What's the Difference Between Tasting and Drinking Wine?

What's the Difference Between Tasting and Drinking Wine?

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Hey, I don’t mean to sound like a fossil, but age and experience does often give one a sense of perspective. So I am going to go back to times that may seem so long ago. But, in reality, these times were only about 20 years ago. That is the time that wines started to change and you can read about that in my article "What Is Wine?"

But, now I am not talking about the change in how wine is made and how it tastes, but how it is tasted and consumed. And, make no mistake, there is a huge difference. From the beginning my friends and I (many of which were involved with the old Underground and are still involved with the new Underground) were wine drinkers. I often say I taste wine, but to be technically correct what I mean is I drink wine. I don’t rate and evaluate wines in marathon wine tastings of hundreds of wines at a time where you taste and spit.

Not that I have never done these marathon tastings, I have. But, after some time experimenting, I concluded that it is a waste of time. It produces no valid results no matter who does the marathon tasting or what ratings are used. And, it is tiring and, after a period of time, really quite boring. However, I do drink and taste wines with food every day. And, the wines that I drink and the foods that I eat are ones that I think complement each other. Some times I have different wines with different foods, but most times I taste and drink the same wines over a period of days with different foods. The latter is almost always true when I am evaluating young wines.

Think about it. How is wine consumed? Well, I think there are two ways. One is to just drink. Forget the food. Just drink and then drink some more. In fact, some people drink until they drop! And, even when wine is served with food, I have often noticed people have wine with food who are not having wine with food. How is that possible? Simple, they eat their food and then drink their wine. And, if you are a high-profile drinker with a big wallet, you may just go for the numbers. If you’re not in that league, then maybe you just drink anything with alcohol. It’s more about drinking than eating and drinking. But, the other way is to drink wine with food and, for me, this is the only way to go. Here you have two choices. First, serve young big numbers wines as a way to impress your friends with your knowledge and net worth! Good luck. This is a fool’s game. People who really know wine and food will not be impressed. And people who do not know wine are unlikely to think that it was a marvelous experience. The second way is to drink wine the way it was meant to be consumed from the beginning. That is to find wines that complement the foods that you are eating. And, here it is only your choice and taste that matters.

So what is wine all about? It is very simple. It is a beverage to be enjoyed and matched with food. The two go together. They are not mutually exclusive. And, thick heavy alcoholic wines are not the wines that complement most foods. Oh yes, I know there are some that would drink a big numbers 17 percent sweet red wine fruit bomb with fillet of sole or shell fish, but these are probably some of the same people who only drink numbers and don’t care much about what they eat when they are drinking the the high octane juice. And, they probably eat the food and then drink the wine. At least I hope so. Either way, what a shame! The matching of great wine and great food is one of life’s great pleasures and it is enhanced in the company of friends. But, there probably is a time and place for everything. So maybe a big California syrah would appeal to some people with something like Santa Maria barbecue (assuming it was not a hot summer day and the wine was warm)! In fact, I would enjoy a glass of balanced syrah made by producers such as Qupé or Ojai Vineyards served at cellar temperature with barbecue on a warm (but not hot) day. In fact, this may very well be a regional food and wine match since the wine and food come from the same general area. So forget tasting. Forget trying to buy numbers. Buy and drink the wine you like with the foods that you like to eat.

For more on the difference between drinking and tasting wine, click here.

Shaoxing Wine: The Key to Authentic Chinese Cooking

Shaoxing wine is perhaps the most common ingredient on The Woks of Life that you’ve never heard of. If you’ve ever wondered why your homemade Chinese food doesn’t taste like what you’d get at a restaurant, Shaoxing wine may be the key missing element!

We call for Shaoxing wine in many recipes, from stir-fries to dumplings and wontons, and it’s another cornerstone ingredient found in our list of 10 Essential Chinese Pantry Ingredients .

But what is Shaoxing wine? Where can you buy it? Are there any substitutions for it? We’ll cover that and more in this quick article.

What is a horizontal tasting?

The most common option is to choose a single vintage and compare wines from different estates or wineries in a region, says Kyungmoon Kim, MS, founder of KMS Imports LLC.

“This allows you to see how each winery performed under the same conditions of the year,” he says. “You’re comparing winemaking style and the little details of each winery’s practices.”

In the other type of horizontal tasting, sometimes called a side-by-side tasting, organizers will present wines made from the same grape, but from different places around the world, says Kim.

For example, a Pinot Noir tasting might pull samples from Burgundy, Oregon, Sonoma and New Zealand. Although many organizers stick to wines from the same year, they can come from vintages a year or two apart.

Where to Get Cooking Wine

Caitlin Wolper

You can get cooking wine at most grocery stores, including Target and Aldi. You can also purchase cooking wines at specialty cooking stores which could have a wider variety. You can even order cooking wines off of Amazon, which definitely has a large variety to choose from. When looking for your cooking wine at the store, just keep in mind what flavors you want to achieve so you can pick the best fit.

Caroline Ingalls

There is no need to wonder what is cooking wine, because the name literally gives it away. It is wine for cooking. Cooking wine is a great choice to keep on hand for your culinary adventures. It is less expensive than regular wines, and can bring a lot of body to your sauces and roasts. The best part about cooking wine? It allows you to keep your real drinking wine for yourself.

Learn the Five S’s of Wine Tasting

Evaluating the wine’s visual qualities / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

See. Similar to a psychic who gazes into a crystal ball, inspecting wine in the glass can help predict much of what’s to come on the nose and palate. The color, depth and intensity of a wine can offer a glimpse into its age, concentration, body and overall style.

Hint: white wines gain color as they age, while red wines lose color.

It’s all in the wrist / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Swirl. Swirling is integral to aerate the wine and allow oxygen to “open it up.” This seductive art reveals a wine’s complexities, and it will raise intensity in most young, opulent bottlings as well as those aged beauties. Better yet, when done properly, it will wow and potentially hypnotize those around you.

Technique that’s right on the nose / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Sniff/Smell. Don’t be afraid to shove your entire nose right into the glass. Wines with medium to pronounced intensity shouldn’t need such a deep dive, but others may be a little bashful at first. In these cases, revert back to Step No. 2 and swirl some more. Aroma is usually where you hear all those cool, eccentric wine terms like “cat pee,” “wet dog” and “grilled watermelon.”

A matter of good taste / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Sip. It takes a while to actually taste a wine during the examination process, but it’s often well worth the wait. Plus, all the prior steps should impart a pretty good idea of how the wine should come across on the palate.

When pros taste wine, you may notice some pretty off-putting and downright disgusting sounds, but there are reasons for it. The swishing, swooshing and gulping ensures that the wine hits all parts of the tongue and mouth. Thus, the taster can gauge sweetness, acidity, bitterness, tannins and identify the overall mouthfeel. Sucking in air allows for further aeration on the palate, and it helps volatile components be sensed by the olfactory system to tap in to all the characteristics of the wine.

Here, you look for primary characteristics (fruit, floral and spice), secondary characteristics (oak and fermentation-related flavors) and tertiary character (those that result from bottle aging, like mushroom, tobacco and nuttiness), depending on the age of the wine.

Don’t forget to enjoy / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Savor. Here’s where the finish comes into play. You want to savor the final essence of a wine. Here, you not only look for length, but balance of fruit, acidity, tannin and texture. When a wine leaves you with an overwhelming desire for another sip, you know you’ve found a winner.

Final tip

If a young wine has a far superior finish than its taste on the palate, it probably needs a bit of aeration or even a little more time in the cellar.

Tasting Bourbon 101

Did you know there is a difference between tasting your bourbon and drinking it?

The correct way to drink bourbon is however you like to drink it mixed or on the rocks on a hot summer day, straight up next to the fire in the dead of winter, or with a twist of lemon with dinner. It’s all good.

But that’s very different from tasting bourbon. Tasting bourbon is a careful examination of the bourbon’s nuances and aromas without the hindrance of a mixer, or an abundance of ice or water that will ultimately dull the flavors.

Tasting bourbon may seem complicated. It may, at first, seem like people must have incredibly delicate palates to taste so many flavors in a bourbon when many people just taste, well, bourbon. But it isn’t difficult.

There are four essential categories to consider:

Appearance : Is it clear? Cloudy? Light amber or dark mahogany in color? Age, proof, and filtration methods all affect appearance. Hold the glass up to the light, or in front of a clean white sheet of paper to get a good look at it. Swirl it around the glass once or twice.

Aroma : Smell is a vital part of taste, and thus it’s very important to not skip the aroma portion of a taste. Keeping your lips parted, stick your nose right above the opening of your glass, even in the glass if you’re using a snifter or Glencairn.

Taste : Don’t gulp the bourbon. No matter how strong it is, you’ll get used to the alcohol burn on the tongue until it doesn’t bother you. So take a generous mouthful into your mouth and “chew” it. The folks at Jim beam call it the “Kentucky Chew.” Move the bourbon around inside your mouth with a chewing motion to coat your tongue. Notice the difference in flavors from the front to the back of your tongue. Finally, swallow it. The tongue has several tasting “zones.” The tip of the tongue detects sweetness. The middle of the tongue detects salty flavors, and the back of the tongue can taste bitterness. These zones, combined with the aroma, define the flavors of the bourbon.

Finish : the finish refers to the sensations after you’ve swallowed. How long does the taste stay with you? If it lingers for a while, that’s a long finish. If it dissipates quickly, it’s a short finish. Do any other flavors manifest in your mouth as the finish dissipates? What textures did you notice? Did you catch a warm sensation in your upper body after swallowing? The folks at Jim Beam call that the “Kentucky Hug.”

Once you’ve done that, you may find it helpful to add a few drops of distilled water to the bourbon. Don’t over-water it! You can always add more water to the glass, but you can’t un-mix it once you’ve poured it. Adding distilled water can help open up the aromas and flavors of the bourbon as well as bring the proof down slightly if it’s a high proof spirit. And why distilled? Simple. Iron is the mortal enemy of whiskey, ruining the taste. That’s why bourbon is mostly made in Kentucky- the entire central portion of the state sits on a limestone shelf. The limestone naturally filters iron out of the streams and creeks. Distilled water is free of iron.

So you’re ready to taste? First things first, you need a good glass. Rocks glasses are great for drinking bourbon, but bad for tasting it. The open mouth of the rocks glass fails to trap any aromas and makes it difficult to get a good whiff of the spirit. Opt instead of some sort of tasting glass. The most popular these days is the Glencairn glass, as you may have seen in many of our review photos. The small base makes a handy grip to hold the glass at various angles to really make it easy to get a good look at the appearance. The bulbous glass makes it easy to get a good swirl or two, and the narrow neck with flared rim allow the aromas to gather just under the edge and the alcohol smell to dissipate. Overall, it’s perfect for tasting.

You can also use a whiskey snifter. Similar to the Glencairn without the flared rim, they make great tasting glasses. You can get them in a variety of sizes.

Lastly, you can use a small white wine glass. Be careful of red wine glasses, as they can be too large to concentrate the aromas. Distillers use a glass very similar to a white wine glass called a Copita to test their product before bottling. They are available from various retailers.

Then, grab yourself a bottle of distilled water from your local grocery, and a spoon or eyedropper to add water to your bourbon if that’s your choice, and have at it!

If you find yourself struggling to identify flavors and aromas, tasting wheels are a great tool to keep on hand. There are countless ones available on the internet, but we’ve put one together for you. Feel free to download it and use it as often as you like. Start from the inside of the wheel and work your way outwards. We’ve included a few primer questions around the outside to keep you delving further into the flavors. And don’t limit yourself to the flavors on this wheel. If you taste something that isn’t listed, just add it yourself, or make mental note of it. This is just a guide!

I’d also recommend that you don’t sit down to taste a bourbon with someone else’s review in front of you. Don’t let their tastings color your initial impressions. Drink it yourself on its own merits first. If after a few sips you want to compare your notes to, say, ours at Modern Thirst, then bring out our reviews and see if you identified some of the same flavors and smells, or if you can go back and identify them later.

Last, GO TASTE SOME BOURBON! The best way to become proficient at bourbon tasting is to do it! It’s always easier to taste it in the comfort of your own home, or a friend’s, but there’s no reason you can’t do it at a bar or restaurant as well. It’s more cost effective to split a bottle or buy one glass at a bar than to buy a full bottle of a rare limited release bourbon just for one taste.

What’s The Difference Between A Vertical And A Horizontal Wine Tasting

Before we surrender our sanity in the battle against January emptiness, we thought we might try some kind of productive activity instead. Yes, we could rock back and forth in the corner of the room until the next marketable holiday comes along with its red hearts and broken promises, but that seems a bit defeatist. Not to mention entirely devoid of wine.

So rather than give into seasonal doldrums, we figure this is the right month to organize a wine tasting. Invite some friends over, grab a requisite wedge of cheese, everybody brings a bottle or two, and together you salvage a little happiness to tide you over until The X Files reboot.

But before you send out e-vites, if anyone’s still doing that, one thing to decide: will you be hosting a vertical tasting or a horizontal tasting? The terms have nothing to do with what position you’ll be in after the tasting—ideally, if things stay civil, it’s vertical for all. Rather they indicate how you’ll be comparing bottle to bottle.

36 Gifts and Gadgets For Anyone Who Loves Drinks

In a vertical tasting, you’re actually tasting one bottling from one winery over the course of years, with multiple vintages (say from 1999 to 2004). By making sure everything else stays the same (the producer, the land, the varietal), you can simply compare the years themselves. This is the kind of tasting where you’ll get a sense for the influence of yearly climate. And the fun part is, you get to say stuff like “2002 was a revelation for this Cabernet!”

In a horizontal tasting, you’ll stay in one year, say 2008, and what varies instead is the producer. Other variables should remain the same (don’t compare a 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to a 2008 Chablis). Typically you’d have the same varietal, the same region, and the same year. All that changes here is the producer—i.e. the winemaking style. In this kind of tasting you get to say stuff like “El Molino absolutely coddled their 2009 Chardonnay!”*,

For either a vertical or horizontal tasting, the basic premise is isolating one variable (either year or producer) so you can get a sense for how either can influence what’s in the bottle. Both kinds of tastings are useful ways for wine neophytes, and even red-lipped, seasoned wine lovers, to learn about how drastically certain elements can affect a bottle—and in tasting those differences, you’ll learn about what actually pleases your palate. Which should help if you’re facing some cold, long winter months…

*Note, you don’t have to say anything like any of that. But if you’re in the mood.

In Bordeaux, what’s the difference between Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Lafite Rothschild?

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

In Bordeaux, what’s the difference between Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Lafite Rothschild?

The Rothschild family and their wine endeavors have been the subject of many articles over the years, including Wine Spectator’s Dec. 15, 2000, issue cover story. Châteaus Lafite Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild are both first-growth estates in the Pauillac appellation of Bordeaux’s Left Bank, and both make exceptional, long-lived (and very expensive) wines. (Check out our helpful video for more on the ABCs of Bordeaux.) The two estates are run by different branches of the same family tree.

Château Mouton-Rothschild (previously known as Brane-Mouton) was purchased (and had its name amended) by Nathaniel de Rothschild in 1853. Mouton-Rothschild (along with a portfolio of other successful wineries around the world) is today run by Nathaniel’s great-great-great-grandchildren Philippe Sereys de Rothschild, Camille Sereys de Rothschild and Julien de Beaumarchais de Rothschild (the children of the late Baroness Philippine de Rothschild).

Château Lafite Rothschild (formerly just Château Lafite) was purchased (and had its name amended) in 1868 by Nathaniel’s uncle (and father-in-law) Baron James Mayer de Rothschild. His great-great-grandson Baron Eric de Rothschild and Eric’s daughter Saskia de Rothschild now run Lafite Rothschild (also along with a portfolio of other successful wineries around the world).

I asked Wine Spectator's lead taster for the wines of Bordeaux, senior editor James Molesworth, to provide some notes on how the the wines of the estates differ stylistically. “Mouton’s main vineyard is a large swath of south-facing vines on fine gravelly soils, with a mix of clay and limestone underneath,” he reports. “It is located closer to the Gironde estuary, which serves as a moderating influence, climatically. The vineyard is planted to just 15 percent Merlot, along with drops of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, with Cabernet Sauvignon accounting for the rest. This combination of factors helps give the wine its signature beam of pure cassis fruit. The wine is often very expressive in its youth, though it merits considerable cellaring to reach its full potential.”

”Much of Lafite’s vineyards are on similar soils, with fine gravel, but with more sand and limestone,” Molesworth continues. “They are also slightly hillier in topography and tilt north. Cabernet Sauvignon dominates here as well, but there is also a healthy Merlot component in the vineyards (25 percent) along with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This combination results in a different profile, with more distinct savory and bay aromatics amid a more obviously grippy texture. Lafite is often quite backward when young, and only reveals its full panoply of aromas and flavors with cellaring.”

Six Box Wines Worth Drinking

T he wine industry can be slow to embrace change. When wine bottles with screw-cap tops first entered the market about a decade ago, hoots of derision and outright snickering were common. The mystique of the cork—that gentle swok! as it&aposs pulled out—made it hard to change our notions of how wine bottles should be capped. But gradually people came around to the idea that a bottle didn&apost need a cork in fact, bottles were a lot less likely to be "corked," or spoiled by bacteria, with a screw-cap top.

Box wines, by contrast, have been on U.S. wine shelves since at least the 1980s, but they&aposve almost always been on the extreme-value end of the market. They were wines that, ahem, your favorite wine critic, quite frankly, avoided like the flu.

The big news is that in the last few years box wines have gone upscale and have gotten really good. As with wines in screw-capped bottles, wines in boxes are less likely to go bad. And compared to glass bottles of any kind, wine boxes are eco-friendly: Less waste is involved in their production and disposal, and because boxes are much lighter than bottles, less fuel is required to transport them.

There are two kinds of wine boxes: bag-in-a-box and Tetra Pak. The former features an outer cardboard box with an interior plastic pouch that holds the wine the latter is sold in carton-style packaging, like the type used for juice boxes. In a recent tasting of 15 box wines, the ones I liked all happened to come in the bag-in-a-box format, but there&aposs no reason a good wine can&apost come from a Tetra Pak. Learning to be agnostic about wine packaging is one of the keys to being truly sophisticated these days.

The only practical difference between the two formats is that Tetra Pak wines will oxidize just as they would in a regular open glass bottle, whereas most bag-in-a-box wines won&apost, since the bags collapse as they empty, thus preventing air from getting inside and affecting the wine. Producers of bag-in-a-box wines claim that an open box can remain drinkable for several weeks.

Traditionally one of the selling points of box wines has been that a box is easier to open than a bottle. As far as the Tetra Pak wines go, I agree. All you do is twist the cap. A bag-in-a-box, on the other hand, requires some fumbling around with a spout that isn&apost much easier than a cork, in my opinion, and the boxes themselves are bulky—usually the equivalent of four bottles in one big box. On the plus side, a bag-in-a-box is an economical way to please a crowd.

Any wine can come in a box, but I happened to taste two Rieslings that would be welcome at my table anytime. FishEye Riesling Southeastern Australia 2010 ($20, 3L), a white with flavors that are somewhat atypical for this grape but tasty nonetheless, displayed fun notes of bubblegum, melon, and star fruit, with a hint of Riesling&aposs classic petrol scent.

A step up in complexity comes with the R. Müller Riesling Landwein Rhein 2010 ($24, 3L), an off-dry beauty with wonderful acidity and a ton of the peach–lychee character that has made this grape famous. And sometimes only a German wine will do, as when you&aposre eating a cabbage dish, like Red Cabbage with Bacon and Caraway. The Müller is a product of Octavin Home Wine Bar and comes in a tall, octagonal box. Octavin also offers, in the same signature shape, Silver Birch New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($24, 3L), a very dry, grassy, and wonderfully grapefruit-perfumed wine. I&aposd have it with any kind of Asian food with a kick, particularly spicy tuna rolls.

In the reds category, there are three Rhône box wines that all merit your attention. For some reason, this classic French region is a fertile zone for box wines. From the Tank Vin Rouge Côtes-du-Rhône ($40, 3L) is a soft and juicy dark-purple wine with red-grape and cherry flavors. Grand Veneur Côtes-du-Rhône Reserve 2010 ($40, 3L) has a gripping tannic texture and a spicy vanilla character underneath flavors of dusky black cherry. Bring on the hanger steak with mushrooms and red-wine sauce.

Certainly the most complex, lingering, and thought-provoking box wine I&aposve ever had is the Wineberry Le Garrigon Côtes-du-Rhône 2010 ($39, 3L). One sniff of the very funky nose and you&aposre transported to the Rhône right away. On the palate, it&aposs a delightful swirl of bacon (a classic note for the region), smoke, pepper, and strawberry–rhubarb pie. It would certainly pair well with a braised lamb shoulder.

If this keeps up, the phrase "thinking outside the box" will have to be retired permanently.

Drinking out of a box? Share your favorite box wine with me on Twitter, @LoosLips, or let us know on Epicurious&apos Facebook page or Twitter feed: @epicurious.

Prices and availability subject to change.

Ted Loos, a former editor of Wine Spectator, has written about wine for Bon Appétit, Decanter, Town & Country, and many other publications. He also covers design and the arts for The New York Times, Vogue, and Architectural Digest, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @LoosLips



Lincoln says Zinfandel is "the only wine on this list whose rise to prominence is almost entirely of the new world, California to be more specific. Zinfandel is generally a medium to very full-bodied wine with high alcohol [content] and sweet ripe berries bursting through with each sip."

Pairs best with: Seafood/fish stew

"Zinfandel goes so well with fish stew," says Narron. "The wine flavors accentuate the seafood textures and cover up any unnecessary fishy aromas."

How do you choose the correct red wine?

Lincoln says that wine enhances anything from a homemade meal, an evening dining at a restaurant, an episode of your favorite show on Netflix, and something intangible like a current mood or feeling.

"For example, for a simple, fun picnic in the park on a beautiful, sunny day with friends, I might choose a fresh, tart Gamay served chilled to boost that idyllic mood of upbeat-nonchalance," he says. "Or, on the other hand, I might choose a deep, almost foreboding bottle of Northern Rhone Syrah when drinking in a dimly-lit steakhouse, having a serious conversation about Descartes vs. Casuistry."

You don't have to be an ethics buff or even a philosophical thinker to enjoy a glass of Syrah, but you get the idea of the tone it can help set. Hopefully, now you can waltz into a wine shop with utmost confidence that you'll select the red wine that best fits your outing or event. Cheers!