Exploring Wine Country

Exploring Wine Country - The basics of Wine Touring (As in, why bother?)

What's the big deal about going on a wine tour? Wine snobs swirling and sniffing their wine in a glass before tasting a small dribble of it and then pontificating on it's complexities may not seem like a great way to spend the day on the surface. Really, what's the point?

Well, there are some real benefits to visiting multiple wineries over a day or more. Wine touring can be a real feast for your senses and you will get to learn about what you and your tastebuds like. When you taste a wine (let's say a Merlot) from a few different wineries, you might find that you have a preference for one over the others. Why is that? What did that winery do that made you enjoy it more? Maybe you found out that you really don't even like Merlot and prefer Pinot Noir or Syrah instead? The world of tastes and smells is all around us all of the time and wine is a great way to learn about your own preferences. In my own time of learning about wine, I've discovered a new appreciation for fruit, honey, hot sauces, and why I like some juice and not others. It's been a great way to learn about my own sense of taste.

Speaking of tasting, trying the wine is also a great part of wine touring. Most wineries have an array of wines that they have offered for tasting and when you start out, I suggest trying 4 or 5 of them. This is the equivalent of taking a car for test-drive. A bottle of wine isn't a $2 bottle of cola or a can of Bud, which are designed to be predictable and taste exactly the same no matter where you are or what time of year it is. A bottle of wine is a sensory experience that can change naturally with the seasons. What you taste in a wine in the summer will be different than what you will taste the following winter. The wine is a little older (wines change over time) and your body will be different (dressed for the cold, less daylight, different foods, etc). That will all affect how you experience that same wine. And when you drink it, it may even take you back to the time and place that you tasted it previously in a way that no photo album could do.

Ok, so what's with all the swirling and sniffing?

There's a very good reason for the routine involved in tasting wine and it involves using many of your senses almost at the same time. Using these steps, you can learn a lot about the wine and your own tastes.

  1. Look at the wine. Does it have a nice colour? Is it clear or cloudy? Is there anything floating in it? (Not usually a good sign.) Wine professionals will tilt the glass on its side and look at the wine as it rests on the side of the glass. This can give them many clues about the wine, including how old it is.
  2. Smell the wine. Stick your nose right into the glass! That's what the glasses are designed for and why they are shaped that way. Swirling the wine around the sides of the glass will also help bring out the aromas even more. Swirl and sniff it a few times. What do you smell? Does it remind you of anything? There are no wrong answers to what you can smell because each person has different sensitivities. If it smells like strawberries, then that's what it smells like to you. Wine professionals will spend a good deal of their evaluating time on smelling the wine. Your sense of smell can diminish after a while, so if you aren't smelling the great aromas that you did when you started, it's time to move on. Part of what makes wine so magical (and why nobody goes potato-touring) is that it can elicit so many different complex aromas and flavours. No other juice can do that the way that wine can.
  3. Taste the wine. This is it! The moment of truth. The look and smell of the wine have given you clues about what it will taste like and you get to dive in. Is it what you expected? Does it have some of the same flavours that you smelled in the previous step? Do you like it? Wine professionals will actually swish the wine around in their mouth for a while and even draw bubbles inward (like slurping) which releases the aromas just like when you swirled it in the glass.
  4. Swallow or spit the wine out. That's is completely your choice and all wineries have spittoons for that purpose. Wine professionals always spit. They are usually tasting many wines and must keep their head about them as they work. As travellers touring wine country, it's always a good idea to keep your head about you as well. You can always get your buzz on later with the wines that you purchased.
  5. Savour - Wines have an aftertaste. There was a trend for a while in beer marketing that made "aftertaste" seem like a bad thing but for wine, it's a good thing that shows a well made product. Wine people call it the "finish" and a wine with a long finish is a real treat, especially if the wine's flavour is appealing to you.

Wine touring is a full sensory experience, where no particular sense is bombarded by input more than any other. You get the sights of the wineries, the smells and flavours of the wines, the sounds from the vineyards, the feel of the glasses and the texture of the wine (wine pros call this 'mouthfeel'). There aren't many of those kinds of experiences left in western culture anymore. (Camping perhaps and maybe a Catholic Church service.)

The bottom line is that wine is quite simply a food item that we produce here in the southern Okanagan Valley. The wines we produce are a fun way for you to learn about the valley using all of your senses.

Cheers from wine country!

This article was written by our wine writer, Luke Whittall.  Luke is passionate about wine and writes and develops podcasts on his website www.winecountrybc.ca
Photo Credit: Luke Whittall, www.winecountrybc.ca