Wine Sensations

Wine touches all the senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound.

Sight: Wine comes in a rainbow of colors: pale yellow, rich gold, subtle salmon, hot pink, brick red, and deep purple.

Smell: Wine’s aromas are just as varied, reflecting different grape varieties, the “terroir” of the grapes, the vintage, the winemaker’s decisions, the wine’s age, and much more.

Taste: Wine’s taste ranges just as much, reflecting the same causal factors, and even evolves over time, explaining why many red wines are put down to age. Wine is a living liquid.

Touch: Wine’s touch is inside the mouth, in what wine judges call “mouthfeel”, ranging from acidic to lush, fleeting to lingering. And of course there’s the festive magic bubbles in sparkling wine.

Sound: Wine’s sounds range from the pop of a pulled cork to the clinking of glasses and the “Aahs” of delighted sippers.

Fully enjoying wine means allowing your senses to fully experience magic.

The “S” System

As fermented grape juice, wine is a simple beverage, but one whose full enjoyment requires using all the senses. At wine competitions, judges use all their senses to evaluate the wines. These are:

See—observing the wine’s color and clarity

Swirl—exposing the wine to air to help release its aroma

Sniff—”You can tell by the smell” is what I like to say when assessing when a wine is likely to taste good; and aroma is at least half the pleasure

Sip—take a good sip and swirl it around your mouth so it touches all the taste buds for a full impression

Spit—judges do this because they typically taste well over 100 wines per day, but obviously this doesn’t apply to tasting at home

Swallow—this is what you do at home

Savor—while the liquid may be gone, a good wine lingers in the mouth with a “long finish”

Obviously you don’t need to do all of this with every sip at home, but the point is to fill your senses with the magic of wine by admiring the color, inhaling the aroma and savoring the taste.

The Liquid Food—Balance, Harmony, and Preference

Wine is a natural part of the table in cultures around the world, just like bread, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, meats and fish.

“Red Wine With Fish!”  That was the title of a book by David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson that debunked the common rule of white wine with fish and red wine with meat, showing particularly how Pinot Noir paired swimmingly with grilled salmon.

Entire books are written about wine and food pairings, and much of the advice is sound, useful, fun, and enlightening. But what it all boils down to is balance, harmony, and preference.

Wine is a liquid food that makes other foods taste better, and vice versa. Herbs and spices are meant to enhance many foods, which the right amounts do, but too little makes no difference and too much overpowers the food’s aroma and flavor. Wines should enhance the foods, and they should return the favor.

The old “red and white” adage makes sense overall because red wines and meats (especially beef, lamb, and bison) are generally robust, so they balance each other rather than one dominating. White wines and fish are generally more delicate, so are often compatible companions.

“The best wine is the wine you like best,” the only thing you need to know to be a wine expert, should also come into play in determining food-and-wine pairings. While it’s fun and instructive to experiment with different combinations, if you have a strong preference for one type of wine, go for it, and fret not.

Sharing the Love of Wine

Among the many roles wine plays in our culture, offering it as a gift of friendship and warmth is one of the most special.

Wine is used to celebrate births, graduations, engagements, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, numerous holidays, and just the joy of friends and family being together.

So what wine should you give? One you like, one you know others like, or one where you have absolutely no idea and want to spark a taste adventure. If it makes you more comfortable, you can look up magazine ratings, awards won, prices, and other information, but it’s really not necessary. It’s the thought that counts, as much as the wine itself.

You can also have some fun with friends discovering the essence of balance and harmony by hosting tastings of different types of wine with different cheeses, or even chocolates.

It’s simple: Have three or four very different types of wine (e.g., semi-dry sparkling, dry riesling, cabernet sauvignon, and maybe a sweet dessert wine. Choose three or four different cheeses with different flavor profiles (e.g., Brie, Cheddar, Jaarlsberg, Bleu). On a sheet of paper, make a grid with the wines listed down the left hand side and the cheeses along the top. Have everyone first taste all the wines and select their favorite type, then do the same with the cheeses.

Then the fun part begins: With each wine, taste all the cheeses, and put an “X” in the box of the favorite pairing. In almost all cases, the “X” pattern will reflect the importance of balance and harmony, often moving from top left to bottom right. You can do the same on Valentine’s Day with chocolates (white, milk, dark, flavored).

Wine is magic. Make it fun!