Posted by: sforshner | October 23, 2008

wine takes you places

Last week, Mike and I traveled to Lodi, California when I picked out this Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel. I was up for something red, because I am always up for something red, and for something new…

Sometimes I pretend that I am a wine connoisseur. When I drink wine, I read the label extensively to find out where it is from, I have a good grasp of the types of wine I like and I always “gurgle” my first sip- which consists of letting in the air to get the most flavor out of each sip.  

But because I am far from being an expert, below I have coupled a recent wine exploration with a lesson on how to taste wines on by Stacy Slinkard. According to Stacy…

Look: Check out the Color and Clarity. Pour a glass of wine into a suitable wine glass. Then take a good look at the wine. Tilt the glass away from you and check out the color of the wine from the rim edges to the middle of the glass (it’s helpful to have a white background – either paper, napkin or a white tablecloth).What color is it? Look beyond red, white or blush. If it’s a red wine is the color maroon, purple, ruby, garnet, red, brick or even brownish? If it’s a white wine is it clear, pale yellow, straw-like, light green, golden, amber or brown in appearance?

I think this is more purple, what do you think?

Still Looking. Move on to the wine’s opacity. Is the wine watery or dark, translucent or opaque, dull or brilliant, cloudy or clear? Can you see sediment? Tilt your glass a bit, give it a little swirl – look again, is there sediment, bits of cork or any other floaters? An older red wine will be more translucent than younger red wines.

This was definitely very clear – I wonder if it is because it is a 2006? I tried numerous times to swirl it around and then grab a picture, but it had no “legs,” no sediment, it was almost watery and it was not very cloudy. 

Smell: Our sense of smell is critical in properly analyzing a glass of wine. To get a good impression of your wine’s aroma, gently swirl your glass (this helps vaporize some of the wine’s alcohol and release more of its natural aromas) and then take a quick whiff to gain a first impression.

I remember that it had a distinct smell. I know I am getting ahead of myself, but it was definitely wasn’t oak, berry, flowers, vanilla or citrus. It was more spicy than that.





Still Smelling. Now stick your nose down into the glass and take a deep inhale through your nose. What are your second impressions? Do you smell oak, berry, flowers, vanilla or citrus? A wine’s aroma is an excellent indicator of its quality and unique characteristics. Gently swirl the wine and let the aromas mix and mingle, and sniff again. 

I have heard that one should smell the cork too. Though this was not cork, but plastic I still decided to get a close up. When I was in Santa Barbara I learned that a cork is actually the least effective way to preserve wine. Boxed wine is actually the best, it just isn’t quite as classy.  

Taste: Finally, take a taste. Start with a small sip and let it roll around your tongue. There are three stages of taste: the Attack phase, the Evolution phase and the Finish. 

To check out the aforementioned stages, click here.

After you have taken the time to taste your wine, you might record some of your impressions. Did you like the wine overall? Was it sweet, sour or bitter? How was the wine’s acidity? Was it well balanced? Does it taste better with cheese, bread or a heavy meal? Will you buy it again? If so, jot the wine’s name, producer and vintage year down for future reference.

If you have a wine journal like me, that’s easy…

What a dork. This wine was good, but it was not my favorite. For a zin, it was a bit too peppery and spicy- which isn’t always a bad thing. However, the wine was also more thin than I like- in that respect, it was like a chianti. I am more of a shiraz type of girl, so I like a lot of body and a lot of flavor at the same time. That being said, I do typically love a zinfandel, this one was just a whole other experience.



  1. Nice post on wine tasting! 🙂 I am a HUGE fan of red zins, so the Gnarly Head tends to be a choice when I want something that I’ve already tried and I know its not going to surprise me. Sounds like you had the same impression: not much punch. I am new to your blog and came here by way of BlogHer Boston and DC posts, but of course, I was drawn to the wine post! 🙂 Either way, I’ve enjoyed it and will be back. Happy wine tasting!

  2. You were in Lodi??? You were practically in my backyard! Well, an hour away really, but it’s a lot closer than Boston! Funny, I went there for the first time this summer and kept mispronouncing it LOW-DEE. Because Californias just don’t follow normal spelling and pronunciation rules.

  3. I love the instructional post! I have a wine journal too that I’m working on building out and really want to get back into wine tasting (since I used to do it for work, I miss it!)

    As for a good, low cost Zin, try a Sebastiani – hints of spice, but a wonderful raspberry flavor that takes you through dinner into dessert. Delicious!

  4. […] Susan at Transient Travels explored her inner wino recently and provided a great overview of how to taste wine. Yes, there is […]

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