Champagne

No need for celebration, Mr. Bond always enjoys a chilled glass Bollinger.
No need for celebration, Mr. Bond always enjoys a chilled glass Bollinger.

If you’re interested in living like a WASP, then it is essential that you know how to party like a WASP.  And whether you’re living it up urban style on the Upper East Side, or relaxing in the Connecticut countryside, no WASP party would be complete without a generous helping of the bubbly.  Or in other words, that most cheerful of all wines, Champagne.

Champagne has a lot going for it.  It’s versatile, it’s one of the best quality wines on the planet, and it’s virtually synonymous with fun and celebration.

Oh yes, did I also mention that it’s James Bond’s drink of choice?  Sure everything knows about the dry vodka martini (shaken, not stirred), but read Bond’s first adventure in Casino Royal and you’ll see him reaching for a flute far more often than a martini glass.

Bond and the the obvious WASP cred aside, Champagne (and better sparkling wine) really does up the enjoyment factor of  nearly any occasion.  So do yourself a favor; pitch that bottle of André and read on to learn how to select, drink, and enjoy a magnum of the good stuff like a pro.

Champagne – Une Histoire:

A common misconception is that Champagne was invented by a Benedictine Monk by the name of Dom Pérignon during his stint as cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers in the later half of the 17th century.  In truth sparkling wine had been produced over a century earlier by monks at the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire in Limoux (Saint Hilaire sparkling wine is still available on the market today for a bargain price of $12 a bottle).

None the less, Dom Pérignon was instrumental (certainly more than any other individual) in the development and perfection of what we know as Champagne today.  Perhaps his greatest contribution was refining the process of in-bottle fermentation to produce carbonation in wine, however that’s far from his only achievement.  For example, he was among the first to blend base wines to develop certain characteristics in his finished sparking wines.  He was one of the pioneers of making white wine from red grapes, a process still common today.  He was also the first to use a cork stopper for Champagne bottles and a leader in recognizing the benefits of cellar aging.

A worker attending to bottles undergoing secondary, in-bottle, fermentation during the Méthode Champenoise.
A worker attending to bottles undergoing secondary, in-bottle, fermentation during the Méthode Champenoise.

However, what really set things in motion was the perfection of the Méthode Champenoise, or Champagne Method (sometimes known as the Traditional Method) of sparkling wine production in the 19th century.  This is the method that all Champagne, and better sparkling wines, still practice to this day.  Without getting too in depth, it involves the creation of a blended base wine, which is then given a does of sugar and yeast, and fermented a second time in a sealed bottle to produce the carbonation that makes sparkling wine sparkle.

The Champagne method of production, combined with the ideal climate and soil of the Champagne region, quickly lead to the explosive growth and popularity of the sparkling wine from Champagne (known by then simply as Champagne) among Europeans and the British during the 18th and 19th centuries.  Over the first half of the 19th century alone, Champagne production increased from 300,000 bottles to over 20 million bottles.  From that point on, the world never looked back.

Today there are thousands of producers, making making millions of cases, of sparking wine in the traditional method, yet Champagne remains the benchmark by which all others are judged, and often fail.

Bubbly Basics:

While Champagne can seem overly complicated, it’s really not so long as you understand a few basics notions.

The first, and most important, distinction that you must know is that while all Champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne.  The use of the word Champagne is reserved by EU law for only those sparkling wines produced by the traditional method and in the Champagne region of France.  Other, sometimes very good, sparkling wines are made in the traditional method throughout France (labeled as Cremant), Europe, and the rest of the world, but true Champagne only comes from Champagne.

A typical Champagne label.   Note the use of the word Champagne and the "Product of France" at the bottom.  That's how you know it's the real deal.
A typical Champagne label. Note the use of the word Champagne and the “Product of France” at the bottom. That’s how you know it’s the real deal.

Outside the EU some producers will still use the term Champagne (ex. California Champagne) on their labels, but with increased globalization, that’s becoming rarer and rarer.  Most better producers will gladly self identify as sparkling wine rather than attempt to free ride off the famous name.  If you’re ever unsure, always look for “Product of France” on the label to know you’re getting the real deal.

The second thing you’ll want to know is how to identify the level of sweetness you’re getting.  While not as simple as looking for “not sweet” or “sweet” on the label, cracking the sparkling wine sweetness code isn’t all that difficult.  For the most part there are only three types you’ll ever encounter:

  • Brut:  Typically dry to very dry (that is to say, not sweet) and the most common type of Champagne (and sparkling wine) available.  This is also the most versatile type of Champagne, but one thing it is not suited for is dessert.
  • Extra Sec (Extra Dry):  Here’s where it gets a little confusing because extra dry actually means “not very dry” or “slightly sweet”.  This is a popular, easy drinking variety of Champagne that’s still fairly versatile in terms of pairings.  However it’s still not up the challenge of dessert.
  • Demi-Sec (Medium Dry):  These are less common and represent the sweetest Champagne you’re likely to find in stores (there’s a Doux, or “very sweet”, version as well, but it’s difficult to find).  These can be quite good depending on your taste and is the only Champagne up to the task of tackling a sweet dessert.

Next is learning to identify the varying levels of quality available.  When it comes to Champagne there three basic levels of wine made by producers.  In order of increasing quality they are:

  • Non Vintage: The most common type of Champagne available, this is the standard offering released every year by the producers.  It’s blended from a mix of current and past vintage wines with the goal of recreating an identifiable house style (more on that later) from year to year.  As such it will not have any sort of vintage date on the label.  It’s typically aged between 1.5 and 2 years prior to release.  Non-Vintage (N.V.) Champagnes usually sell in the $20-$50 depending on quality and the producer.
  • A bottle of Louis Roederer's Prestige Cuvee Cristal.  Note the vintage year.
    A bottle of Louis Roederer’s Prestige Cuvee Cristal. Note the vintage year.

    Vintage: These are sparkling wines created with the wine of a single (usually) good year, or vintage.  Typically they’re made with better grapes, from better vineyards, and aged longer, anywhere between 2 and 5 years.  The result is usually a much more complex and concentrated wine.  Look for the vintage date on the label and expect to pay a little more over the N.V. price for that added quality, normally in the $60-$100 range.

  • Prestige Cuvée:  These are the top of the range offerings from the best producers.  Like the Vintage variety, they’re produced from wines of a single vintage and only during exceptionally good year.  They’re made with only the best grapes from the most prestigious vineyards and are typically aged for 5-8 years prior to release.  You won’t find Prestige Cuvée on the label, so you’ll have to identify these beauties by the vintage date, the price tag ($100-$500 at release), and by their trademark names such as Louis Roederer’s Cristal, Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon, or Veuve Clicquot’s La Grande Dame.  While expensive, these really do represent the finest, richest, and most concentrated sparkling wines on earth.

Aside from those general categories, one other item to look for are the words Premier Cru or Grand Cru on the label.  These are indications that the grapes used for the wine were sourced from a select group of specially designated vineyards (Grand Cru being the highest honor) in Champagne and is usually a good indicator of quality.  Prestige Cuvée wines for example will likely be sourced from nothing but Grand Cru vineyards.  However, it is possible to find Premier Cru or even Grand Cru Champagnes from smaller grower/producers at very reasonable prices.

A Grand Cru vineyard in Champagne. This provides the raw materials for the best sparkling wine on the planet.

Lastly we come to the issue of style.  This is where things can get a little ambiguous, but the basic idea is to remember that each Champagne house tries to make a consistent tasting Champagne with their N.V. offering each year.  That consistency can be thought of as each house’s particular style, and while it can be specific down to the individual producer, in practice there are three basic types:

  • Light and Elegant:  This style is characterized by a pronounced acidity or tartness and dominant flavors of citrus fruit.  Generally made from mostly white grapes, such as Chardonnay, they are the lightest bodied, crispest, and most refreshing Champagnes available.  Typical producers are: Mumm, Perrier-Jouët, Piper-Heidsieck, and Tattinger.
  • Medium Bodied:  Like the name implies, these are the middle ground Champagnes with respect to body and flavor.  They’re usually made with more red grapes, such as Pinot Noir, and as a result offer more red berry and biscuity flavors along with the citrus.  Well known producers are: Moët & Chandon and Pol Roger.
  • Full Bodied:  These are typically the more intense and concentrated with less acidity.  They’re made with a higher proportion of red grapes and feature full flavors of berries and toasted bread.  They can also have an almost creamy style texture that’s just wonderful.  Typical producers are: Bollinger, Krug, Veuve Cliquot, and Louis Roederer.

There is really no difference in quality between styles (at the same level at least) and what you like comes down to a matter of personal taste and perhaps occasion.  The only way to find out your own preferred style is to try them all!

When to Drink Champagne:

The traditional notion is that Champagne is for celebrating, like at a wedding toast, and sadly that’s the only time that most people will enjoy it.  Even more unfortunate is that the “Champagne” typically served for those occasions is about as far from real Champagne as you can get…

Champagne and caviar are a classic pairing, but the wine is equally at home with anything oily or salty.
Champagne and caviar are a classic pairing, but the wine is equally at home with anything oily or salty.

That’s a shame because Champagne (and sparkling win in general) is perhaps the most versatile wine you can buy.  Between all the different styles and products available, there’s literally a sparkling wine to go with any occasion.

As an appetizer and with dinner Brut Champagne goes with just about anything, but is happiest when paired with salty and oily foods.  That means you can very properly enjoy a glass of Champagne with anything from a plate of caviar, to peanuts, to french fries and fried chicken.

When it’s time for dinner you may want to opt for a fuller bodied style, which will go with just about anything you like, but especially so with seafood or pasta dishes.  One of my favorite pairings is Champagne with spicy Asian cuisine, which works exceptionally well.  The only real exception is to stay away from tomato based sauces, which can clash with the wine.  Nobody is perfect.

For dessert make sure to put away the Brut and break out the Demi-Sec Champagne to accompany sweeter dishes.  It will go best with lighter colored desserts such as lemon dishes, fruit, and custard, however no one will arrest you for enjoying some with a piece of chocolate cake either.

And finally, why confine your drinking to the evening?  Champagne is equally at home in the morning, especially during brunch.  Early in the day pair it with egg and mushroom dishes for a real treat, or mix it two parts to one with orange juice for that other brunch classic, the Mimosa.

How to Drink Champagne:

The general rule is that you’ll want to serve sparkling wine cold, around 40 degrees.  Better Champagnes can be served slightly warmer, but I would never go north of 50 degrees.  Just make sure never to leave the bottle in the fridge for long periods of time since it can pick up off odors and/or be disturbed by the fridge motor as it cycles on and off.  Rather, keep Champagne with your other wines and chill it in the fridge for a few hours before drinking.

When it comes time to open the bottle, don’t be intimidated.  Make sure it’s properly chilled (to reduce pressure) and remove the foil and wire enclosure from around the cork.   Place a dish towel over the cork, get a firm grip on the towel, and slowly rotate it (and the cork) back and fourth while holding the bottle steady and pointed away from anything, or anyone, you don’t want damaged.  When you feel the cork begin to rise, apply slight downward pressure to hold it back as you continue twisting so it eases out as slowly as possible.  While a loud “POP” is dramatic and fun, what you’re really after is a slight “sigh” to release the pressure as slowly as possible.

A simple flue is the perfect way to enjoy the magic in every glass of Champagne.
A simple flue is the perfect way to enjoy the magic in every glass of Champagne.

As for stemware, you can drink Champagne out of anything, but the classic flute or tulip glass is what you really want.  These tall, narrow glasses are specifically designed to retain carbonation in the wine while letting you enjoy the bubbles as they move up through the glass.  The long stem also insulates from body heat, helping to keep your wine cool longer.  You’ll want to avoid the classic bowl shaped Champagne glasses as they allow all those bubbles and aroma you paid so much for escape far too quickly.

Lastly a word on aging.  All Champagnes claim to be ready to drink upon release, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be at their best.  Prestige cuvées reach their peak 10-15 years after release and will keep for decades after.  Even basic NV Champagne will benefit from a few years in cool, dark place.  However, do not attempt to age your Champagne if you can’t offer it the right conditions (50-60 degrees) for a long time.  If you’re plan it to age it on a wine rack in the kitchen, then it will never be better than now!

Don't age wine if you can't provide the right conditions!  This is ideal, but a simple home wine fridge will do the trick.
Don’t age wine if you can’t provide the right conditions! This is ideal, but a simple home wine fridge will do the trick.

Next Steps:

  • First, if you don’t already have them, go out and get yourself some proper glasses.  No need for the ultra expensive crystal set of 12, a simple set of glass flutes or tulips will do just fine.
  • Next is to try some Champagne!  One option is to try out a wine bar where you can experience as glass at a time.  The downside is that most wine bars are often lacking on sparkling options, and when they do have Champagne, they won’t offer it by the glass.  The other option is to grab a bottle from your local retailer.  Start with a basic NV Brut and work your way up from there.
  • Want to get a sense of Champagne without breaking the bank?  As mentioned earlier, many producers make very fine sparking wines using the Champagne method all over the world.  Just look for “Traditional/Champagne Method” or “In-Bottle 2nd Fermentation” on the label.  As mentioned earlier, anything labeled Cremant is French sparking wine made in the classic method outside of Champagne and most of what is imported drinks well and is a great value.
  • My favorites are the American versions produced by the Champagne houses themselves.  The best in my opinion are Domaine Chandon (Moët & Chandon), Mumm Napa (Mumm), Domaine Carneros (Tattinger), and my personal favorite Roederer Estate (Louis Roederer).  All are very good, give you a great taste Champagne style, and cost about half as much ($15-$30) as their French cousins.
  • For a real deal there’s nothing better than Cava, the Spanish interpretation of Champagne.  Cava is produced in the Traditional Method and can be easily be found for under $10 a bottle.
  • Learn more and become an expert.  This article covers only the bare basics and there’s a lot more information for those willing to seek it out.  A great place to start is French Wine for Dummies which devotes and entire chapter to Champagne.  Good luck and keep those bubbles flowing!

Wine Tasting

Wine.  So simple, yet so complicated, but it’s an undeniable truth that if you want to learn to eat and drink like a WASP, you need to know wine.  Few drinks speak to WASP culture as well as a First Growth Bordeaux, a Grand Cru Burgundy, or a bottle of vintage Champagne.  Unfortunately, while most people are fully capable of drinking wine, surprisingly few know how to properly taste and appreciate it.

Wine. Learn it. Love it.

“Why should I bother with all that fancy tasting stuff when I can simply drink what’s in front of me and enjoy it”, you may be asking?  Well, there are a couple reasons.

First, it’s only a matter of time before you’re at a dinner somewhere and someone offers you the tasting on a fresh bottle of wine.  At that point you will have two options 1) Embarrass yourself by admitting that you don’t know what to do, or 2) Really embarrass yourself by accepting the offer and then screwing it up.  Secondly, nothing will offend your average WASP oenophile more than watching someone throw down a glass of their 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothschild like a shot of cheap tequila.  And finally you might actually find you enjoy your wine more by taking the time to evaluate it.

Excellent, so we both agree that tasting wine is something you need to learn how to do.  Fortunately it really isn’t that difficult.  Lets start with the dinner example from above.

Say that your WASP’y friends have invited you out to eat at their favorite Michelin 3 star restaurant and have selected a nice bottle of wine to go with dinner.  The bottle arrives and the offer is extended “I say, would you care to do the tasting, old chap?”  With confidence you say “I’d love to!”  And then proceed with this easy 10 step process:

When inspecting a bottle, verify the producer (Caymus), the vintage (2004), and the variety (Cabernet Sauvignon).

1) The waiter (or Sommelier) will bring the bottle and present it for inspection.  Basically your job is to verify that it’s the same thing that was ordered.  Give it a brief once over paying particular attention to the producer and the vintage (year).  If something is wrong, make sure to say something (Unless of course you know enough to spot when the mistake has been make in your favor…)   If everything checks out, you may proceed.

2) At this point you may also want to feel the bottle of wine for temperature.  Generally you’ll want your red wines served between 60-65 degrees, whites between 55-60, and sparkling wines between 45-50.  As an easy frame of reference, keep in mind that your fridge keeps liquid at around 50 degrees.  If a bottle is too warm, it’s acceptable to ask for a bucket of ice to chill the wine before it’s served to the table.

3) The bottle is opened table side and you’ll be given the cork for inspection.  Pick it up and make sure it feels like normal cork, not dried out or excessively moist.   Visually inspect it for things that don’t look right.  Mildew (a little on the top is OK) or other odd discoloration are bad signs.  You may smell it as well if you like, but that’s not really necessary.

4) Once the bottle and cork have passed muster, it’s time to get down to business.  The waiter will pour a small amount of wine into your glass and then it’s showtime.

5) Pick up the glass and inspect the color of the wine, preferably against a light background, like a tablecloth.  At this point you may think that wine simply comes in red or white, but try to get beyond that and look more closely.  If it’s red is a really deep, almost purpley, red or is it a lighter ruby, or even brownish?  If it’s a white is it pale or a deep golden color, is it slightly greenish?  Don’t spend a long time here, maybe just a few seconds, but make sure you do it!

6) Next up is the swirl.  Take you glass and rotate it in small circles to get the wine up and swirling around the side of the glass.  Make sure to keep it under control because if the wine leaves the mouth of the glass, it’s game over. 5-10 good rotations are ideal for most wines.  Sparkling wines only need 1 or 2.

Get your nose right in there and concentrate. Don't cut corners here, it's the most important step!

7) Stop swirling and quickly stick your nose into the glass.  Again, use common sense here and keep your nose out of the wine…  Inhale slowly through your nose and think about what you’re smelling.  Is it light and barely perceptible or is the aroma (“nose” in wine-speak) strong and intense?  Pull your nose back, take in a fresh breath, and repeat at least one or two more times.  Make sure to take your time as this is the most important step in tasting wine!  

8) In a restaurant it’s acceptable to to simply give the wine a pass/fail rating.  However in a more formal tasting situation, you make be required to describe what you smell.  No fear, just check the tasking cheat sheet below for some helpful hints.  If the wine is a “fail”, you’ll know it immediately.  It will smell like mildew, sulfur, or something else you don’t want to put in your mouth.  If that’s the case, stop here and send it back immediately.

9) Assuming the wine passes the smell test, it’s finally time to taste.  Ideally tasting is done in three steps:  First take a small sip and immediately swallow to acclimate your mouth to the wine.  Next take a full sip and hold the wine in your mouth.  If you can, draw in a little air through your lips to help release aromas.  Move the wine around in your mouth letting it coat your tongue, cheeks, teeth, etc… and swallow.  Take one more sip and repeat.  What you’re looking for is sweetness (or lack thereof) in the wine, acidity (how tart the wine is), tannins (that dry, cotton-mouth feel, similar to when you drink tea), and the level of alcohol.  Ideally these tastes (the wine’s “pallet” ) will all be in balance without any one dominating over the others.

10) The end of the process is the final pass/fail test.  If the wine tastes OK (no vinegar or other nasty tastes) then signal your approval and the waiter will begin to pour the wine into each guests glass, or a decanter if appropriate.  At that point you’re done!  Unless…

10.1) If any aspect of the wine seems “iffy” there’s no shame in asking someone else at the table for their opinion.  People will always interpret the aroma and taste of wine differently and sometimes a second opinion is warranted.  If the wine is bad, then make sure you send it back.  While it can be awkward to refuse a bottle of wine, it’s not nearly awkward as giving your approval and then being responsible for everyone at the table getting stuck with bad wine. 

That’s all these is to it!  That procedure will serve you well no matter what WASP’y wine situation you may find yourself in, be it a fancy restaurant, a dinner party, or attending a wine tasting.  

Ah yes, wine tasting.  What is that about?  Why it’s a perennial WASP favorite where people gather and do nothing but drink and discuss wine.  Sounds like fun, yes, but remember that this is a situation where you’ll required to go beyond the simple pass/fail test and actually describe what you’re tasting.  How to go about doing that?  Well that’s where things can get more difficult. Fortunately we’re here to help!

Wine Tasting Cheat Sheet:

When it comes to wine, most of the “flavors” you detect are actually scents and identifying those scents are the bread and butter (both actual wine descriptors) of any wine tasting. 

If you’ve ever attended a wine tasting, or even read the description on the back of a bottle, you might be a little put off by the depth of aroma/flavor analysis.  After all, how the heck can a grape product smell like pencil shavings, root beer, or tar?  Well, we’ll get to that, but first we need to recognize that the vast majority of the scents in a glass of wine come from two sources: The fruit from which the wine was made and the wooden barrel it was fermented and/or aged in.

The Fruit: The aromas generated here typically smell like… wait for it… fruit!  What kind of fruit depends largely on the grape variety used.  Instead of trying to pick out individual flavors, try to classify the smell in broader group.  Below are some of the most common.  The first two apply mainly to reds, the latter three to whites.

Black Currant (AKA Cassis) is a little known berry in the US but is a common descriptor for dark red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
    • Black Fruit (blackberry, blueberry, plum, currant/cassis)
    • Red Fruit (cherry, strawberry, raspberry)
    • Tree Fruit (apple, pear, peach)
    • Citrus Fruit (orange, grapefruit, lemon)
    • Tropical Fruit (pineapple, coconut, lychee)

Once you’ve identified the group, then you can start to name individual flavors.  The good news here is that no one can challenge your assessment of specific flavors since everyone experiences wine differently, so be bold!  As long as you can identify the broad group, you’ve got the freedom to say whatever you want.

Note that it’s possible for the grapes to produce other scents as well.  Examples include a grassy aroma, vegetables, flowers, or earthy flavors such as mushrooms or truffles.

The Wood: Most red wines and a few white wines (primarily Chardonnay) are fermented and/or aged in oak barrels.  There are all sorts of variables when it comes to barrels.  American Oak, French Oak, Hungarian Oak…  Different levels of “toast” describing how much the inside of the barrel was charred during its production.  Age of the barrels used.  All these factors affect the flavors of the wine.   For now just know that oak can add the following aromas:

    • Oakiness – The flavor/aroma of the wood itself
    • Smokiness
    • Spicy – Cloves, Cinnamon, Pepper
    • Vanilla
    • Chocolate
    • Coffee
    • Tobacco – Think the dried leaves, not a pack of Camel Lights
    • Earth – That damp woodsy/soil smell
Wine aging in French Oak barrels. The wood contributes tannin and a range of new flavors and aromas to the wine.

Note that if a wine wasn’t aged in wood, as in the case with most whites, non of these flavors will likely be present and you can simply focus on the fruit as described earlier.  How do you know whether a wine was aged in wood or not?  Simple, just ask!  Quite the opposite of sounding ignorant, any good wine-geek will appreciate your interest in the vinification (winemaking) techniques behind the glass you’re about to sample.  

If you can identify the fruit and wood flavors in a glass of wine, you’ve got all the tools you need to conquer any tasting situation.  But wait, now it’s time for the fun part!  Remember all those crazy descriptors on the back of the label?  Well once you’ve proved that you can identify the basic aromas in a glass of wine, you then have license to go crazy and add in your own unique ideas to the mix.  Does it smell like playground mulch?  Maybe Domino’s pizza crust?  Sky’s the limit and again, who’s to say any different?

The Taste: AKA the “Palate” of the wine.  Most of this was covered in Step 9 above, but here are the basics one more time for those with reading comprehension issues.  In terms of actual taste, there are usually only 4 things you’re looking for in a wine:

    • Sweetness:  Perceived up front by the tip of your tongue, sweetness levels in wine speak range from “dry” (not sweet) to “off dry” (kinda sweet) to just regular old “sweet”.
    • Acidity: Basically a fancy word for the tart or sour flavor in a wine.  It’s sometimes described as giving wine a “crisp” flavor.  Remember Sour Patch Kids candy?  Those are highly acidic.  You perceive acidity on the sides of your tongue.
    • Tannins: More of a texture than an actual flavor, tannins are responsible for the cotton-mouth dry feeling the wine creates in your mouth.  Highly tannic wines are described as “astringent” while wines with light tannins are described as “soft”.  Since tannins are largely a product of grape skins and wood aging, they’re typically only a factor in red wines, but not always…
    • Alcohol: The reason most people even bother with wine to begin with.  By this point I’ll assume that you know what alcohol tastes like.  When it comes to wine the key is judging how much is present, which itself is usually a factor of the climate where the grapes were grown (warm and sunny = higher alcohol).
Sweet and fruity is good, but try to appreciate the other aspects of wine as well. You'll be glad you did.

Again, the key idea when it comes to taste is for all these sensations to be in balance with each other and for no one component to stand out too much.  Beyond that it’s really a matter of personal taste.  One word of caution is not to dwell only on the sweetness of a wine.  It’s a sure mark of a novice wine drinker.  Yes, we all like sweet stuff, but when it comes to impressing your WASP friends, you’ll need to look beyond the sweet.

The Body:  I’ve always found this term a little confusing because it’s said to the describe the “weight” of the wine in your mouth.  Well, doesn’t all wine weigh about the same?  Technically yes, but when it comes to wine speak the answer is a resounding no.  What wine snobs are actually describing here (I think) is the concentration of the wine.  The analogy I’ve heard used most often is the difference between types of milk.  Skim is light bodied, whole is medium bodied, and cream is full bodied.  Again its all very subjective, but in general if you describe concentrated/high alcohol wines full bodied and thin/low alcohol wines light bodied, you can’t go wrong.  If you’re in a pinch, you can always hedge your bets and go with medium bodied.

The Finish:  The final aspect of any wine tasting and no, I’m not talking about the part where you say goodbye and hope that you’re cool to drive… The finish of a wine describes how long the flavors and aromas of a wine last after you’ve swallowed it.  In general the longer the finish the better, that is unless the wine has left you with a bad taste in your mouth…  Fortunately the answer there is easy, just try more wine till you find one you like!   

Next Steps:
  • This one is easy, just go out, get a bottle of wine, and start drinking!  Try to find bottles that have in depth descriptions listed on the label.  At first read the descriptions and then try to find those flavors yourself.  Once you’ve gotten a few bottles under your belt, try drinking first and then reading to see how close you can get to the experts analysis.
  • Make sure to sample a variety of wines.  It’s easy to get caught up with a single type or style of wine, but be sure to explore so you know what else is out there.
  • Once you’ve got a little confidence, attend an actual wine tastings, even if it’s just at the local wine shop.  That gives you the opportunity to sample a bunch of different wines side by side without having to pay for four or five complete bottles.
  • If the wine bug gets you, then start reading up.  There are literally thousands of books out there on the subject.  I’ve found the “Wine for Dummies” series to be a good all around guide.