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TASTE. Tasting wine is truly an exercise. You can gulp, or sip, or quaff without paying close attention--enjoy your meal perfectly, and maybe even get a good buzz. For most people, that's enough.
Those people are missing out.
I'm hoping you've tried at least once to focus and TASTE. See, swirl, smell (twice), sip, swish, spit and savor. That's one classic technique for wine tasting, and if you take notes in-between those steps, you'll learn. A lot.
It may feel pretentious and all-too elevated at first, but that's just our common prejudice about wine. You'll get over it. When we TASTE we're exercising our tongue and the connection it has to the space in our brains that's all about wine, flavor, and memory.
One really cool exercise that most of us don't get to do is a vertical tasting. A vertical tasting is simply tasting the same wine from the same wine-maker over multiple years. For the rich (or connected) this can mean tasting wines over many years, decades, or even a century. But you and I may not be so rich or connected.
The point of this workout is to show you that even the same wine, from the same grapes, from the same vineyards, can vary perceptibly from one year to the next.
The key variable is the weather, which is no small variable. Rainfall, temperature, and sunlight affect grape sugar levels and yield massively. Wine-makers adjust with the time and the way they pick fruit, how they press, and how they use their craft to optimize what nature gives them. It's all about adaptation and improvisation. And THAT is a real workout. Ask any winemaker. Good wine takes sweat. Drinking it should involve at least a respectful amount of effort and focus.
The payoff is that you learn a lot more about the wine, the region, the weather, and your own personal preferences.
I recently managed to find a French Rosé at a shop with two consecutive years in stock. Rosé is an interesting subject for a vertical tasting because Rosés are not made for consistency and age. They are made for Summer refreshment and immediate enjoyment. Nevertheless, I expected subtle differences anyway, and I took notes:
Domaine Faverot 2009 and 2010 Rosé (AOC Luberon)
The color: Both a beautiful bright light pink, but the 2009 showed a slight tinge of amber at the rim, typical of age.
The aroma: Floral, sweet strawberry aromas dominate. The 2009 exhibits a more sugary/bubble gum scent, while the 2010 smells tighter with a light anise note.
The taste: Both wines had the characteristic bright tart acidity that makes Rosé so refreshing, and great with food. Citrus, melon and berry flavors were up-front in both. I found the 2009 to have a medium body but a fuller, longer finish. The 2010 seemed to have a fuller body, but was slightly more tannic, almost "puckery". My fellow taster found the tannins and acid to be off-putting, but I found the balance of the 2010 to be more satisfying than the 2009 which seemed to have one-note throughout.
Take some time to work your own palate, focus and take notes. If you find the chance to try a vertical tasting, grab it. You'll have a healthier appreciation in no time.