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A new adventure in every cork

SUSANNE JOHNSTON
special to the daily
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc
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I find it exciting how many people I encounter that are curious about wine. They want to try wines from regions that are unfamiliar to them or varietals they have never heard of. People ask me all the time, how you get to know wines better? How do you describe them? How do you know if the wine is worth the money? How do I start a cellar?

My answer to the first two questions is that you just need to keep pulling cork. The more wine you taste, the better versed you’ll get and your ability to identify common qualities will be keener.

In describing a wine’s attributes such as what fruits you smell or if there is tobacco or lavender on the palette, remember that everyone interprets senses differently. When I refer to something as sky blue or soft as velvet, you have your own interpretation of those descriptions. The same is true when you describe things you taste or smell.

So the best way to get some consistency is to taste and describe wine with other people also interested in learning more. Attending wine tastings that are sponsored by industry professionals is a great way to have someone guide you through your analysis.

Sometimes these tastings can get pretty crowded, though. A better, more intimate way to taste wines and learn about them is to start a wine-tasting group. Meet once a month or so and have a theme. Be sure you specify price point. Price really does matter with wine. It won’t be fair to compare an every-day drinking wine at $12 to a special occasion wine at $50. Always do these tastings blind; you’d be amazed what you will subconsciously interpret when you see the wine is French, or from Napa Valley, or has a dog on the label. Really! So put the bottles in bags, number them and taste.

When you taste the wine, remember that 70 percent of what you “get” out of wine comes through the nose. Never fill the glass full of wine if you are trying to get all the nuances. Just about three ounces, or where the wine glass bowl ends and no more, is all you need to truly get the depth of aromas offered. Look at the color of the wine. Is it deep or bright? Does there appear to be a brownish edge? This will tell you a great deal about the age of the wine, the possible grape variety and whether the wine comes from a cool or warm growing climate.

The “legs” of the wine, the wine that sticks to the glass after swirling, represents body. Body is differentiated by alcohol and sugar. The more sugar, or the more alcohol, the more prominent the “legs” will be on the sides of the glass. This is also referred to as weight. An Australian shiraz will have much more body or weight, than a French Burgundy. A German Riesling will have more body than a California sauvignon blanc.

Smelling the wine is where discussion comes into play. Some people just have a keener sense of some smells. I am highly tuned to bell pepper, sulfur and lavender. I have a very difficult time with leeche nut and truffles. But it is amazing when someone tasting the wine with you might pick up a scent like tobacco that until it is said aloud might never cross your mind. Once mentioned, however, it is so obvious! Certain grapes have certain characteristics and the more wine you taste and analyze the more frequently you will encounter these nuances and in turn remember them.

As for the question of is the wine worth the money … well taste the wine. Do you like it? Why? Do you not like it? Why? Write all this stuff down, you’ll be thankful you did. Sometimes after tasting three or four wines, you forget your first interpretations. So, now ask yourself, how much would I pay for this wine? There is your answer.

The last question of how to start a cellar ” I recommend first figuring out your budget. Working within that budget, decide how much wine you drink and how much wine you’d like to collect. I also recommend collecting in threes. That way you have a bottle if you just cannot wait, and still have two in the cellar.

Two years down the road you come across the wine again and open one, if it is perfect, well you know you have one more to share and brag about. If it is still not quite ready, then you still have one in the cellar for a couple years down the road.

If you find a drinker, a term I use to refer to wine you have no guilt opening and sharing, buy at least six of them. This is your useable cellar.

It is so cool to be able to bring out a wine you are thrilled to share with friends, you know they’ll love it, and it didn’t cost so much that when you go back for that second bottle you are actually smiling!

Susanne Johnston is the owner of Frisco Wine Merchant. For more information, contact her at (970) 668-3153.


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