First things first, you don’t have to be a traveler to gain valuable insight from this wine guide. There are plenty of dos and don’ts out there when it comes to the ‘right way’ to enjoy wine. Frankly, most travelers, prefer to spend their time wine tasting rather than hours researching about how to enjoy wine best. Then again, some amount of knowledge is required if you want to maximize your wine experience, especially if you are combining wine with food. I have learned through hands-on experience, vineyard & wine tours, talking with locals, and indulging in my share of wine, the
is to stop thinking you need to be an expert. All you need to do is
; it’s as simple as that.
Many wine connoisseurs vow by a strict set of rules and guidelines when it comes to how to drink wine, and in many cases, if you are spending a mint on a top vintage, you’re going to want to treat your wine right. Then again, going back to basics is sometimes all you need to remember when it comes to wine. Now, allow me to share with you some helpful tips in this traveler's wine guide. These include, the primary senses you’ll need to activate to best enjoy wine, on the go must have wine tools to simplify your wine tasting experience, and a few helpful tips to avoid common wine faux pas. To finish it all off, I'll also touch on the basics of how to combine wine with food.
Wine Tasting 101: Your Senses Know Best
It’s all about the senses. When tasting wine, you want to engage your sense of sight, smell and taste. I prefer not to complicate things and neither should you. The simple way to a seamless wine tasting experience is to tap into your senses. Sounds easy enough, doesn't it? Let’s start!
Visual perception is key to identifying the characteristics of great tasting wine. Taking time to observe the color and how it coats the glass helps you understand its complexity. Wine tells many truths, about its age and body, all identifiable through our perception of sight. The types of tannins present in the wine can also be roughly identified through observing its color. Also, in general, wines aged longer have a darker pigment.
The idea that younger wines typically don’t have legs whereas older wines have plenty, and no problems strutting up and down the glass to show them off, is, I’m sorry to say a myth.
Wait! What about legs, I thought we were talking about wine?
If you’re wondering what legs have to do with anything when it comes to wine, stick with me to the end.
Every wine has its unique bouquet of aromas. Each unique scent reveals itself with every swirl of the glass. It is through this action that oxygen is introduced into the wine, enriching it with a new life. The smell of wine provides clues to where the grape was grown or whether the winemakers aged it in a barrel (oak or other wood) or cask. The smell is also an important indicator of whether there is a problem in the wine.
For anyone who can tune into their sense of smell, your wine may even bring back a memory! If you’re a biology/psychology nerd like me and the relationship between odor and memory light you up, then you want to read up on The Role of Odor-Evoked Memory in Psychological and Physiological Health
. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes reading this and thinking, weren’t we talking about wine? Don’t worry, you can pick your wine glass back up and get ready to engage your next sense, but before you do, make sure you take a big whiff of its fragrant bouquet, it just may trigger a memory or create a new one.
If you want to appreciate the subtleties present in a glass of wine, it’s best to allow it to coat all your taste buds before sending it down the hatch. When taking part in a formal wine tasting experience, you have the option to either spit out the wine sample in what is called a spittoon or drink it.
Public Service Announcement (PSA): If you’re in the comfort of your accommodation, please don’t spit out the wine after you’ve tasted it. A good wine shouldn’t go to waste!
Alright, so what does the taste tell us about a bottle of wine and why should you even care? Well, firstly, understanding where a wine gets its flavor from will help you appreciate it more, thus allowing you to experience its depth of character. Secondly, the taste will fill in the missing holes the other senses may not have picked up on. When referring to taste, tannins play a significant role. Tannins are naturally occurring in plants, wood, leaves, bark, seeds and of course the skins of your favorite cabernet sauvignon or other grape. It is the tannins which impart the dry or astringent characteristics common of many wines.
Taste, in particular, a long finish also gives clues as to the quality of the soil where the vines were grown. The taste also tells us about the quality of the vineyard and the Winemaker's work. Even the most exceptional soil won't produce the best wine if the vineyard or Winemaker doesn't take proper care of the fruits of their labor.
What else does the taste of wine indicate to us?
- The ripeness of the grape at the time of picking (less ripe - more tart, ripe - sweeter).
- Climate the grape is grown in (In general, wines made from grapes grown in warmer climates will be sweeter, less acidic, and full of fruit flavors).
- Soil composition - Some wine connoisseurs claim that soil is everything. I sure don’t doubt it. There are so many factors within the ground itself that can change the characteristics of wine, making it more spicy, acidic, or earthy to name a few. Igneous soils, like volcanic soil found in Sicily’s wine country, imparts a particularly unique range of characteristics onto the wine.
The Traveling Wine-O: Tools & Wine Tips
"Treat your wine with love, and it’ll coat your palate so beautifully it’ll be as if it is caressing your soul"
I’m pretty sure you don’t carry a full-size decanter with you while you’re traveling, and well, if you do, I congratulate you for not breaking it along the way. Are you planning to enjoy a few glasses of wine, a bottle or more throughout your travels? If so, it’s best to equip your luggage with some basic yet vital tools to enrich your palate and elevate your overall wine experience.
Wine Tools - On the Go Must-Have
When you’re traveling, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice how you enjoy your wine. Give life to robust reds or classic vintages with a simple decanting tool. Use a wine aerator like the one pictured or a basic decanting funnel. Travel wine aerators are easy to find online and quick to pack away in your carry on. Curious about the purpose of decanting? I’ll explain further at the end in a short section titled, wine vocabulary for the newbie.
Portable Vacuum Pump
Oxygen, the giver of life. However, in the case of preserving wine, excess oxygen in the bottle is a wine’s worst enemy. When drinking wine, added oxygen helps the wine ‘open up’, allowing its characteristics to shine, but, if left too long it begins to lose its luster. Over a few short hours, wine left opened, that is, without the air taken out, loses its aroma, fruitiness, and its body. When oxidation takes over, the formation of hydrogen peroxide and acetaldehyde begins. Neither of the two treats your wine kindly, let’s just say that.
Investing in a portable vacuum pump for your wine will help extend its life by up to a week!
Add this wine tool to your packing list when heading off on your next trip!
Traveling Wine Tips - Avoid Looking Like a Newbie
Whether you’re enjoying your wine in public or the company of a wine pro, take a peek at some wine tasting tips to avoid coming across as a newbie. Each country has different wine customs therefor, covering all the tips would result in a novel’s amount of information; let’s look at a few of the more common wine faux pas to avoid.
Red wine + Food, Always!
The French often joke about how quickly they can point out a foreigner in a cafe. Why’s that? It’s the foreigners who are caught drinking red wine without a plate of food in front of them. This, as well as chilling red wine, is a faux pas to the French. If you find yourself traveling through France
and want to blend in, consider following the no chill and plate of food rule. Then again, if you’re not concerned about what the locals think, I’d say, enjoy your wine your way.
Fill it to the brim, if you want to face ridicule.
Wine is one of those beverages that follows the less is more saying and here’s why. If you fill your glass near or to the top, you allow very little space for the air to come in contact with the wine. As you already know, the addition of oxygen when drinking wine is essential, especially when it comes to reds. Leaving space in your glass to aerate your wine allows for the release of its complex aromatics.
Heat it up...the right way.
Imagine, you’re on your romantic winter holiday in Tuscany
. After a long day of sightseeing, you come back to your accommodation, light a fire and decide that placing your cold bottle of wine next to the fireplace sounds like a good idea to heat it up. Think again before committing this common wine faux pas.
I understand you’re only trying to take the chill out of the wine, but this isn’t the way. Wine heated too quickly will lose its freshness. The beautiful bouquet of flavors you most likely paid a pretty penny for will also become muddied. Avoid this wine faux pas. Instead, give your wine the time it needs to heat up to room temperature on its own.
"Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life's most civilized pleasures."
Choosing wine for your meal has very little to do with anything more than what you’re eating. Although pairing food and wine can be somewhat complicated, there is no reason to sweat over it. Then again, let’s be honest, pairing a spectacular wine with a grilled cheese sandwich probably won’t impress your partner. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t dazzle the Italians either, known for having some of the best regional food
in the world. Quality food and wine pairing go back to a basic understanding of our key senses, along with the flavor dynamic of the food we are attempting to pair.
The more you get to know your palate, the quicker you’ll understand which flavor profiles you enjoy. Drink what you like and have fun experimenting with food pairings
to see how this changes the wine experience. When traveling throughout new countries visit the wine regions, tour the vineyards
, and take part in a wine tasting or two. Expanding your knowledge of wine allows you to gain a greater appreciation for what’s swirling in your glass.
Newbie Wine Vocabulary Introduction
Often referred to as indicators of the age and quality of a wine. Wine legs or tea drops as some call them are the droplets of wine that drip down the glass after you’ve spun it. They have little to do with quality or how the wine is supposed to taste. Instead, a wine’s ‘legs’ provide clues to its chemical structure and alcohol content.
Referring commonly to metal wine barrels, however, a wine cask can be any barrel that holds wine. Wine casks come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Phenolic compounds are found in wine grapes and other organic plant material. These are often responsible for the bitter characteristics found in some wines.
The intentional addition of oxygen. Aeration rounds out a wine and softens the way it tastes. Air can enter wine through the action of swirling the glass, using a portable aeration tool or by decanting. Many wines require oxygen to showcase their broad array of stunning qualities. The process of decanting a bottle of wine allows it to open up more easily, enabling you to experience its full range and depth of character. Many experts claim that only older wines need to be decanted. Others say that all wines, red or white benefit from the decanting process; my advice, why not try both and see what you think for yourself.
Montepulciano Wine Tours: Visit Montalcino and Pienza
The Essence of Tuscany: Chianti Region and Wine Tasting
Siena Food Tour: Dinner in the Chianti Vineyards