A Bluffer’s Guide: How To Fake A Wine Palate
Wine can easily seem confusing and snobby, but by following these simple tips, you can look sophisticated and, more importantly, enjoy your drinking.
Wine is a delicious alcoholic beverage that everybody should enjoy – however, it has a reputation of only being appreciated by those with a certain level of taste. From the unique terroir to the inexplicable ‘mouth-feel’, wine is full of confusing words and concepts that distract us from putting it in our mouths.
However, there are certain situations where you’ll look pretty impressive if you can bluster your way through a wine list – we’re talking dates, and dinners with potential in-laws. We’ve enlisted the help of Steven Raidis, from Raidis Estate, one of the best wineries in the Coonawarra region of South Australia, to give us some tips on faking wine knowledge until you make it (read: drinking wine).
Know what you like
Perhaps the cruellest part of the wine snobbery conspiracy is that it makes people second guess what wines they like. There’s a fear that perhaps you haven’t matched the wine with the correct dish or are drinking a heavy shiraz in the middle of summer and that’s wrong somehow. Well, the good news is that it’s all rubbish!
“There are no right and wrong answers to what you taste in your mouth,” says Steve. “Only you know what kind of wine you like.”
This has to be true for pretty much everything in your life – if you love it, then you should embrace it! But it also touches upon an important part of the wine-faking armament, which is confidence. If you know a certain style or type of wine that you like, if you are confident about picking it out, you’ll look like you know what you’re doing.
Learn why you like it
So, you’ve discovered that you like a particular kind of wine; perhaps a fruity sauvignon blanc or peppery shiraz or something that tastes like grass and hope. Now the next step is to learn a simple reason for why you like it.
You can definitely be methodical about this: there’s all sorts of wine guides that you can reference to identify grape types, varietals and the various attributes of wine that are expressed through its flavour. However, I personally believe the best way to do this is through experience – just keep drinking. Read the label first – find out what you’re drinking and see if it gives any tips on what you might be tasting. Then drink another type of wine and discover how it’s different – or else drink another version of that wine, perhaps from a different region or country, and find out what similarities are coming through. Thinking about why you like it is the beginning of understanding wine.
Identifying the varietal is the first step – learning what makes a shiraz a shiraz for example. The difference between a chardonnay and a pinot gris isn’t just about which one your Mum is more likely to drink, it’s also about standard flavours. And the flavours are generally really broad and generic anyway – described with words like ‘fruity’ and ‘earthy’ and people are rarely going to argue with you, because they’re such broad terms.
Know a name or two
Steven is pretty enthusiastic about knowing where a wine hails from. “Nothing beats being where the wines are made to get a real feeling of what they are about,” he says.
A wine’s region can dictate so much about the flavour of the wine, so finding a region that you enjoy can help you make informed decision in the future. Regions also tend to have specialities, so, for example, you can often be sure that a sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region will be a decent wine. Australia has some of the best wine regions in the world, which are often known for particular grape types.
The Barossa Valley in South Australia and Margaret River in Western Australia are both known for their shiraz, but each do this red quite differently. The Coonawarra in South Australia, home of Raidis Estate, have been perfecting the cabernet sauvigon grape for decades on their Terra Rossa soil (a kind of red clay soil derived from limestone which is renowned for its vineyard nurturing properties). The Hunter Valley in NSW does amazing semillon, a flinty white wine, which goes amazingly with fish.
Overseas, the French wine regions are the most famous, and have hundreds of years of traditionally perfecting their practice under their belts. Their wine types are also named after the region they come from, such as Bordeaux and Chablis, so that makes it easy.
Don’t make an idiot of yourself
There’s only one way to actually make yourself look foolish with wine, and that’s if you pretend to know some secret arcane knowledge and then get it wrong. For example, the classic mistake is sending wine back at a restaurant. When you’re asked to taste from a bottle of wine that you’ve ordered, it’s literally to test for spoilage, usually from cork damage. That’s the only reason to send the wine back. You’re not there to make a value judgement of the wine, and if you don’t like it for some reason, you’ve already made your bed.
There are lots of ways that people will tell you better ways to drink wine, but they’re all optional. For example, people say to hold white wine by the stem, but cradle red wine in your hand, to keep the white cooler and warm the red respectively. Perhaps this is important – but if it were summer in Australia, I would recommend holding all wine by the stem, as it’s plenty warm already.
Another ‘rule’ is that you should never refrigerate red wine – yet once again, Australia’s ambient temperature usually means that room temperature is much hotter than you traditionally want wine to be served. Rules are made to be broken! Drink wine however works for you.
Don’t take it too seriously
It’s honestly all a lot of trouble for what is essentially a transitory pleasure. From a winemaker’s point of view, Steven would really like to emphasise what’s important to the people who have dedicated their lives to making you wine.
“The most important thing for us, is the question: do you like it and would you like to drink more?” If the answer is yes, then I think you’re drinking wine correctly.
The most important rule
Finally, Steve leaves us with this all-important rule: “Wines should always be shared with friends and food.” Amen.
Patrick Lenton is a writer and digital marketer. He runs Town Crier, a social media and marketing consultancy for authors.