Category Archives: How to

Good things come to those (nerds) who wait

Aging Champagne

Aging sparkling bottles at Schramsberg in CA

I’m pretty skeptical of the virtue of patience and that’s probably why my wine “cellar” has 7 bottles in it.

The ability of fine wine to improve with age sets it apart from most other beverages.  My last post discussed how long to age certain wine,  if at all.  If you choose to let your wines age, make sure you do it right.

If you can muster the patience, you’ll be rewarded by the increased complexity and monetary value of your wine.  Here are some storage tips: Continue reading


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Smelly game

Its official name is Le Nez du Vin or “the nose of wine”, but my staff at L’Ecole has dubbed it the smelly game.

le nez du vin kit

Jean Lenoir, born into a wine-loving family in Burgundy developed Le Nez du Vin over 25 years ago.  Several different kits are available and the one pictured here is the 54 aroma Master Kit.  The vials are presented in families: fruity, floral, vegetal and spicy, animal and roasted notes.  Each vial is accompanied by an information card that tells you a little more about the scent and what wines you can expect to find it in. 

Up close, the vials look like this:

vial close up

Do not ingest them, mix them with water or apply them as perfume – simply unscrew the top and sniff. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post about how to taste, it can be challenging to accurately describe aromas and flavors in wine without developing your tasting vocabulary.  Kits like this are a fun way to practice.  Well, not as fun as actually drinking, but you get the idea.  Continue reading


Filed under How to, Lessons, Wine

Swirl it, sniff it and slurp it down


Here are 8 easy steps that you can use to impress your friends and make them think you know how to taste like a pro.

1.  Look at the wine against a white background.  I’m already making the assumption that you have clean glasses as well as good lighting (and some wine).  You can remember the 3 C’s – clarity, color and carbon dioxide.  Do you see any particles?  Is it white or red or pink?  Pale or dark?  Does it have bubbles?  Feel free to use fancy words like straw yellow, old gold, garnet and brick red.  The white background will help you more accurately gauge the color as well as the opacity of the wine.

What does the color tell you?  Different grape varieties will make deeper or lighter colored wines because the color in the wines comes from the skin of the grapes.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Nebbiolo tend to produce deep red wines.  Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris are two examples that produce deep white wines (their skins are pinkish).  A deep color can also mean youth in a red wine or oxidation or barrel fermentation in a white wine.  Red wines lose color as they age, while white wines gain.

2.  Swirl the wine in your glass.  Yes, there really is a good reason for this.  You’re increasing the surface area of the wine by coating more of your glass as well as releasing some additional aromas that have been trapped in liquid form in the wine.

Tears are not a sign of quality in wine, but rather give clues about the wine’s viscosity and alcohol content.  Fuller bodied, higher alcohol wines often have more pronounced tears.  If you see pink stains on the side of your glass after swirling your red wine, it could be because the wine maker let his or her wine sit with the grape skins a little bit longer to extract more color.

3.  Take a few deep sniffs of the wine.  This is the most important part, so don’t be shy and get your nose right in the glass.  Is it restrained or pungent?  Does it remind you of anything you’ve had before?  Fruits?  Spices?  Vegetables?  Flowers? Wood?

As you practice, you’ll become familiar with common aromas found in certain varietals – i.e. Grüner Veltliner often has arugula and white pepper on the nose.  You can also gather clues about how the wine was treated – i.e. vanilla, baking spices and toast are common aromas found as a result of oak aging.

4.  Taste the wine.  It’s helpful to think of mouthwash here, because you want the wine to hit all parts of your palate.  While the myth of the tongue map is not true, you do want to look for certain things in certain parts of your mouth.  You want to look for sweetness on the tip of your tongue.  You can gauge the acidity in the wine by how the sides of your tongue feel.  Are they tingling?  Do you feel like you might start drooling?  That means high acidity.  You can rate the tannins based on how the inside of your cheeks feel.  Are they dried out like someone stuck cotton balls in there or like when you oversteep your tea and don’t put any milk or sugar in it?  That means a high level of tannins in the wine.

5.  Concentrate on your perceptions.  Once you swallow or spit the wine out, the experience is not over.  The finish of the wine, especially if it’s a good one, will last long after you have it in your mouth.  What you’ll notice, too, are aromas coming up the back of your throat, so you might get some notes now that you missed in the beginning.

6.  Evaluate the wine.  Is the wine’s flavor bold and concentrated or is it subtle and understated?  Is is fruity?  Do you think any oak was used?  Think about the sweetness, the acidity, the tannins and the body.  A good way to think about the body of the wine is to think about milk.  Did the wine drink like skim milk or was it more like half and half when you had it in your mouth?  The body is esentially the weight of the wine.

7.  Think about the wine.  Will it taste better with food?  Is it appropriate for the season?  Is it worth the price?  And the most important question of all – do you like it?  In the end, even if you’re following all of these fancy steps, that’s all that really matters.

8.  Record your impressions.  Hopefully you’ll be trying lots of different wines and by keeping notes you can keep track of what you liked and didn’t like.  This will make you sound smarter the next time you go to your local wine shop or have a conversation with a sommelier at a restaurant because you’ll be able to say things like, “I prefer crisp, refreshing whites with high acidity”.

Even if you think you have a lousy palate, you just need practice.  The biggest obstacle for most people to overcome is the lack of vocabulary to describe what they’re smelling and tasting.  So, practice, practice, practice.  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.


Filed under How to, Wine

Get schooled










Fundamentals of Wine starts this Wednesday 4/29 and runs 8 weeks from 6:30-8:30 pm.  Our goal is to demystify wine and have fun while doing it.  We’ll taste 6-8 wines per class, from over 12 different countries.  You’ll be swirling and sniffing like a pro (but not a snobby one) in no time.  This class is great for industry folks (brush up on those regions, varietals and wine laws) as well as for more serious connoisseurs (feel more comfortable with a wine list, organize your cellar).  For more information and to sign up, go here.



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