Tame & easy this week, just like the bottles of red wine I’m about to get into. I feel like when you know very little about wine, the words ‘red wine’ are equivalent to a haunted house (…hear me out). It can be scary, but you’re also a little curious to see what all the fuss is about. Maybe that’s just me though, pretty dramatic… Halloween on the brain & all. Anyways, I want to change that narrative. Let’s do it together. To ease your red wine terrors, I asked our winemaker, Joe, what red wines on our current tasting menu he would recommend to a newbie. He was happy to oblige, so we’re talkin’ red wine today.
Before we begin, I’ll let you in on a few secrets. Okay, they’re not secrets, but you may not have known if you really are new to wine! With each wine, I’ll give you:
1. Joe’s Comments
a. The percentage of each grape variety present in the wine.
a. This includes: How long the wine has been aging in the barrel, what kind of wood was used, & the relevant age of the barrel. The months present in this section are applicable to the amount of time spent in the barrel. If you see A/F when reading today, or on any wine profile you encounter, that stands for American/ French. There are several different kinds of barrels to age wine in, but the real difference between them is the region they come from. Yes, it does make a difference! Also, depending on the context, another word for aged can be ‘oaked,’ just so we’re clear. If a wine is not oaked, then an N/A will take this information’s place—Pretty self-explanatory. When you see a percentage accompanied by the term “new,” the number is speaking of the barrel’s age. Wine barrels can last up to 100 years, so they’re reused pretty often. If a barrel is 100% new, it’s never been used to age wine before, & so on down the numerical list to determine a barrel’s age.
Learn more in our blog post all about barrels!
4. Tasting Notes
a. Notes given by the winemaker to explain further the intention & execution of each wine.
5. Food Pairing Ideas
a. Just in case you decide to try them at home with a nice meal!
1. “Easy drinking.”
2. Composition: 88% Temecula Valley Merlot, 12% Temecula Valley Petite Sirah
3. Oak: Aged 15 Months A/F, 30% New
4. Tasting Notes: Red fruit, and peppers dominate the aromatic profile on this vintage, with incredibly smooth tannins make it a big red that can still appeal to a wide audience.
5. Food Pairing Ideas: Thin crust pizza, parmesan crisps, truffled french fries
1. “Jammy. The Zinfandel variety tends to be more approachable” (& takes up half of the wine!).
2. Composition: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Zinfandel
3. Oak: Aged 12 months A/F, 25% new
4. Tasting Notes: Latin for “dual”, our 2019 Dualis combines two big reds, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, with each variety lending its own qualities and dimensions to this unique blend. Zinfandel brings rich, dark fruit character with a hint of black pepper spice, complemented by the more substantial Cabernet Sauvignon with red fruit notes and firm tannin structure. This wine drinks very enjoyably now, yet will age gracefully in the cellar for several years.
5. Food Pairing Ideas: Black pepper crusted burgers, carne asada, pulled pork
1. “Made to be fruit forward & smooth.”
2. Composition: 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Syrah, 14% Sangiovese, 9% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sirah, 6% Grenache, 5% Malbec, 3% Dolcetto, 3% Mourvedre, 2% Petit Verdot, 2% Primitivo (WHOA! Crowded, indeed…)
3. Oak: Aged 13 months A/F, 25% new
4. Tasting Notes: Like your favorite recipe, the 2018 Crowded weaves a variety of flavors together in a balanced, harmonious blend. Our winemaking team begins with many different red wine lots, carefully crafting each new Crowded vintage into a wine that showcases an enticing bouquet of toasted oak and fruit-forward aromas, a “Big Red” palate, and approachable tannins on the finish. Very food friendly, this wine pairs nicely with almost any dish.
5. Food Pairing Ideas: Roasted turkey, lamb kebob, grilled pork loin (but also, literally anything tastes good with it)
Alright, now that you have your shopping list, it’s time for some education. Don’t worry, I’ll give you some time to get your wine. Next week, we’ll get into at least 5 of the varieties mentioned in these wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Merlot, & Syrah. That way, when you get them, you’ll know a bit more about what you’re drinking! Until then, even if you don’t try these, try a red wine! Explore what you’re afraid of, especially with wine, you may be surprised.
This Newbie venture began with me asking about wine tasting, & with so many topics peaking my curiosity along the way, I failed to truly answer that very question: How do you taste wine? Well, while knowing how your wine travelled all the way from vine to glass is equally important, today we’re going to discuss what to do when that glass is poured & you’re faced with the inevitable role of judge in a trial of aromas. Let’s learn some tasting tips!
Let’s set the scene, shall we? You’re visiting a local winery with friends & decide to do a tasting. Sitting down, a pen & piece of paper join you at the table. What’s that for? Tasting notes. You quickly realize the only thing you’ve ever tasted in your wine was the alcohol (or what you thought was the alcohol) & you don’t know what the heck you’re looking for. Relax, we got you!
Remember, the step before these steps: Think. Being open & staying focused on those aromas & flavor profiles throughout your tasting when you’re a beginner will help it become easier as you keep practicing. That doesn’t mean it has to be so serious, just keep your mind free to let those possible characteristics present themselves to you. I’d also like add that thinking involves questioning, too. So, don’t be afraid to join in on the conversation, or start one, if you’re unsure of what you’re detecting!
The glass is poured. The first step is the easiest: Look. The first thing you want to do when observing your wine is to notice the color’s opacity & hue, as well as the viscosity (or apparent “thickness”). Much like ours, most wineries will have white menus to help you with this step. Hold the wine glass over the white background to get the best view of your glass. Wines with a more intense red color often have more acidity, those with a deeper purple color usually have lower acidity, & more opacity often means younger wine. Also, notice the “legs” on the wine (the tear-drop like remnants of wine left inside the glass after swirling, also pictured in top photo), these typically mean higher alcohol or sugar content. However, remember every wine you will ever try is different. These are only guidelines, there are many other factors that contribute to these outcomes. They can also change while aging in the bottle. Moving on. Although important to the process of wine tasting, this step does not require a ton of thought. Basically, identifying these characteristics will give you a point of reference when continuing on.
Now, before you bring that glass to your lips, don’t forget to bring it to your sniffer first! Next step: Smell— Probably the most important step because it gives you a foundation for when you begin tasting. Bring the glass to your nose & sniff, just for a baseline first. Then, swirl the wine to open up those characteristics you’re looking for & go in again in short sniffs, then think about it. There are hundreds of aromas you can detect when smelling your wine, so be open. You may notice fruit, herbs, oak, or earthy notes. Even then, you may be able to narrow it down even more (i.e. chocolate covered strawberry, toasted marshmallow, etc.). But I get it, picking those out of thin air seems impossible sometimes. That’s why it’s always good to taste with others. Not only is it more enjoyable, but it will also enhance the experience in expanding your wine knowledge. It’s important to remember in this step, & also when tasting the wine, that there’s really no wrong way to recognize these notes & no wrong answers either. All palettes are different, & what you detect, another person may not. Again, taste with people & play off each other’s notes.
Now, it’s time: Taste. Take a sip of wine, not a mouthful. Then, you can “sip” it through your teeth to continue opening those aromas, “chew” on it to make sure those notes hit every taste bud & crevice inside your mouth, or simply let it sit on your tongue. I know the next step may seem like it should be to swallow, but it’s actually completely acceptable to spit it out. Tastings often come with spittoons for that very reason. Chances are, you’re tasting a lot of different wines. You may want to save that buzz for later on with the wine you enjoy most, or you may just not like it—It happens, & it’s okay. You can’t like them all. Whichever way you decide to do it (even if it’s not listed here), make sure to be focused on what characteristics you’re picking up. Is it sweet or dry? Sweetness. Does it taste tart or make you salivate? Acidity. Does your mouth feel dry after? Tannins. Hot sensation running down your throat? Alcohol. Just to name a few… & don’t forget the flavor profiles. You may notice certain aromas when smelling that don’t translate on the tongue. Branch out. Make sure to stay focused until the finish (final note, essentially the aftertaste).
Then: Discuss. This is where a group comes in handy, but even if you are tasting alone, talk to your waiter or sommelier. They’ve been hired for a reason, bounce off their ideas & convey your thoughts, too. Ideally, this step should be happening the whole time, which is what makes it so fun!
Put all of it together & you should have a pretty good idea of the wine you just tasted. Yeah, all that for just one wine, but that’s what’s so fun about it! It’s almost like a game. Also, your views are entirely subjective—Remember that. Your tasting experience is heavily influenced on your environment & your genetics, as well. It can’t be helped; Some people’s individual senses are much more sensitive than others. The good news is: The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be & the better understanding you’ll have of what you like.
So, what now? Taste a lot of wine, take a lot of notes, do it with friends, & be open to learning each time. Enjoy it!
(& if it still seems like a lot, try a few of our resources from previous blog posts linked below!)
Vocabulary to Remember & Aroma Wheel
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
Wine itself is an art, but wine with food? A masterpiece! Let’s learn some basic tips on how to pair wine. First, understand there are many more correct methods to pairing wine than incorrect ways, I promise. You can either pair wines based on similar characteristics, or opposing flavor compounds. I know that sounds like a free-for-all but it’s not, let me explain.
When pairing based on similar characteristics, you want to really think about the food or wine (whichever you decide to start with) & decide what notes are present. Ultimately, this requires you to have a pretty good idea of what you enjoy as far as varieties go, but chances are, you already have your preferences! If beginning with your food choice, say you want to make steak for the night. Will you be adding a marinade? Spices? Adding a reduction sauce? Noticing the flavor profiles present in the food will help you pair them with similar ones present in the wine. Both our Grand Rouge & Reserve Malbec go well with premium cuts of beef because of their notes of berry & various spices, so there you go! However, watch out for being too literal! It’s all about balance. Bitter foods do not pair well with bitter wines… but we’ll get more into that. If trying to pair using opposing flavor compounds, do the same thing—Just opposite! For example, with the same pairing of steak & a ‘big red’ wine, the fat & oil present in the steak will counter the high tannin levels present in the wine.
Like I said, it’s all about balance. Here is a chart for a better visual, courtesy of Wine Folly. It contains six primary tastes that can affect your food pairing. The straight blue lines represent good combinations & the jagged grey lines represent flavor compounds you want to avoid.
Bonus tip: If your recipe calls for wine, don’t get the ‘wines for cooking.’ These are full of additives like food coloring & artificial flavors—No thanks! Try a wine you can actually drink while you cook (yes, please!). Usually, you can use a wine that would pair well with the meal itself, but every dish is different!
Now, some basic rules for pairing:
1. The wine should be more acidic or sweeter than the food.
2. Match intensity levels! Intense food = intense wine (i.e. rich, creamy pasta with an oaked Chardonnay), delicate food=delicate wine (i.e. sushi with a Riesling).
3. Tannins disagree with fish oils, so it’s pretty uncommon for reds to pair well with seafood.
4. More often than not, white, sparkling, or rosé wines create contrasting pairings, while red wines usually create corresponding pairings.
5. Know what you like, & go with it! There may be ‘rules’ for a more complimentary pairing, & they really do work! Ultimately though, if you like the wine, that’s good enough!
For a general blueprint to get started, here are some common wines & their pairings.
All in all, just go with your gut! As you continue to experiment with wine, your knowledge will grow & you’ll realize just how subjective it can be. Practice, practice, practice, remember? Your palate, however, is the most important factor on your journey to understanding wine & food pairing. You know what tastes best to you; These are just some simple guidelines in the case of more significant occasions. It’s really not as serious as it seems though, I promise! Have fun with it & share with us some of your favorite Wiens wine pairings on social media—We’d love to see what you crave!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
Ever heard someone describing a wine & wonder what in the world they’re talking about? Same here. So, let’s talk wine vocabulary. Along with descriptors of wine, there are several aromas that may be hard to pinpoint if you’re new to tasting. Because of this, I thought it would be helpful to be more visual this time with definitions & graphics. It’s easy to get lost in the unfamiliar jargon associated with wine—Let me break it down for us.
Don’t be discouraged, a lot of it is simpler than you’d think, just like I said: unfamiliar—that’s all!
First up, 50 definitions to keep in your back-pocket:
acidic – The level of tartness in a wine. The more acidic, the sourer the wine is. This descriptor can also have a negative connotation, if it becomes too intense.
angular – When a wine feels rough or brassy inside your mouth. Usually, younger wines are described this way because they haven’t had the benefit of time to soften them up (the opposite of round*).
appellation – Where the grapes were grown. In the United States, appellations are called American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).
approachable – A wine that is accessible or easy to drink.
astringent – Causing a drying feeling in your mouth, typically caused by tannins*.
baked – When a wine smells or tastes like overripe or cooked fruit. Usually, this is due to just that – grapes have been overheated from the sun, or on the vine too long.
balanced – All flavors & aromas are in symmetry, not one thing stands out more than another.
big – A full-bodied* wine with high alcohol content & exploding with flavor (can also be described as beefy or brawny).
body – The result of thickness or weight on your palate. Often compared with milk; a light-bodied* wine is similar to the feeling of drinking non-fat milk, medium-bodied* is like whole milk, & full-bodied* would be more like creamer.
buttery – The wine smells or tastes like butter or cream.
chewy – The wine texture is thicker, like you could chew it.
cloying – When a wine is aggressively sweet, it doesn’t offer enough acidity to balance* it out.
complex – There is a lot going on. The flavor profiles & scents are extensive & constantly changing (can also say it is deep/has depth).
creamy – A wine with a rich & velvety texture (can also say lush) (the opposite of thin*).
crisp – Refers to the level of acidity*. If something is ‘crisp,’ it means it’s on the sourer side.
delicate – When a wine is on the calmer side, having fine, fixed flavors (the opposite of big*, beefy, or brawny).
dry – Refers to sugar levels; a wine that isn’t sweet.
earthy – When the wine smells or tastes similar to the earth, like barnyard, dirt, mushrooms, forest floor, gravel, limestone, etc.
flabby – A negative term for a wine without enough acidity* (too plump*).
finish – The aftertaste of a wine, the last impression on the palate.
flat – A wine without any acidity*, lacking a crisp* finish*.
floral – When a wine smells like flowers (common aromas are rose, honeysuckle, & citrus blossom).
fruity – When a wine is dominated by fruit flavors & aromas (can also be described as fruit-forward).
full-bodied – A wine with more weight, feeling thicker on the palate.
grassy – Having the taste or aroma of fresh-cut grass (common in Sauvignon Blanc).
green – When a wine tastes underripe, can often result in flavor profiles of bell pepper or sometimes jalapeños.
herbal – A wine resembling herbs such as: basil, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, etc.
hollow – When a wine lacks body*.
hot – A derogatory term meaning a wine’s alcohol is excessively unbalanced, making it overpower all other flavors.
inky – Having an intense or saturated purplish black color.
lean – When a wine is light but firm (the opposite of big*, brawny, or beefy).
light-bodied – A wine that is light on the palate.
lively – When a wine has a higher level of acidity*, can make your mouth water.
meaty – Either referring to a wine that smells or tastes like meat, or a chewier texture of the wine itself.
medium-bodied – In between light-bodied* & full-bodied*, medium weight on the palate.
minerality – A term used to describe flavors & aromas of wine that are similar to minerals like rocks, wet gravel, or limestone.
mouthfeel – Sensations occurring inside the mouth during wine tasting (can be described as smooth*, sharp, etc.).
oaky – When a wine tastes or smells like oak, or its respective flavor profiles like vanilla, marshmallows, butterscotch, coffee, chocolate, etc. (can also be described as toasty).
plump – A lush wine with robust fruit flavor.
powerful – A strong wine with high levels of alcohol & tannin*.
racy – A tart, lean* wine with lots of zest; a high-acid wine.
residual sugar (RS) – The level of sugar from the wine grape that is left over after fermentation.
rich – When a wine has round*, thorough flavor.
round – A ripe wine with more focus on fruit flavors than acidity* or tannins*, also feeling silky on the palate (can also be described as smooth).
smoky – When a wine smells like smoke.
sour – A wine with overwhelming acidity*.
tannins – Natural compounds found in wine that give a dry texture on the palate & more bitter flavor.
thin – A negative term describing a wine without body*, making it taste watery.
tight – When a wine lacks obvious aromas.
varietal – Belonging to a single variety of grape (ex: Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Chardonnay, Vermentino, etc.).
vegetal – A wine that smells or tastes like vegetables like artichoke, green or black olives, beets, etc.
vinegary – When a wine smells like vinegar (not a good thing).
*Definition is on list, as well.
In addition to this lengthy list, there are so many more terms that are used when describing wine, but this will definitely give you a good start. To help you pinpoint those characteristics I mentioned before, take a look at our aroma wheel! We definitely can’t take the credit for this though, the original was created by Ann C. Noble, a professor at the University of California, Davis. It’s intended to help people take broad smells & narrow them down to the exact flavor profile present in the wine they’re tasting. You can find these all over the internet, some even for specific grape varieties.
You see, wine is a hobby for a reason— there’s a lot to it! I promise, you already know a lot more than you think, if you’ve been following along. Hopefully this gave you a few tricks to keep up your sleeve for the next time you go wine tasting. Maybe you’ll even end up teaching everyone else something new!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
Remember last week when I mentioned tannins? Well, I decided to research more about why they’re so important to wine, but this time, I hit the books. & let me start off by saying, tannins are pretty dang important! Before I explain why though, I should probably give you my best definition of what they are. & before I do that, I should probably let you know that if you want to know about wine, you need to keep reading.
Tannins are naturally occurring organic substances (called polyphenols) found in plants, seeds, bark, and fruit skins. Some more common foods with natural tannins include coffee, dark chocolate, and walnut skins… Recognize some similar tastes there? Well, that’s because they factor into why these foods (& more specifically, wine) can taste bitter or astringent. In the case of wine, tannins are found in the grape seeds & skins, as well as the barrels they may be oaked in.
So, they’re naturally occurring, but why do we need them present in the wine we drink? The quick answer is tannins help stabilize wine & prevent oxidation during the wine-making process—Keeping the different tasting notes you may sense to remain fresh & enhanced. Another fun fact about the winemaking process is that younger wine has higher tannin than that of an aged wine, the content drops as time goes by. The more you learn, right?
Tannins are actually a really important factor to the tasting process, so it’s a good thing to learn if you’re new to wine. & if you still don’t think you understand what they are, first of all, don’t feel discouraged, they’re subtle for a reason! Also, here’s a tip to help you out: The next time you’re drinking wine, try to notice if you feel a gritty or brittle sensation after you swallow. Do your lips stick to your teeth? Is your tongue dryer? Boom, you’ve found your tannins (Why? Bonus chemistry fact: The tannic acid creates proteins that bind to your saliva, causing a dry sensation in your mouth). As you start to look for it, it becomes easier to find… Like I said last time, keep practicing! & don’t forget to just have FUN with it!
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
Think of your own questions you want answered? Leave them in the comments or DM us on social media!
It can be an intimidating task to become familiar with wine—a task that can have many details, but one we want to show can be a lot more fun than discouraging. Also, there are a few new faces here on the Wiens Team that know exactly how you feel! Too many questions to ask all at once, or to not even know to ask at all. So, as a tribute to all the newbies out there, we are going to start answering these questions with you. As a fellow newbie myself, I can assure you you’re not alone! These answers will give us a way to all learn together. & if you already consider yourself a connoisseur, follow along anyways; who knows, you may learn something new!
Standing in a room with our winemakers, Joe & Brian, & Blake from Production, probably as red as the wine they were making that morning (from my unnecessary embarrassment), I decided to first ask, “When tasting wine, what is it you’re looking for exactly?” This seems pretty broad now that I’ve heard the answers, but we have to start somewhere! Nevertheless, the flood of answers started crashing in. A common agreeance among them was that wine tasting is all very subjective. Even if you don’t know what you like when tasting, you’ll get there. Ultimately, comparing & contrasting is really the key to this goal. Simply put, try a lot of wine! Blake says tasting wines right after another is the best way to do this. Joe also recommends trying wines back-to-back of the same variety, if possible, to give you a good idea of the varietal (belonging to a single variety of grapes) characteristics. This way, you can get a better idea of what fruit profiles are present, or the level of tannins (the chemical compounds in the grape that attribute to the texture & mouthfeel of wine—truly, another question for another time) & acidity. Brian recommends tasting with other people. You may pick up on certain notes while tasting alone, but drinking with others can give you a more accurate, or even unexpected, outcome. Wine is a great social drink because of this!
So now I have a few good tips for the next time I go wine tasting:
1. Practice, practice, practice!
2. Compare & contrast
3. Try the same variety
That list doesn’t seem so intimidating, after all. Everyone starts at the beginning before they become masters of anything. So, if you feel discouraged from building your wine knowledge, don’t be! The trick is to always be learning.
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop
Think of your own questions you want answered? Leave them in the comments or DM us on social media!