Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Wine Tasting 101

Posted April 5, 2006

Okay, what were the key things you learned in your wine country trip to California last week? I’m hearing that question a lot this week. All right. Here are my Top Ten Wine Tasting Tips.

1. Don’t mistake zinfandel for white zinfandel. The white variety is sweeter and lighter in color. The other is darker, more colorful in character and full-bodied. Look for old vine zinfandel from the Lodi region or appellation It is rich and aromatic. It is one of my favorites.

2. You don’t have to know much about wine to enjoy it. The most important thing is how you like the taste. You are the expert on that. Just because it's expensive wine doesn't make it right for you. But I think it is good to expand your field of enjoyment. Try new wines to gain greater knowledge of your own tastes.

3. Wine tasting should start with a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere without distractions. Don't wear perfume to the tasting. Leave the gum at home. Use a large wine glass. Fill it about 1/4 full and swirl the wine. This opens up the aroma and bouquet and allows you to stick your nose into the glass to appreciate this most important sense. In fact, smell will account for 60-70% of your evaluation of a wine. Always hold the glass by the stem to keep the wine from overheating.

4. Don't serve wine, especially white wines, too cold. White wine should be tasted at 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit and red wines about five degrees warmer. Tell your restaurant waiter to skip the ice bucket.

5. White wines are the easier to evaluate. Reds can challenge or “tire” your palate sooner. Dessert wines can be most difficult of all.

6. Don't overdo it and space things out. We don't want tipsy drivers on the road. A designated driver is always best. Or rent a limousine with friends. That can be fun.

7. Judge the color of a wine. Hold your sample up to natural light to look for clarity. The wine may be brilliant or it may be cloudy. Cloudy does not necessarily mean bad as it can show the wine was not overly filtered.

8. Some wineries charge a tasting fee of $5-$10 which is usually waived if you buy some wine. Smaller wineries have free tastings. They really want your business.

9. North Carolina wineries are gaining attention and respect worldwide. For a list of wineries in North Carolina check out:

10. You can now have California wine shipped directly to your residence. You might want to join a wine club.

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