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Wine Tasting: How To & Where

When I went to Napa Valley years ago, my husband didn't appreciate my assessment that every wine tasted "very grapey." Don't let that happen to you. Paul Giamatti and I can teach you how to handle a wine tasting.

October is grape harvesting month, and wineries across the country are in full gear bottling varietals and hosting wine tastings. When I went to Napa Valley years ago, my husband didn't appreciate my assessment that every wine tasted "very grapey." If you've never done a wine tasting, the movie Sideways gives a thorough glimpse in this scene with Miles (Paul Giamatti), a persnickety wine snob entering wine country with his unknowledgeable friend.

I love this movie. Even if you don't like wine, watch it.

If you aren't familiar with your local wineries, you can look up wine festivals and wineries by state. Many wineries offer activities throughout the year such as music concerts, theater and ballet events, and literary readings. It's worthwhile to join mailing lists for calendars and extra discounts.


How To: Wine Tasting

  • Go ahead and buy a tasting. From free to $10, it's fun and helpful to try the winery's range. It's ok to swish and spit if you're uncomfortable with the consumption, especially if you're driving all day.
  • Eat some oyster crackers or bread (supplied at the bar) to neutralize your palette.
  • Start with white wines and then move to reds. Finish with ice or dessert wine, if offered.
  • With each pour, study the clarity. White wines will darken with age while reds will lose color and turn brownish. Sediment is ok. Off odors are not and could indicate a "corked" bottle which should be refunded.
  • Hold the stem and move the glass in quick circles on the bar surface to aerate the wine and help the aromas open. Study the legs (how the wine slides down the inside of the glass). Slower moving legs are said to contain more alcohol, though this will not affect the taste.
  • Take a sip and swirl it around your mouth, exposing it to all of your taste buds. Draw in some air and swirl more. Swallow and note the aftertaste.

When pairing wine with food, the old adage was to pair white wine with fish and chicken; red with beef. Not so anymore. Now everyone says to do what pleases your palette. Here's a list of typical wine flavors, which may help in mentally matching to your meal's components.


Chardonnay: tropical fruits, citrus, melon, apple, pear, peach, apricot

Sauvignon Blanc: grapefruit, white gooseberry, lime, melon

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Cabernet: black current, cherry, black fruit, green spices

Merlot: black and red fruits, plum, green spices, floral

Syrah/Shiraz: black fruits, black spices, black and white pepper

Pinot Noir: red fruits, floral, herbs


When you've experienced a good wine tasting, reward the winery and yourself by buying a bottle or several of your favorite varietal. Save any natural corks after you drink the bottle. If you become a total wine lush (no such thing!), you can save up all the corks and make wine cork crafts.

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