Wine Tasting Skills: Tips for Developing Your Palate

A woman sipping red wine as part of a wine tasting

Training your wine palate requires consistency, dedication, and a lot of practice. It is a skill that must be honed through hours of tasting and through noting and memorizing the smaller nuances that make different vintages and grape varietals distinct. While there are those who have a naturally attuned wine palate, wine tasting skills should and can be developed.  In this article, we will provide simple techniques and tips that you can use to help strengthen your ability to discern notes of fruit, floral, earthy, herbal and so much more.  The Art of Wine Tasting: Why a Developed Palate is Key The palate is triggered by four senses: sight, smell, feel (texture) and taste. In order to prime your palate, you need to ensure that you are fully engaged with each of these senses during the wine tasting experience. Only once you have mastered the skill of harmonizing all of the aforementioned senses, then you will notice an improvement in your ability to better detect various aromas and notes more easily.  Properly tasting wine should bring an elevated experience to your enjoyment of the product. That is why practicing and developing your palate is key in taking that enjoyment to the next level. Once you have mastered these wine tasting skills, you will notice your taste preferences broadening which will open your eyes, mind and palate to a wider range of wine.  Wine Tasting Skills: Tips for Training Your Palate Whether you are tasting at an event, in the comfort of your own home or with a group of friends, there are helpful tips and techniques you can use as part of wine palate training. These exercises will allow you to hone your analytical wine skills as well as refine your wine vocabulary.   Follow Your Nose A wine’s smell will play a large role in your perception of the wine before your glass even reaches your lips. Sniffing your wine prior to tasting will give you an immediate sense of a wine’s aroma. Having said that, it is essential to swirl your wine glass first as this will introduce oxygen and therefore, the aromas will open up.  Once the wine has been aerated, you can proceed to experience the aromas more profoundly. As part of developing your wine palate, training your nose to decipher between savoury and sweet notes such as spices or fruit aromas will tremendously improve your confidence in a tasting.  To train your nose, take time to smell fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs at a grocery or market. This will help with building a catalogue of smells in your mind as the olfactory system is linked to memory and this will really help you in identifying them when wine tasting. Take Some Air With Each Sip Since some flavours in a wine are only triggered in the presence of oxygen, you must learn the art of aspiration. This requires you to take a small sip of the wine and suck a bit of air into your mouth …

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Riesling Wine: How Well Does It Age?

A sommelier prepares a glass of Riesling wine for tasting

As a white grape varietal, Riesling is well-known by professionals and consumers in the food and wine industry. While still a fan favourite amongst sommeliers, its limited retail presence has caused this wine to slip under the radar of some. However, the question many ask about Riesling is: Does it age well?  Riesling can in fact be enjoyed both young or aged, depending on the style and structure of the wine. However, there are many considerations that must be kept in mind when choosing to age this wine. Below, we look at the characteristics of the Riesling grape and provide recommendations on how to store Riesling correctly during the ageing process.  What Are the Main Characteristics of Riesling? Riesling is an aromatic grape varietal. Known for producing white wine that is floral and fruit-driven, this grape is grown in many reputable wine regions across the world, most notably Mosel Valley, Germany.  This white grape is often characterized by its moderate size, green skin, high acidity and light body. Notable tasting notes for this grape include citrus, stone fruit, rose blossom and petrol (when aged). Rieslings are also known for expressing their terroir and come in many styles. You can expect variations in terms of flavour, dryness, and sweetness.  For more information on the origins of this versatile grape, read our in-depth guide to Riesling wine.  Does the Riesling Grape Get Better With Age? Many think ageing is only suitable for red wines. But, in fact, many white wines such as Rieslings can evolve beautify with age in bottle. In fact, in recent years, older German Rieslings have come to prominence among sommeliers although it is still somewhat of a secret to consumers of the mass wine market.  As part of aging, one consideration that is looked at is a wine’s structure. Wines that have a complex structure and high acid are known to develop with age. In the case of white wine, the Riesling grape falls into this category – therefore, making it a worthy wine to age.  As noted above, a young Riesling will be unequivocally fresh, vibrant and fruit-forward. However, the profile of an older Riesling is much more complex and interesting. Riesling gains balance and density with age. Prominent flavours such as toast, honey and petrol are known to develop, while the fresh fruit characteristics known in its younger state become more subtle.  Riesling is considered aged after five years and Riesling which is high in acid and sugar or both can sometimes be cellared for twenty years or longer. Having said that, cellaring a Riesling must be done with care – otherwise, it won’t improve with age.  Wine Storage Considerations: How to Store Riesling Correctly How successfully a Riesling ages depends on three factors: the complexity of aromas, acidity levels and residual sugar. As the wine is so versatile and offers both dry, off-dry and sweet versions, you will need a storage method that is as multifaceted as the wine itself.  Wine storage principles such as …

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The Importance of Understanding Wine Aroma

A man sniffing a glass of white wine as part of wine tasting.

We’ve spoken previously about the importance of mastering wine tasting skills in order to truly appreciate every glass of wine. One of the core basics of wine tasting is identifying the nose of a wine – its condition, intensity, and aroma characteristics.  As you may already know, determining a wine’s aromatic profile is just as important as being able to decipher whether a wine is bitter, salty, or sweet. After all, our first initial impression of a wine is based on the scents that we can identify – and the memories that they evoke.  Below, we discuss the importance of understanding aromas in wine and detail the core aroma compounds that can be found in a wine. If you’re looking to improve your next wine tasting, the insights noted below will help you achieve that.  Wine Basics: Why You Need to Understand A Wine’s Aromas There will always be those who roll their eyes when you use descriptors for wine aroma. Can you really denote hints of rose petal, grapefruit, and clay pot just by sniffing a wine? The answer is yes and it is cemented in scientific reasoning.  Our olfactory system allows us to discern between millions of aromas at any given moment. In fact, our sense of smell affects how our brain processes flavour. When evaluating and tasting a wine, the primary method by which this is done is by detecting the aromas. Therefore, having a mental library of scents that you can rely on is beneficial and will noticeably improve your wine tasting skills.  It is important to note that in wine tasting there is generally a distinction between a wine’s “aroma” and its “bouquet”. Aromas refer to the scents that are unique to different grape varieties. A wine’s bouquet, on the other hand, will note those scents that have been created due to chemical reactions during the winemaking process or exposure to oak.  The Core Aroma Compounds Found in Wine Aromas are a result of organic chemical compounds that are found in various grape varietals. Others known as esters are created during the fermentation process. Depending on how sensitive our nose is and how concentrated the compounds are, our brains can naturally decipher many of these core aroma compounds.  Below, we note the core compounds that every wine enthusiast should familiarize themselves with:  Terpenes – Terpenes are compounds that naturally reside in the skin of a grape. They are also commonly found elsewhere in nature such as flowers and plants. These compounds are responsible for scents such as rose petals, desert sage, lavender, white pepper and floral citrus aromas.  Thiols – The thiol compound is responsible for those bittersweet fruit aromas. Oftentimes in small amounts, they appear quite fruity. However, in large quantities, they can appear more earthy or smoky. Three classic examples of thiols are grapefruit in a Sauvignon Blanc, black currant in Merlot and chocolate in an Argentine Malbec. Pyrazines – Pyrazines are an organic compound that are common in various grape varietals. They …

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Chianti: A Guide to Tasting Notes & Food Pairing Ideas

An image depicting a rolling hillside covered in vineyards.

As an export, Chianti is as famous and respected as pasta, pizza, and espresso. Many wine enthusiasts will be able to cast their minds back to a particularly fond memory of tasting this renowned Italian wine.  Many have asked the question: Is Chianti a grape or a region? Similar to Bordeaux or Champagne, Chianti derives its name from its place of origin rather than its grape varietal. Made primarily with the classic Tuscan grape, Sangiovese, this wine is more than just its flavour profile – its true essence derives from the region and sub-regions it is produced in. Below, we will look at the wine region that gave its name to this red wine, the typical tasting notes and the ideal dishes to serve with Chianti.  Chianti: Understanding the Region and its Sub-Regions Located in Tuscany, the Chianti wine region is known for a distinctive Italian characteristic: rolling hills accentuated by vineyards. Stretching over 100 miles north to south, this large region is known for producing wine from some of the most notable appellations in Italy. In fact, Chianti reached DOCG status in the 1980s. However, it is the Chianti sub-regions where the true magic happens.  Chianti has several sub-regions that are mostly found in and around Florence, Siena, Pisa, and Arezzo. Each of these sub-regions can produce wines in various styles such as Chianti, Classico, Annata, Riserva, and Gran Selezione, all having their own aging requirements.  Let’s take a further look into each of the core sub-regions:  Chianti Classico – Considered the most important sub-region of Chianti, it is the only sub-region to hold its own DOCG. Known for their high-quality and aging properties, Chianti Classico wines have high acidity and a firm tannic structure. Variances in terroir lead to different styles produced in this sub-region. For example, wines from Greve are considered to have concentrated flavours while those from Radda are more elegant.  Chianti Rufina – The smallest of the sub-regions, Chianti Rufina is located east of Florence. Nestled at the base of the Apennine Mountains, this region’s elevation, cool climate and agreeable soils produce Chianti wines that are elegant and ideal for aging.  Chianti Colli Senesi – wines from Colli Senesi can offer good value and are notably elegant with fruit-driven characteristics.  Chianti Montalbano – Located north of Florence, the Chianti Montalbano wine region offers vineyards that are heavily influenced by sandstone which gives the Sangiovese grape a light, fruit-forward style.  Chianti Montespertoli – While it used to be part of the Fiorentini region, this sub-region was given its own designation in the late 1990s. This area’s special terroir and favourable climate allow it to produce particularly ripe Sangiovese grapes. Chianti Montespertoli wine is primarily a blended wine.  Chianti Colli Fiorentini – Chianti Colli Fiorentini wines, produced just south of Florence, are known for being easygoing, fruity, and light-bodied. Many would recommend enjoying these wines while young.  Chianti Colline Pisane – Located near the hills of Pisa, this lesser-known sub-region is closer to the coast and has …

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Champagne: Celebrate The New Year With This Classic

A glass of Champagne is a great sparkling wine option to celebrate many wonderful occasions.

Champagne is most often associated with elegance, celebration, happiness and extravagance. With the New Year being reigned in all over the world, many wine aficionados choose this sparkling wine for marking the beginning of a brand new year.  Yet, the history behind Champagne shows that this sparkling wine is more than just the celebrations it is associated with. Below, we discuss its origins and the best food pairing options to choose when serving.  The History Of This Sparkling Wine Many people often categorize all sparkling wine as Champagne. However, only true Champagne comes from the French region after which it is named.  Located in northern France, this small region is centred on the cities of Reims and Epernay. Offering a cooler climate than other wine-growing regions in France, this area has long suffered for lacking adequate temperatures needed to ripen grapes for standard winemaking.  Despite this challenge, the region became famous for its production of sparkling wine. This was accidental, though, as they had problems with secondary fermentations that were happening in the bottle.  This process releases carbon dioxide gas and can cause the bottle to explode, under the wrong conditions. However, the Champagnoise were able to control the process with an understanding of the process of fermentation as well as stronger bottles to withstand the increased pressure. This marked the birth of this region’s renowned sparkling wine.   How Is This Sparkling Wine Made?  The production of this sparkling wine is carried out using the “traditional method”. This begins with a base wine that is fermented normally. A mixture of sugar and yeast is added to encourage a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This secondary fermentation converts the added sugar into alcohol, and carbon dioxide is generated and retained under pressure.  After the second fermentation, the yeast is left in the bottle for at least one year and often much longer. During this time the yeast begins to break down, a process known as autolysis, and impart yeasty flavours and aromas of bread and dough. With time it can also develop even more complex notes of pie crust, brioche and buttered toast. These characteristics are key to understanding Champagne. Winemakers in Champagne are masters at blending. Wines can be a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, and up to four other less common varieties. These will usually be selected depending on the style a winemaker wants to achieve, with Chardonnay typically adding acidity and structure, Pinot Noir adding aromas and body, and Pinot Meunier contributing fruitiness.  A “non-vintage” Champagne will usually have wines from several different vintages, so-called “reserve wines”, added to maintain a particular style.  Food Pairing Tips For Champagne Now that you know the origins of this classic celebratory wine, the next step is to familiarize yourself with recommended food pairing options and considerations to keep in mind when doing so.  A number of wine pairing basics should be kept in mind when pairing food with this sparkling wine. For example, consider the weighting of the …

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Wine Rack Or Wine Cellar: Which Is The Better Storage Option?

When it comes to wine storage, there are many options you can choose from such as wine rack vs wine cellar vs wine cooler.

Wine Storage: Which is the Best Option? For many wine enthusiasts looking to expand their wine collection, one of the main queries they may have is which storage option is right for their needs. There are many considerations that need to be kept in mind when choosing a wine storage option. For example, if you go down the route of a wine cellar then price and location are two factors that will play a large role. In this article, we will look at the pros and cons of a variety of storage options for wine including wine racks, wine cabinets and wine cellars in order to give you the knowledge you need to make the best decision for you.  Wine Rack: What Is It? A wine rack is a simple linear structure that is designed to lay bottles on their sides for display purposes. Offering open-front, side and back access, these units can either be wall-mounted or freestanding depending on personal preference.  Wine storage racks are typically made from wood such as cedar, redwood, pine, or mahogany. However, mahogany is a highly recommended choice as its more durable especially in high humidity environments. Stainless steel and wrought iron are also durable options and are frequently used in the storage of wine at home.  In regards to capacity, most wine racks can hold up to 12 bottles at a time and many of these structures are designed to enable stacking if required. The shelving is designed with notches or indents to securely and comfortably fit 750 ml bottles.  Pros & Cons If you are looking for a wine storage option that is affordable and stylish, then a wine rack may be the perfect choice for your needs. Furthermore, this storage option is widely available both online and in homeware stores.  While wine racks are certainly functional and accessible allowing you to store your wine collection in a central location in your home, many argue that their focus is too heavily put on aesthetics rather than correct wine preservation. These structures lack the features needed to control temperature or humidity. Additionally, they’re most often designed to be placed in high-traffic areas such as kitchens which means that wine bottles may be at risk of being directly exposed to high temperatures which can “cook” or prematurely age the wine. To ensure proper wine storage conditions, an easy solution would be to place your wine rack in a cool and dim place.  Wine Cabinet: What Is It? Wine cabinets are another option for wine storage. Unlike wine racks, these structures tend to be more durable and stable. A wine cabinet is a sturdy piece of furniture that offers doors, side panels, and shelving space for wine bottles and other miscellaneous items such as wine glasses. They also come with compressors to cool the cabinet down to the ideal temperature for longer-term storage. Made from wood with various finishes, these units act as the go-to storage solution for your wine collection. Oftentimes, individuals would these …

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An Insider’s Guide to The Rioja Wine Region

Rioja wine is known for its fruity and floral aromatic characteristics and its ability to age as well as wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Exploring Rioja: Spain’s Fine Wine Capital Spain may be well known for its famous bullfighting, flamenco dancers, salty slices of Manchego cheese and delicious paella dishes but, it is also home to one of the oldest and well-respected wine regions in the world, Rioja.  This region is considered Spain’s fine wine capital and it isn’t hard to understand why. Producing almost 300 million litres of wine per year, this Spanish wine region is home to red wines made from key grape varieties, Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano.  In this article, we are going to provide you with an insider’s guide to the Rioja wine region including its rich history, iconic grape varieties and suggestions for which of these wines you need to have as part of your wine collection.  Brief History of the Rioja Region Like many regions in Spain, Rioja is rich in culture and history. Inheriting its name from the river Oja, the winemaking traditions of this Northern Spanish wine region date back to Roman times. During Roman occupation, many wineries were being built around the region; many of which are still standing to this day. Winemaking traditions dwindled after the collapse of the Roman Empire, but in 1512, the love and passion for Spanish wine, especially those in the Rioja region, was reborn. In the decades to come, Spanish viticulture began to mark its place in the winemaking world. In the late 1800s, when devastation fell upon the French wine industry due to phylloxera, many winemakers from Bordeaux travelled to Rioja to start over. With them, they brought their winemaking techniques to this flourishing Spanish wine region and infused Rioja wine with new life.  In the 1930s, this region was the first in Spain to be awarded a Denominacion de Origen (DO) and later was upgraded to the top-level DOCa classification. This in part is due to the excellent terrain and diverse climates this region enjoys which truly influences the quality and style of Rioja wine.  What Are The Main Grape Varietals Grown Here? While wines from Rioja are primarily made using a blend of different grape varieties and can vary in style depending on and the producer and the winemaking techniques, Tempranillo is by far the most dominant grape grown in this region. Having said that, there are other important varieties grown here that should not be ignored.  Tempranillo: an indigenous grape to Spain, Tempranillo is Rioja’s mainstay. This versatile grape is renowned for its well-balanced wines that offer a great level of acidity and flavours like raspberry, currants and cherries.  Garnacha: cultivated widely in Spain and in Rioja, this red wine grape is considered the perfect complement to Tempranillo due to its aromatic brightness, soft tannins and fruit-driven flavours.  Viura: this is the primary white grape of this Spanish wine region. It is considered a versatile wine and is often used in the production of dry, sparkling and sweet wines. Viura is known for being floral and aromatic when young and nutty when aged.  Maturana Blanca: …

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Why is Brunello di Montalcino so Special?

Why is Brunello di Montalcino so Special? Montalcino is a small Tuscan town about 45 minutes drive South of Siena. For many years, the area grew a grape variety they called Brunello. It was only in the late nineteenth century that it was determined to be the same grape as Sangiovese. However, the clone of Sangiovese grown in this area is smaller than the clones grown in Chianti. That, combined with the warner climate, meant that the wines around Montalcino have always been considered among the best wines in Tuscany. The Brunello clone of Sangiovese was further improved by Clemente Santi, who isolated certain vines of Sangiovese that produced grapes capable of extended aging. In 1888, his grandson Ferruccio Biondi-Santi produced what many consider to be the first modern version of Brunello di Montalcino, a wine that aged for more than 10 years in wood barrels. Today, Brunello are aged 4 years before release, of which a minimum of 2 years must be in oak. This delay in release leads to a cash flow problem for estates who have to wait a considerable period for payment. As a consequence, the region allows producers to produce a Rosso di Montalcino, also made with Sangiovese but with shorter aging requirements. It can be sold after one year with just 6 months of aging in barrel. The Rosso is also 100% Sangiovese and grown in the same area as the grapes for Brunello. Browse through our wines from Montalcino, which include both Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino.

An Insider’s Guide To Merlot Wine: All You Need To Know About This Grape Varietal

Merlot is considered extremely versatile and adaptable. Great when used as part of a blend but also delicious on its own, this grape varietal has left a lasting impression on the wine industry.

  Merlot is a grape varietal that is praised and loved by many all over the world. But what exactly makes this grape so special? In this article, we look at the origins of merlot, the main regions where it is grown and it’s most defining characteristics.  Merlot: The Origins Of This Beloved Grape Variety The earliest mention of this grape varietal was recorded in the French wine region of Bordeaux in approximately 1784. It is believed that during this time, it was most often used when making blended wine. Directly translating to ‘The Little Blackbird’, Merlot became known for its ability to add softness and fruit-forward characteristics to wine when combined with the French favourite, Cabernet Sauvignon.  As the popularity of Bordeaux wine increased, so inevitably did the popularity of Merlot. Soon, this grape varietal was being planted all over France, especially on Bordeaux Right Bank. Sadly, Merlot is susceptible to frost, mildew and rot and successive bad vintages through the ’50s and ‘60s prompted a 5-year ban in 1970 on new plantings by the French Government. After the ban was lifted, it was widely planted once again. What Are The Main Wine Regions That Grow This Grape?  One of the defining characteristics of Merlot, according to many wine enthusiasts, is the fact that it is a bit of a chameleon – it is adaptable and can take on the character of its location and winemaking techniques.  The popularity of Merlot has led to its introduction in many wine regions all over the world, from the Golden State of California to Down Under in Australia. Let’s take a look at some of the modern interpretations of this French classic varietal. Tuscany Merlot is the fifth-most planted grape in Italy and has featured prominently in many Tuscan blends, more commonly known as Super Tuscans. They often use Merlot to make a single varietal wine or blend it with other grapes such as the local Sangiovese or more international varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.   The warm climate helps ripen the Merlot grape varietal and soften harsh tannins making the Tuscan versions range from big, bold and oaky to restrained, delicate and earthy.  California The second most popular red wine varietal in the United States, Merlot has been produced in California since the mid-19th Century.  In fact, it was Californian winemakers that originally made the first 100% Merlot wine. Typically warm California wine regions such as Napa Valley and Paso Robles produce a Merlot that is round and lush with jammy fruit character, most often complimented with spice and vanilla notes from oak ageing. Chile  Although Chile is widely known for its red wine varietals Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenère, Merlot has quickly become prominent. Chilean Merlot tends to be full-bodied yet delicate and is capable of standing out against even the strongest of flavours.  Colchagua Valley’s Apalta sub-appellation is an area where you can find some great examples of Merlot. Merlot: Tasting Notes & Flavour Profile Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot …

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Chilean Wine 101: The Regions, Grapes And More

Chilean wine is characterized not only by its rich and bold red grape varietals but also, its crisp and fruit-forward white grapes, offering something for everyone.

A Brief History Of Chilean Winemaking  Chile may fall under the category of a New World wine region but its winemaking traditions and industry certainly aren’t young. Over the last 30 years, quality Chilean wine has competitively made its mark on the modern global wine industry but its history of wine production dates back to the 16th century.  In the early 1500s, Spanish monks brought wine grapes to New World regions including Chile. Upon discovering the perfect soil and climate conditions for viticulture, these settlers began planting the first vines with Mission grapes, known locally as Pais. As more European immigrants began settling in Chile and surrounding regions, they brought with them more grape varietals, particularly from the Bordeaux region.  In the early 1800s, Chilean winemaking began to flourish after declaring their independence from Spain and incorporating European varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay into their wine production repertory.  While some argue that the early success of this New World region is most notably down to pure luck due to the fact that it escaped the ravages of the phylloxera pest, it is hard to argue the fact that Chilean winemakers produce some of the best wine in South America.  What Are The Key Grape Varieties?  As all wine consumers know, the popularity of a wine region relies on the quality and diversity of the grapes that they produce. Chile’s wine industry is based on diversity and for that reason, it offers some of the most unique and historic grape varietals seen in the modern wine world.  Surprisingly, when you think of this New World region and its climate, you may instinctively associate it with rich red wine. While Chilean winemakers certainly deliver in this category, white grapes are also extremely popular. From bold, world-class reds to refreshing, crisp whites this country produces them all.  Cabernet Sauvignon For many, Cabernet Sauvignon is considered as the king of Chilean grapes and is produced in warmer regions such as Maipo Valley, Colchagua Valley and Aconcagua Valley. Generally, winemakers use this grape as either a varietal wine or as part of a blend. Chile’s Cabernet Sauvignon is known for its deep flavour and aroma. Full-bodied and intense, it offers tasting notes of black currant, fresh berries, violets and chocolate.  Carmenère Carmenère has an interesting history in Chile. For years, people thought that Chilean Merlot had a distinctive peppery and herbaceous character. However, with DNA testing in the mid-1990s, it was discovered that Chilean merlot was actually Carmenère.  This is not unusual since the two grapes look very similar. However, rather than rip up all the Carmenère vines, the Chileans decided to embrace this variety and make it their own. It is much more widely planted in Chile than in its original home in Bordeaux since it is much easier to ripen in Chile’s splendid climate. This red grape varietal is prized for its depth of colour and complexity. It offers flavours of tart raspberries, cocoa powder and herbaceous notes of green …

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