Palategasm; world in balance; sunshining, at night. These are some of the positive emotions brought on by wine, in the moment and in the mouth. How can what was once a grape make us feel this way? And how can something we love so much be so confusing?
It can be daunting ordering wine from a wine list. The sommeliers and wine waiters become the Busta Rhymes of grape varieties, throwing out words like ‘dry’, ‘wooded’ and all terms complex to convince you to buy the more expensive bottle of wine. Too intimidated to question them, you order the suggested wine and realise too late you don’t like it.
“I smell freshly cut grass, asparagus, vanilla and it is wooded.” This is how wines tend to be described. It sounds like a fruit salad. I used to search for the fruit and wood pieces in the glass. Once you master these terms, the script flips with terms like Bordeaux, Sancerre and Chablis, to name a few. I never got this technical when I was eight years old downing Drink-o-Pop. It was either cherry-flavoured or apple. The best way to try and understand wine and all its Busta Rhymes lyricism is to appreciate the way it: looks, smells and tastes in your glass.
Step 1: Appearance
The colour of wine. The most basic is knowing whether it is white or red. This sounds obvious but this distinction straight away removes half the world’s grape varieties from your glass. When at the dinner table of a corporate deal, you can safely call a glass of red wine a Cabernet Sauvignon and mention some of the aromas you can detect.
Step 2: Nose
If it smells fresh, fruity and pleasant you may proceed to step three. As children we learnt how an orange smells and instinctively when we are about to consume one, we first look, smell and eat. If the orange smells like a kiwi fruit, we would pause and investigate. The same with wine…
Step 3: Palate
Would it not be great to skip steps one and two just start with the taste? This is why we have opened a bottle of wine: to consume it. Skipping all other protocol, does the wine in the glass flow down your throat pleasantly? If not, “I think my wine is…”
Corked! Cork taint is a fault in the wine that gives off a musty smell. Think of wet cardboard and mold. If you smell this in step two, then there is an issue.
Oxidised! Oxygen is necessary in a controlled amount to allow the wine time to age and grow up. We are better as people the older we get (well, most of us). Too much uncontrolled oxygen leaves the wine ‘flat’ with little or no ‘nose’ and a bitter finish, like a grapefruit.
Wooded! The term wooded refers to wines that have contact with wood during the maturing phase. Once the grapes have been turned into wine, the winemaker must choose how to mature the wine before releasing it to the market. To incorporate wood the winemaker can use barrels or staves (pieces of wood inserted in the tank, much like a tea bag effect in a tea cup). Generally wines that incorporate wood have a nose of spice and smokiness.
Dry! Dryness in the wine is measured by the remaining sweetness. The less sweet it is, the dryer it is. Think of a fresh Sauvignon Blanc. For something sweeter think of the naturally sweet rosé found in the supermarkets.
Bodied! This is just the weight the wine has in your mouth. Compare three glasses of milk: Fat-free, 2% low-fat and full cream milk. The full cream will be richer and feel heavier than the rest – almost like a full bodied wine.
My name is Xolani Mancotywa. I am a Xhosa wine-lover and just keen to share food and wine moments with the world, from a South African viewpoint.