Wine tasting myths

Apparently, to taste a wine you need to swirl the glass (to bring in oxygen), examine the colour (to see how old it is, and how long it spent on the skins), check the legs (to see the alcohol content), smell it once (the freshest part of the bouquet), smell it again (to find the deeper, more complex flavours), then sip it (because, you know, we've got these buds of taste on our tounges).

This is ridiculous.

It's far more important to be drinking it with friends. To either be sitting in the sun or rugged up and warm beside the fire. To laugh and almost spit a mouthful out, to spill a few drops when you're pouring and not be concerned about the tablecloth. Who cares what the bouquet opens with if you're not having a good time?

A story: Coonawarra, October 2006, Punters' Corner cellar door. We entered for a tasting and were served by the ice queen herself. In the museum of Curmudgeonery, she's the main exhibit. During the International Trollop Symposium, she was the keynote speaker. If she was a food, she'd be the bit of corn that gets stuck behind your tooth for a week that develops into a flesh-eating infection. If she was a metaphor, she'd be even worse than that one. She was, in short, unpleasant. And the wines all varied between mediochre and dull, with some highlights making it all the way up the scale to humdrum. A few days later, at a different cellar door, Punters' Corner was enthusiastically recommended to us and we grudgingly agreed to give it a second chance. The second time around, it was delightful. Our host was warm and welcoming, the conversation flowed, and the wine- the wine tastes good! It's delicious! The same wines that were boring a few days before became interesting, complex, wonderful! The elements of the wine that are rated by a proper tasting- the things that get it medals or points or stars- were not as important as the environment we tasted them in.

Of course, if you've got the wonderful atmosphere sorted then the quality of the wine comes into play a little more. In this case, I believe there are two rules. One, put the wine in your mouth and two, see if you like it. If it tastes good, then it's a good wine. It's possible to embellish the second rule a little, but only if you want to. You can see if it has different flavours in different parts of your mouth (fresh fruityness at the front, perhaps, and rich earthyness at the back). You can try to think of what the flavour reminds you of (red cherry? Cut grass? Lime? Chocolate?). You can focus on how long you can taste it for after you swallow, or what the difference is between its smell and its taste, or how it feels in your mouth (dry? fuzzy? silky? bitey?). All these things are wonderful ways to get more involved in what you're doing, but they're all strictly optional. Not knowing the difference between terroir and tannin has no bearing on whether or not you're qualified to know what tastes good and what doesn't. And it certainly doesn't stop you enjoying it.

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