We all have certain rituals when it comes to wine. We may not consider them rituals in the strictest sense, but at the very least, they’re processes we habitually perform when we drink wine. And, as Shakespeare said, “a rose by any other name.…” So here are a few of my own habits.
As soon as I pull a cork (or twist off a screw cap), I sniff the open end of the bottle. It seems kind of silly when I think about it—how can I possibly tell from sniffing the tiny opening of a bottle whether the wine has been spoiled by cork taint? But, I do it anyway, just like Pavlov’s dog. I follow this by pouring a couple of ounces into a glass (the “proper” glass, of course). Then I sniff it again to confirm whether the wine is OK, but also to get a sense of it. For me, this first sniff (all right, it’s actually my second sniff) is like the brief description on the inside of a book’s dust jacket. I’m not expecting a tell-all. I just want a preview, a hint of what’s to come.
Next, I tilt the glass slightly to the side (often over something white like a tablecloth or paper) so I can examine the wine’s color. This is mostly ceremonial—yet I cannot look away. A wine’s color often reveals its age, and more importantly its health. A young cabernet that’s brick red instead of dark crimson, or a young chardonnay that’s dark gold instead of a light golden-yellow can be a troublesome sign of premature aging or premature oxidation.
Then I move on to swirling the wine counterclockwise in the glass. Rusty has already covered this process in detail here, but the purpose in swirling is to aerate the wine and release its aromas. My own take is to swirl and sniff, then swirl and sniff a second time, and finally, swirl and sniff a third time. Why three times? Because that’s my ritual! But seriously, I like to take three separate sniffs of the wine because I tend to pick up different nuances each time.
Once the swirling and sniffing is complete, it’s time for me to take a sip. I slowly take in a breath through my nose while I sip a half-ounce or so, holding the wine in my mouth for a few seconds before swallowing or spitting it out. Pausing briefly, I sniff, swirl, and sniff again before taking another sip. By this point, I’ve determined nearly everything I want to know about the wine. Finally, depending on the situation, I either pour myself a few more ounces, or move on to a different wine.
This ritual seldom varies. Put a glass in my hand, and it’s like the replaying alarm-clock scene in the movie “Groundhog Day.” In fact, I’ve caught myself swirling my water glass at restaurants or dinners before sniffing it. Then I sheepishly look at my tablemates to see if anyone has noticed my compulsive behavior carried to extremes.
These are my rituals. Let’s hear about yours.