Wine Tasting for Beginners

When I go to visit my dad in California, I can almost always expect a delightful surprise; a trip to someplace I have never been. During my most recent trip, that place was the charming wine region of Paso Robles.

After a scenic drive through the mountains, a quick bite at the Algreto Vineyard Resort (perfect place for an impromptu Instagram photo shoot), we stumbled upon Summerwood Winery; a picturesque estate that overlooks their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard.

We were welcomed into the cozy tasting room. There, guests are invited to peer through a large glass window, separating the tasting room and  the storage cellar. This is where the magic happens. On the other side of the glass, are the vineyards's seasoned experts at work - crushing a fantastic abundance of grapes and tending to the barrelled wine. If you're looking for a career that builds muscle, might I suggest becoming a vinter?

After oohing and awing, we made our way to the bar and asked for the standard; a generous wine tasting consisting of five options, red or white, for $15. The team of connoisseurs made it easy for us to discover wines suitable for our individual tastes (I fell in love with their red 2015 Diosa). Additionally, they were able to pass on some basic wine tips and factoids; useful for any budding wine enthusiast.

Young vs. old wine

Young wine is wine that is usually bottled and sold within a year of its vintage (the year that the grapes have been harvested and transformed into wine) whereas old, or aged, wine sits for a long time before it is bottled. Old wine is often romanticized as better than young wines, but not all wines are meant to sit around for a long time. Young wines maintain diversity within the world of wines - much needed for food pairings, and of course flavor preferences!

The color matters

The color and transparency of a wine can tell you a lot about the flavor. Different wines can be made with the same grape, such as the Tempranillo grape from Spain, but the flavors can be entirely different depending on the amount of time each wine has been in contact with the grape skins during fermentation,. Each grape used for wine has different characteristics and notes of flavor. If a wine sits with grape skins for a longer amount of time, the final product will reflect that grape's flavor and color. A quick rule of thumb: Darker wines tend to have a more full and rich flavor, whereas lighter wines tend to be more bright and light.

Oak barrels give flavor

Similar to grape skins, wine stored in oak barrels allows for the affect of different tastes in wine, opposed to storage in neutral containers such as stainless steel, cement lined vats. Different types of oak from different regions give differing levels of flavor to the wine such as oaky, spice, or vanilla. Just like tea, flavor extraction is reduced each time a barrel is used. Thus, perfect for wines where a mild flavor is a desired.

A tip for sweet-wine lovers

First off, there's a myth that sweet wine is less sophisticated than drier wine. This is simply not true! It all depends on your palette. It's important to know the staples of sweeter tasting wines (yes, there are options other than Pink Moscato!). Some of these include White Zinfandel, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauterne, and Lambrusco. Side note, I usually give preference to drier wines over sweeter wines, but the White Zinfandel at the vineyard was light and heavenly!

For anyone looking to pursue your wine education or to anyone who is ready to find their wine soul-mate, their go-to wine, the best recommendation I have received is this: try all types of wine. Red and white, both with food and solely for the enjoyment of taste. Use these foundational tips to get you started!