When I was younger I drank wine to be sociable, to be used as a prop for an engaging conversation, either with the other sex or with friends seeking to engage the other sex. And of course when I was even younger, I drank for the sake of getting a buzz at the lowest cost.
As I matured (chronologically), I transitioned to enjoying wine for its ethereal qualities. Through trial and error I developed my personal preferences for aromas, flavors and balance.
After many years of honing my personal preferences, I now possess a trained palate that instinctively discerns the components of a glass of wine. I’ve also learned the techniques in evaluating the characteristics and nuances of a glass of wine when first assessing it. Some are subtle; others are rather flamboyant.
To the typical tippler, these seemingly unorthodox techniques raise questions in their minds of the sanity of self-proclaimed oenophiles. But rather than intending to be supercilious or intentionally ostentatious, there is a specific rationale behind each gesture and gesticulation I’ve learned over the years.
A freshly opened bottle of wine reacts and responds to its new environment – but not without difficulty. To fully appreciate the wine, to quickly release its aromas and flavors, and to fully enjoy its bouquet and taste, it is helpful to provide assistance to the poured wine.
Connoisseurs approach a freshly poured glass with several unorthodox techniques:
Holding a glass high above one’s head and peering into the poured wine. The rationale: the color of a wine is the first indication of its body (the darker the color the more full bodied and vice versa). It also is a predictor of the stage of its life cycle. (Look for contrasting color on the edges of a poured red wine; a brownish hue indicates the wine may be oxidized or past its prime, or both.)
Vigorously swirling the wine on a surface like a whirling dervish. Corollary: vigorously twirling the glass in mid-air. The rationale: while it may appear dangerous and a bit frivolous, this allows oxygen to enter the glass, provoking latent aromas to be released for evaluation and enjoyment. Warning: master this technique in the privacy of your home before attempting it in public. I have ruined several tablecloths over the years.
Inserting one’s nose deeply into the glass and loudly sniffing and inhaling the contents. The rationale: the aromas of wine number in the thousands. The olfactory senses capture and discern these aromas and provide a broad and deep appreciation for the wine before tasting. The closer one’s nose to the surface of the wine, the more the aromas waft into the nostrils and through the nasal passages. This technique provides the greatest measure of one’s opinion of the wine.
Chewing before swallowing. An axiom I follow for wine, not just for food. The rationale: one’s tongue and mouth are the repositories of the sense of taste. To sip and swallow in one motion is to miss the experience of fully appreciating the flavors in wine. Instead, hold that sip in your mouth and slosh it around as if you are gargling. The wine will coat and be absorbed by your taste receptors. The sound of this in mixed company may initially be off-putting, but once you convince others of the merits of this technique, your slurping will be lost in the cacophony of the group’s ode to joy.
Breathe in, breathe out. Immediately after swallowing, an audible sound is made, similar to that when slowly sucking air through a straw. The rationale: when swallowing, wine passes through the nasal receptors in the rear of t he mouth, providing another opportunity to savor the bouquet and aromas of the wine.
Do the means justify the desired result? It depends on two considerations: your desire to enhance your drinking experience and refine your palate and your level of self-confidence as you subject yourself to quizzical stares.
Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.