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The joy of wine: Take the vino challenge!
© by April Eichmeier
Pepsi Coca-Cola One lovely evening some friends and I were mulling over what wine to get with dinner. After some debate, one individual turned to me and said "I know this is blasphemy to you, but to me all wine tastes almost the same ... it's like Coke and Pepsi ... they are different but I couldn't tell you how ... so just order a bottle." Ah! Oh! Stab a knife through my heart.

But she had a point. How does the person who is new to wine begin to know?

Just like you can tell the difference between diet and regular, you can train your palate to distinguish among different types of wine. How? Practice! It can be done easily, inexpensively, and you'll have fun doing it!

First, you need some wine exposure. This is easy. Take advantage of wine tastings at local shops. Sometimes these tastings are free; other times there may be a small charge. Additionally, with the growth of wine's popularity, more restaurants and bars are offering wines by the glass (if you are lucky enough, local laws permitting, they may even let you have a sip before you buy). All this for little or no investment.

For even more fun, gather as many friends as possible and assign each person to bring a different kind of wine. For starters I suggest sticking to just whites or just reds. You needn't buy expensive wine to taste simple differences.

So you have all the wine in front of you. Now what?

To start, you must taste wines. There is a difference between tasting and drinking. When you taste a wine, you examine it, you slowly take it in. When you drink a wine, you enjoy it for the moment. One is not better than the other, but to know the differences among wines, you need to take time to taste.

To taste you must use more than just your tongue. Perhaps you've heard that our nose has more to do with taste than our tongues. That's absolutely true. Take a moment (or two or three) to get your nose in the glass and take a deep whiff. Your schnoz tells you more than your tongue.

An indispensable tool is a tasting wheel. Tasting wheels list some of the commonly found aromas and tastes present in wine. Smell and taste the wine while you are looking at the wheel. Before you realize it, you may very well be smelling strawberries in your Beaujolais, tasting jam in your Merlot.

You may be thinking "Wait a minute! What do you mean 'aromas' and 'tastes?' Isn't wine made with grapes?" This is true - and without going into a lot of chemistry and other wine jargon, suffice it to say that people over the years have discovered that they smell and taste a lot of different flavors in wine. The tasting wheel is a handy way to verbalize what you taste. You may very well smell and taste different things than someone else - this is normal. Taste and aroma vary from person to person; just like somebody notices the wonderful carpet in a home, someone else can't their eyes off the great window treatments. You're in the same house, but noticing different things.

Last, go slowly and don't get frustrated. Taste and re-taste. Don't expect to be an expert right away (which provides a great excuse to do this again!).

Wine has an aura of mystique around it. Don't let this intimidate you ... do Coke and Pepsi intimidate you? No! Why? Because they are FUN to drink - and so is wine.

July 17, 2000

To contact April Eichmeier, write her at aeichmeier@hotmail.com.

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