merlot, etc) it makes them a lot of fun.

Q: Wait, seriously? I didn’t realize they mapped across like that.

A: That’s the thing, it’s intimidating for no reason! It’s actually something that is often talked about in the US versus European wine market…Americans avoid European wines because they don’t know the grapes, but the grapes are all the same ones we drink!

Q: Okay, I’m sure this is cliché, but indulge me on a common wine question: “HALP! I don’t know anything about wine and have to bring one to a dinner party and no I don’t know what they’re serving! Recommend your favorite three crowd-pleasing bottles under $20?”

A: Oooh…the under $20 question. My hands down favorite might actually be hard to get in some places, but it’s my house white — Paul D Gruner Veltliner. If people don’t see the bottle and just drink it, it’s gone within 30 min of opening.

After the Paul D…for whites, the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc that we tasted tonight is always on my white list! I first reviewed it back in 2009 and have loved it from that moment on.  I also really enjoy the Gnarly Head Pinot Grigio.

For Reds, that’s a little harder…if I have enough time to plan, I will bring Painted Wolf, which I usually have to order online, but is a fabulous Pinotage from South Africa.

And for Sparkling, hands down, I will bring a Segura Viudas, which is a Spanish Cava.

Q: You recently ran your first half marathon at the Country Music Marathon in Nashville. Congrats! That’s worthy cause for a nice glass of Cava!

A: Thanks!  It a hot and hilly race, and I have to admit that I’m not sure how much I enjoyed it while I was actually running.  Afterwards, though, there is just no way to explain how wonderful I felt…mentally, at least.

Admittedly, there was no Cava at the end of the race for me.  Right after I crossed the finish line, all I wanted was beer.  The next day, though, I was back to wine–Tennessee-style.  My husband and I went to the Belle Meade Plantation, which has a winery.  Their white, in particular, was smooth and went down easy…maybe a little too easy.  It definitely helped ease the pain of my sore muscles.

Next time you’re pondering a bottle and wondering if it’s worth A Glass After Work, be sure to check out Allison’s blog, or follow her on Twitter at @Alleigh!

See you tomorrow with another fun Q&A!

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8 responses to “Blogger Q&A: Everything you ever wanted to know about tasting wine

  1. Fabulous reading. Great wine knowledge from a great writer, and the Kim Crawford SB happens to be one of my favorite wines out there. This post wins all around!

  2. I love this whole post! My husband and I have been to Napa and the NY Finger Lakes and we love wine tasting. I would love to take a formal class on that too.

  3. i loved this!!!

  4. Love the post. Wine tasting (the real way) is something I’m just starting to get into. In fact, I’m going to my first wine tasting class this week!

  5. Great post. Very informative. I think I’d love a class like that!

  6. Great post. I need to learn more about wines from the U.S. I’m sort of educated (emphasize the “sort of”) in Spanish wines, having lived here and drank my fair share, but I’m clueless about American wine. And kinda biased toward Spanish ones…

  7. I was just in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and brought back 4 bottles. One will be enjoyed soon. 3 of them need to age a while longer. Yum!

  8. Love this post! I never even thought about what to do with wine once it’s in my mouth (minds out of the gutter, people) and just did the swish with a sip from a glass of Cab. As a near daily wine drinker, I’ll definitely add Allison’s blog to my reader! I am a wine snob in training (AKA i know nothing and wanna know more!)

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