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Two Women on Wine: Choosing a new wine? Just ask

When in doubt, find out

Posted: May 11, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: May 11, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier
Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier

Let's say you're in your favorite wine store looking for a bottle of wine to enjoy that evening. You know you like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but this time you'd like to try something new and different. You think maybe you should try a Petite Sirah, but not sure you'll like it. You then consider a Grenache, having heard a lot about that particular grape, but uncertainty gets the better of you.

When in doubt, the best course of action is to ask. One of the challenges a wine merchant faces is to determine what a customer likes based on the information the customer gives them. For example, you might say you like wine that is smooth or not bitter. Words like sweet, smooth, sour, soft, bitter, crisp, and dry are all general, commonly used terms and often misused.

Everyone has their own unique sense of taste. What one person may perceive as "sweet" or "smooth" may be something entirely different to the next person. Everyone's palate is different and unique, just like a fingerprint.

If you're shopping at a unique, customer- friendly wine store, you may have an opportunity to taste the wine you're interested in before selecting what bottle to purchase. If you don't have the opportunity to sample before you buy, then it is helpful to accurately communicate to the merchant what it is you are looking for. To help you find the words that describe what you like in a wine, we've put together a brief list of wine terms using simple wine lingo.

Let's start with the word "sweet". Only wines that are designated as sweet are dessert wines like Muscats, Sauternes or Ports. Unless you're looking specifically for these wines, what you most likely are seeking are wines that have distinctive aromas and flavors of fruit - sometimes referred to as "fruit forward" wines.

If you know you don't like wines that are bitter, this tells the wine merchant that perhaps it's the "tannins" in the wine that you don't like. Red wines have more tannins than white wines. Tannins are a very important component because they add structure and improve the aging of the wine. So when you taste a wine and have the sensation of dryness or mouth-puckering or bitterness, it's the stronger tannins that you are feeling in your mouth. If you like that sensation, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, or Bordeaux would be your choice.

If you enjoy wines that are smooth, you're looking for a wine with lots of fruit, soft tannins and easy to drink.

You might know that you like a white wine that is not too oaky or acidic. Your wine merchant would likely direct you to a buttery Chardonnay or a light, fruity Pinot Grigio.

After all is said and done, the only thing you need to know is what you like. The only way to recognize what you like and don't like in wines is by tasting. So do your best to communicate your preferences to your wine merchant using some of the terms we discussed. And remember to taste, taste, taste, and enjoy the journey. Cheers!


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