Do you enjoy wine, but have no desire to learn that much about it? Or perhaps you just want to have a non-embarrassing conversation with the sommelier. Follow these 10 steps to go from wine ignoramus to obnoxious wine jerk in just minutes.
1. Know that wine grapes are masters of disguise.
When wine people say a Syrah smells like bacon, does it mean that the winemaker steeped it with smoked pork? It does not. Grapes contain compounds that turn into complex flavors during the winemaking process, and that’s why a predominately one-ingredient product can smell like black pepper or honey or wet dirt. Wine is crazy.
2. Understand how wine names work.
All wines are made from grapes, but only some of them are named for those grapes (like Syrah, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, for example). Most others—like Bordeaux, Rioja and Chianti, are named for the places they come from. If you know this, you are ahead of the game.
3. Memorize a few of the grapes that are used in famous regions.
Red Burgundy is Pinot Noir. White Burgundy is Chardonnay. Sancerre is Sauvignon Blanc. Rioja is mostly Tempranillo. Chianti is mostly Sangiovese. Bordeaux is usually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
4. Learn the animal scents that indicate trouble.
If it smells like a dog, your wine is corked (contaminated with a chemical known as TCA). If it smells like a horse, it probably has Brett (the nickname for a problematic yeast called Brettanomyces). If it smells like a bear, this is a clear indication that there is a bear nearby. Don’t panic, maintain eye contact and back away slowly in the direction from which you came. Then return the wine.
5. If a wine is red, declare that it smells like a specific berry.
Most red wines smell like one berry or another, blackberry and raspberry being the most likely. Major exception: Pinot Noir and many Italian wines tend more toward cherry.
6. If it’s white, say it’s lemony.
This is true a lot of the time. Even when it’s not, it will seem plausible because white wines are yellow.
7. If it smells like vanilla, it was probably aged in oak barrels.
Point this out. You’re a detective.
8. Don’t say a wine is sweet (unless it really is).
Sweetness refers to sugar, and most everyday reds and whites contain very little of it. The most common exception is Riesling, which is frequently off-dry (just a little sweet).
9. Make things up.
Most people aren’t actually listening to your spiel. And if they’re drinking, any outlandish thing will probably sound plausible.
10. Only try that last one with regular people.
Wine nerds will call you out (unless they’re faking it, too.)