Wine is the most complex product to taste. It takes a short time to learn and a lifetime to practice. Drinking is just pushing liquid through your throat, but tasting is very different. We need to focus and train our senses to know what we are doing to appreciate the expression of a wine–the message inside each glass.
How to handle a glass:
When you are at a cocktail party, if you are standing, you will always hold a glass by the base with your left hand, because you are going to be shaking hands or eating with your right hand. Maybe your napkin will be underneath your glass. When you are sitting, the distance between the eye and the hand is much closer, so you must be careful, and you will hold the stem with all your fingers. You never, ever, touch the bowl of the glass because it is presumably already at the right temperature. Whites (5-9 or 10 degrees) Reds (16 to 20 degrees).
Glass is transparent so you need a white surface. Unfold your napkin in front of you, and hold the glass of red wine. You must aim the base of the glass to your heart in front of you, and then angle it forward to the point of almost dripping. Place the napkin two inches or so below, and you will see two different colours, two different areas: the clear part at the top of the liquid, called the tip, and then the horseshoe within the base bowl. The horseshoe at the base is always black, so there is no colour, but if you see the superior parts in reds, and you see it turns to deep reds and violets, it is because you are in the presence of a young red wine. If instead you see a brick-y, orange-y, brown colour, it is because it is an older red wine.
So if someone pours you a red wine, and the wine looks brown, that probably means the wine is “gone”. If someone pours you one from thirty years ago and the wine is still violet–maybe they put something else in it, because its impossible that after thirty years it could still be violet.
Now we move to the white wine. In whites we do the exact same process, in front of the white surface, and in front of you, you will see that on top there is no colour, it is completely transparent, but the horseshoe, or the “u shaping” on the base, has a greenish, pale, straw colour. This is because you are in the presence of a very young wine. If the white wine has gold, orange, and deep honey colours, it is because you are in the presence of a very old wine.
For the colour, you check the horseshoe on the base of whites, and the superior part of the reds, because the horseshoe of the reds is always black. That’s the only difference.
Now lets go back to the red again. We are going to twist the glass toward the light, and then put it in a vertical position. When we twist the glass in a horizontal position, and then put it in the vertical position, you will see the ‘legs’. You will see that the wine starts to ‘cry’. Every wine has legs or tears. If these legs are running in a thin, slow way, it is because this is a full bodied wine—there is a lot of alcohol, or sugar. If the legs are running in a wide and fast way, it is because this is a light bodied wine. This is not about quality, it is about character.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.