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Nose Nonsense - Wine 101

Reviewed by: Jennifer Giglio

Unfortunately, like many other promises to ourselves, New Year's resolutions seem to dissolve within the first few weeks of the year pledged. The process typically begins with encouraged spirits: devising lists, journaling, programming reminders in our palms. Action's whose intent is to keep ourselves committed to the development of ourselves- without the likes of Oprah.

Resolutions run the gamut. This year I've heard: be a better parent, find a new career, and lose weight. Such promises seem like cornerstones of life, rather than material for turn-of-the-year resolution making. Resolutions, to me, mean betterment, enjoyment, and curiosity. They can be an escape from the monotony of life or act to unite friends and families in their mutual passions. Cultivating an interest, like learning the principles behind wine tasting, seems like a fine promise to oneself in the new year. To become a wine enthusiast only requires a harnessing of three senses: sight, smell and taste. They will routinely become your most important starting points in deciphering a wine's identity.

It's all about vision:
The first step to understanding a wine's character is by sight. When pouring the wine only fill the glass about one-third full. This is just the right amount to prevent spillage when swirling it in the glass. Hold the stem of the glass, clasped between the thumb and forefinger. Never use a hand to cusp the bowl, as this will alter a wine's temperature and conceal its true color. Plus, it leaves those awful fingerprints! Tilt the glass by the stem to a forty-five degree angle and if possible set against a white or neutral background. The liquid that is flush against the outer rim of the glass is called the disc, or edge. Inspecting it will reveal the wine's color, or hue. Looking directly into the center of the glass offers a view of the wine's intensity. During this exercise some things to look for are: white wines that are golden and brighter in color are likely to have been aged in oak and have fuller bodies, red wines that are brighter and cast a true red hue can be more acidic

While studying, give the wine a swirl. Notice the streams of clear liquid running down the side of the glass? These streams are called legs, or tears. They correlate to the amount of alcohol in the wine- the more tears, the higher the alcohol content.

The nose knows:
Swirling the wine aids in the sniffing process. Swirling, like decanting, exposes the wine to air, which increases the intensity of the aroma and softens the tannins. Set the glass on a smooth surface and swirl with a slight movement of the wrist. Next, place the nose in the center of the bowl and inhale the wine's bouquet. Inhaling a wine's scent provides insight into its flavor. Try to identify the aromas. Is that chocolate, licorice, plum or cherries? Pay close attention to these scents, as some change as the wine opens, or breathes. Be assured, that sniffing a wine is a subjective activity; there is no "accepted" procedure.

Nosing a wine will divulge more about its character, than actually tasting it. The human capacity for smell can range up to 10,000 different smells, whereas our 9,000 taste buds can only reveal four degrees of taste: sweet, sour, salt and bitter. Interestingly, smell and taste blend into one experience, which begins with the olfactory epithelium. Back behind the nasal cavity is a membrane called the olfactory epithelium which enables humans to smell. When we sniff we draw in molecules of odor from the air, which are caught by the mucus of the membrane and processed by sensory receptors which send messages to the brain. Voil´a, a sense of smell is born.

Similarly, the human olfactory membrane is also stimulated by what we put in our mouth. When our mouth is filled with food or drink, its contents release order molecules that travel up the interior pathway in the nasal cavity; this is the exact process that occurs with nosing. In essence, taste would be tasteless without a sense of smell.

Tasting wine calls for more technique than nosing. Albeit- some of these practices are only suitable for the privacy of one's own home. To that end, let's focus on the basics. Never gulp wine, always sip. Make sure enough liquid is in the mouth so that it can be chewed without forcing a reaction to swallow. Keep the liquid in the mouth for 10 to 15 seconds, or longer depending on the complexity of the wine. Exposing the wine to the large warm surface area, like the mouth and the tongue will reveal more flavor. As discussed, the tongue measures four basic degrees of taste: acid, bitterness, salt and sugar. Two of these tastes, acid and sugar, influence a wine's drink ability. The tip of the tongue reveals the degree of sweetness to the wine. The upper sides of the tongue, as you may have encountered tasting some tannic wines, speak to a wine's acidity. In summary, the purpose of the tongue is to measure not to taste.

Swallowing, naturally, is the last bit to this Wine 101. In swallowing, focus on the after-taste, or finish. Does the wine linger in the nose and palate or does it disappear? Most often, the longer the finish the better the wine. Happy tasting!

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