Wine is definitely a special part of my blog (hence the ‘Syrah’ in Stethoscopes, Simplicity & Syrah). When I first created my blog three years ago, I had a vision of it being a place where people could go to learn about wine with an approachable take; wine 101, you could say. Wine was something that I loved learning about and loved sharing with others. Then medical school hit me all at once (it tends to do that) and I started writing more and more about my experiences in school to wrap my brain about this crazy intense experience I was going through. And thus the blog morphed into more of a med school blog with a bit of wine and travel mixed in. However, I still love writing about wine, so I thought I would revamp a couple of posts I wrote at the very beginning of my blog! (Rereading them made me cringe… but it also showed me how far I have come with my writing skills, so I am okay with it).
I am no wine expert by any means, but I do have a little bit of experience in the world of wine. I also have the tendency to learn, study, and read a ton about things in life that I find interesting (part of the reason I was drawn to med school). As for my wine experience, growing up in California made it pretty easy to get into wine. My parents are very into wine, so it definitely started there. They took me to wineries and introduced me to wine courses.
In my opinion, going to wineries is an awesome way to learn about wine because the people who work there are experts on the grapes they grow. They teach you while they pour you a glass and you can really learn a lot. Beyond that, I worked at a wine bar and learned a lot there as well. Eventually I hope to take a Sommelier course and becoming a certified Sommelier (there are a lot of different levels). For now, I do my research both in the books and in the bottle.
Now onto wine 101 – a basic crash course in wine!
Wine 101 – The Basics
Wine is an alcohol made from grapes (as I am sure you are all aware). There are red wines (from red grapes), white wines (from white grapes), rosés (from skinned red grapes), sparkling wines, port wines, and desert wines. In general, red wines should be served slightly cooler than room temp while whites, rosés, and sparkling wines should be served at fridge temp. Technically there are specific temperatures for each type of wine, but I am just going to go over the basics. Simply put, serve reds at room temp and everything else can go in the fridge.
Wine 101 Terminology
Just some basic terms you can refer to!
- Body – how viscous the wine is (think heavy cream vs. skim milk)
- Light Body – more dilute in flavor
- Full Body – packed with flavor
- Dry – not sweet
- Off Dry – semi-sweet
- Sweet – … sweet
- Bright/Crisp – higher in acidity (usually used to describe white wines)
- Complexity – how many different layers of flavors you smell or taste
- Aromatic – wines that have a strong smell
- Tannins – the bitter taste or drying sensation you get (due to the antioxidants in the wine)
- Legs – the residue of wine that drips down the glass after swirling (some people believe this is indicative of quality wine, but in my opinion the science just does not back that up)
- Smooth – how easy it is do drink (is it balanced or not)
- Varietal – the type of wine; named for the type of grape (ex: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir)
Wine Components: What to Look for when Tasting
- Dry or Sweet? This is typically perceived at the tip of your tongue. Everyone can get this one down!
- Acidity Level. This is perceived as sour, typically on the outer edge of your tongue. In general, white wines tend to be more acidic. However, you can get some light or medium bodied reds that can also be pretty acidic. Note, acidity is not bad! It is just a layer of complexity you can get in wine.
- Tannins. Is the wine bitter, leaving a drying sensation in your mouth? This sounds bad too, but it is honestly my favorite component of wine. If it is well balanced it is so delectable. Generally fuller bodied reds will have more tannins. The tannins come from antioxidants (specifically resveratrol) found in the grape skins.
- Alcohol content. This is perceived as a warming sensation throughout your mouth.
These are the main components of wine. If balanced well, you can pick up glimpses of each!
How to Taste Wine (The 5 S’s)
- See – Notice the different shades of red, white, or pink.
- Swirl – This releases aromas from the wine into your glass so you can smell it better.
- Sniff – Try the ‘chest, chin, nose test.’ First smell the wine with the glass at chest level, then chin, then up to your nose. If you can smell the wine from further away, it is considered a more aromatic wine. Smelling the wine can help you distinguish new flavors that you wouldn’t get from just sipping alone.
- Sip – The best part, actually take a sip of wine!
- Savor – Swallow and then let the wine coat your mouth. See how the flavors change and which flavors linger more than others. Higher quality wines will linger in your mouth longer (and linger with a pleasant taste).
What Makes a High Quality Wine
I would like to preface this by saying, drink what YOU personally think tastes good! Higher quality wine doesn’t necessarily mean more delicious. Everyone has a different palate and enjoys different things. However, there are certain characteristics that you can look for that indicate a ‘high quality’ wine.
First thing first, finesse. The wine should be smooth regardless of body. It is a common misconception that a lighter bodied wine is smooth and a fuller bodied wine is harsh. You might just think the light bodied wine is smooth because you don’t get as much flavor. However, full bodied wines should definitely be smooth. A wine that has a high alcohol content but not enough tannins or fruit flavor to balance it out will probably not be smooth.
That leads into the next thing, balance. The fruit, acid, tannins, and alcohol should work together nicely.
The length and finish is the next thing you should look for. Generally, the longer the flavor lasts after you swallow, the higher quality the wine. On top of that, the finish should be a nice flavor.
Lastly, complexity. The more layers of flavor you get, the higher the quality of wine. You can actually taste the changing flavors in a good quality wine. It will smell slightly different than it tastes, and when you let the wine linger in your mouth you will notice a flavor change. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t pick this up! Just keep on tasting and trying wines to broaden your palate.
So that was just some of the basics about wine. Look back soon for more about specific wine varietals and what you can expect from wines grown in different areas. For example, in general, Syrah tends to be medium bodied and have more peppery notes. However, the climate and soil that the grape is grown on can really change the flavor! I will talk more about this as well as the health benefits you can get from drinking wine in coming up posts. Comment below with any questions!