Monday, 12 December 2016

We Don't Sell Mead...


My local Chinese Take-Away sells Chinese food.  This may seem rather an obvious thing to say, but my point is that they know their market and they stick to what they are good at doing.  You wouldn’t dream of going in there and asking whether they sell pizzas.  Based on our experience I bet someone has though!  The festive season does seem to generate some odd requests for retailers and I guess Wine Merchants cannot expect to be immune from these.  People seem to think we are the likely source of all sorts of interesting stuff...

I suppose it’s only reasonable that customers should ask, because many retailers do add to their product ranges at this time of year so unexpected items do crop up in unusual places.  After all, garden centres sell beer.  Supermarkets sell insurance and the latest statement from our bank came with a wine offer enclosed (thanks chaps...).

We always keep a mental note of requests for things we don’t stock (a) because you never know, we might be missing a trick (b) for our own amusement and (c) to give a quiet nod of approval to the most unusual request by the end of the year.

Currently the all time winner is a request, a few years ago now, for soap powder.  To this day we are still confused by that one.  There was a rather touching request for cocktail cherries from a dear old chap one Christmas who had clearly spent days scouring the town for some. They were evidently a specific request from his wife and, being an attentive husband, he was determined to find some. He struggled up our steps, wheezed his way into the shop, and popped the question.  We explained that sadly this was not a line we sold.  A good-natured “Bugger!” was his only response though we did point him to a local supermarket where we felt he may find success.  He passed the shop again on his way home giving a cheery “thumbs up” having presumably secured his prize elsewhere.

We are frequently mistaken for an Off Licence and enquiries for cold beers (in the summer) and tobacco are not uncommon.  We don’t really want to sell either.  Advocat anyone?  No... I thought not.  Yes, I know we sell olive oil, but wine and olive oil go hand in hand from the land they’re grown on and through production.  Frequently they are made by the same people, so it sort of makes sense.

Way out in front this year are three requests for mead, all in the last fortnight (so no demand outside the festive season then).  Sorry chaps, it’s a bit off our plot, try your local castle (no, seriously, it’s the sort of stuff English Heritage sell next to ye olde plastic knights helmets and the wooden arrows with the little rubber suckers on the end).  Wine is our thing you see; we love it.  Can’t get enough of it.  Would stock more lines but there isn’t room.  However, we do add a bit to our range at Christmastime, specifically with Christmas menus in mind.

We’ve already flagged up the Mourat wines (some of the Pinot Noir will hopefully be coming my way for the Christmas table) but here’s another new find which would be the perfect partner for those who prefer a fuller red with their turkey, chicken or goose.  Valpolicella Ripasso, a generous red with richness and a bit of oak nicely balanced by fresh red cherry fruit.  It’s on the website now, along with the other 450+ lines we have currently available.

I’ll finish with an account of possibly the most frustrating request we have ever had.  A chap came in the other day saying “I’ve looked at your website and can see that you have a fantastic range of over 400 wines, all individually tasted and selected by you.” (well spotted, full marks so far Sir...) “I wonder... can you get Blossom Hill?”...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Bathroom Wine Rack


Shower time for the short sighted needs to run on rails.  Once my specs are off I regard myself as virtually blind – especially at that time of the morning – and the stuff I need has to be in predictable places.  Sponge, shower gel, towel... This morning I found myself, wet and blind, with no shower gel.  Bugger.  So out of the shower I got, dripping water onto the bathroom floor, scrabbling around like Mr Magoo in the cabinet where further supplies are usually located.

The problem is that there are females in the house.  Daughter is away at university (and I have enjoyed seeing the resulting expanse of vacant flat surfaces in the bathroom that this has created) but much of that which would be out on display when she is in residence has been put away for safekeeping in the cupboard where the shower gel usually lives so there’s more to hunt through in there than one might expect.  I found shampoo, body butter, facial scrub, handwash (that would do wouldn’t it?) moisturiser, hand cream, conditioner, suncream, after sun... I sensed the trail going cold.  Second cupboard then; baby powder, baby lotion (er...) crème bath, bath foam, anti-perspirant, deodorant, insect repellent, bite ease... trail going cold again. 

There’s always that intriguing bar of fruit soap of course, but it’s new, unopened and seems to have been made by English Heritage. For all I know I might be earmarked as a Christmas present for someone we don’t like.   Besides, I don’t really want to go to work smelling like synthetic mulled wine...

There was only one thing left to do and that was resort to the final cupboard to where all the mini shower gels and shampoos migrate; collected from hotel and B&B stays but never actually finished.  Here there was an assortment of sponges and other body scrubbing devices but buried at the bottom was indeed a selection mini bathroom products.  Mostly shampoo and conditioner only of course, so still no joy.

Eventually I located a part-used mini shower gel which at least solved the immediate problem.  I then made sure that I put it back afterwards though so that the missus, who would surely face the same challenge in an hour or so, would automatically unearth the secret stash of shower gel which surely exists somewhere but I was unable to locate.  She’s efficient you see, so we won’t have run out, it’s just that I couldn’t find what I needed when I needed it.  Hmmm, maybe we have run out?

Domestic wine racks are like this.  You thought there was a bottle of fizz in there for Christmas morning but when you went to pop it in the fridge on Christmas Eve it wasn’t there.  Had you already drunk it?  Had you taken it to that party last month and forgotten to replace it?  And what about some decent wine?  A quick check through the rack reveals some stuff you like but don’t think it quite good enough for the occasion concerned.  Then there are the bottles that guests have brought for you which you’ve not yet been brave enough to open... Did they spend time choosing these especially for you, or were they the free bit of the latest Dine In for £10 deal which they didn’t fancy either?  There’s the better stuff at the bottom of course, but is it ready yet? Or is it already too old?  There does seem to be a growing selection of “bottles to cook with” and it’s Christmas for goodness sake.  These really won’t do!

It doesn’t have to be this way you know.  Just get organised.  Lay in some decent bottles and make sure you label them so they don’t get drunk by the rampaging hoards of returning university students... Check stocks regularly and, crucially, allow yourself the enjoyment of a really good tidy up from time to time when you can open those bottles that you think might be too old and occasionally come across one that isn’t and is really surprisingly good.  Free up space for some new acquisitions and pat yourself on the back for a job well done.  Then you’ll have what you need, when you need it.  Once you’ve done that you can chuck out all those part used jars of body butter and bath creme from the bathroom.  If you’re brave enough!

 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Jeremie Mourat

Some of you may remember the wines of a producer called Mourat who has his vineyards in the Vendée in western France.  We have stocked them twice before and each time they have met with universal approval.  They were dumpy bottles with a stylised picture of an owl on the label and showed liveliness and freshness across the range.

Delicious as we all found them, these are actually Jeremie Mourat’s entry level wines which speak volumes for the more specialised varieties further up the scale.  We have brought in three such wines which we tasted earlier this year and simply could not resist.  They are not exactly cheap - high quality never can be - but they are worth every penny. 

Jeremie Mourat

Jeremie clearly has something of a gift; not only is he a fine, non-interventionist winemaker, but he knows his vineyards in their considerable variety and matches the differences in geology and micro-climate to the right grape.  His methodology is beautifully natural; the best winemakers work with nature, guiding and monitoring the processes rather than trying to force the pace.  Respecting the fruit and encouraging it to give of its best is what Jeremie’s skills are all about and this classy, finely tuned trio reflects his fastidious standards in impressive style.

Le Moulin Blanc

If your favourite wine is a 15% abv, thumping Shiraz with all the subtlety of a flying brick these may not be the wines for you.  However, if you enjoy refined flavours, clever wines for food where elegance counts for more than brute force, these could be right up your street. 

 
The Mourat Winery
 
The Wines

Behaving like an exquisitely balanced dry Vouvray, this is an exemplary expression of this delicious grape with green apple freshness and lightly honeyed ripeness, for an incisive palate with complexity and mouthwatering zip.  Delicious with fish, shellfish and free-range fowl.  Organic.

A pretty colour and a pretty nose too with the youthful impression of fresh grapeskin and enticing notes of raspberry fruit.  The palate is so clean, fully ripe with a gently juicy texture held beautifully by a little mild tannin for structure and the reappearance of that grapeskin note on the finish.  Drink with feathered game, roast ham or turkey.  Organic.

From a south facing vineyard close to the river, the conditions here are perfect for the development of noble rot.  The mineral geology makes its way to the finished wine where, with the natural acidity of the grape, it is at once medium sweet yet tangily fresh with barley sugar botrytis, a little fresh ginger and a whiff of candied pineapple.  Fresh, clean, rich but zingy, try it with fruit or not too sweet crème brulée.  Organic.

 

Friday, 7 October 2016

How To Taste...

Picture this; some smartarse has plonked an unknown glass of wine down in front of you and said, “Right then, tell me about this.”  God I hate it when that happens.  You’re trapped, but you have three options. 

Adopt a wide-eyed look of studied innocence, glance upward slowly at your halo and announce, “I am so sorry, the Chief Medical Officer was right and I cannot allow a drop of this, the greatest evil the world has ever seen, to pass my lips.”  Yeah, right.  Like that’s going to happen.

Grasp the glass like an old friend, raise it to your mouth and lower its contents at a gulp.  Beam at your tormenter and announce brightly, “It’s wine!”  They will think that you are a tit.

Go through a few tried and tested motions in a relaxed, confident manner and demonstrate that, even if you are unable to identify it, you clearly know what you are doing.  Beaten at their own game, they will dissemble uncomfortably and back off leaving you conspicuously the better person.

The following sequence can be carried out quite quickly without any of the dramatic gestures, rolling eyes, exaggerated throat gurgles and loud hums of lavish appreciation that TV producers seem to require from their favourite wine bods.  You can, in fact, remain reassuringly normal.

Take a look at the wine; reds get paler as they mature, whites become darker.  Density can give clues about fullness in reds.  Is it bright and clear or dull, even cloudy?  Are there any bubbles yet your wine isn’t a sparkler?  Are there any little particles suspended in the wine - if it is bottled unfiltered this may not be a problem, if not it might be.  If red is it purple/black or garnet or somewhere inbetween?  If white is it water pale or gold or a shade between the two?

Gently swirl the wine and look for “tears” on the sides of the glass; this can point out alcohol content and/or viscosity.  Before you move to the next stage you already have clues to the condition, body, possible age and a guess at sweetness/dryness from a glance.

Time to employ your hooter - this is the really important bit.  First check for faults - does it smell clean?  If not, does it smell musty like wet cardboard or old damp cellars?  If it does it’s probably corked.  Does it smell a bit like Sherry or Madeira?  If it does and it is neither of those delightful drinks, then it is likely that the air has got to it and it has become “madeirised”.  Is there an acetic, vinegar-like odour?  This usually indicates microbial spoilage, not as has been supposed before, a strange prog rock band from 1971, but contamination by bacteria.

Does it remind you of another fruit?  Different grape varieties suggest, say, blackcurrant or plum in red wine or perhaps gooseberry, lemon or apricot in white.  Are there any floral components - maybe a touch of elderflower or eucalyptus, perhaps green leafy aromas?   Can you smell oak?  Look for vanilla or woody spice like a hint of cinnamon.  What other aromas can you find - mushroom, leather, mocha?

Do any of these help you to identify a grape variety, or varieties in combination?  Look out for the signature aromas to match to a grape name; it takes time and experience but you never stop learning which is the perfect excuse to keep practising.  It is unhelpful to generalise too much but, to illustrate, watch for blackcurrant in Cabernet Sauvignon and nettley/gooseberry aromas in Sauvignon Blanc.

Is the aroma mild or intense, subtle or in your face?  Is it straightforward and fruity or more complex?  Are there mineral notes or honeyed, glycerin aromas indicating ripeness and/or dryness/sweetness?

In a couple of sniffs you can add to or confirm what your eyes have told you in phase one; you now know if it’s in good nick, you have clues to the maturity and grape variety/ies, an evolving idea of the quality and expectations of fullness/lightness, as well as sweetness/ dryness.  With experience the sum of these details may give you pointers to the country and even region of origin and you haven’t even tasted it yet.

Next, use your palate to confirm the above and assess the flavour which is made up of other influences beside taste.  Different parts of the mouth are particularly adept at recognising acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin; where do you feel them most?

Is it high or low in acidity?  Is it sweet or dry?  Is it full-bodied or lighter?  Do you think that there is any oak present, or clearly high or markedly low alcohol content?  Is it generously fruity or more austere?  Do you find it instantly agreeable or is it a more subtle wine that grows on you?

If it’s red you will detect the presence of tannin, a compound found in the skin of red grapes which is what can make your teeth feel furry.  Contrary to popular, inexperienced opinion this is not usually a negative thing as it is a natural preservative, important in red wines destined for laying down and adds texture to the palate.

Does the flavour linger or fade away quickly?  The flavour that remains after your mouth is clear is called the finish and a long finish is an indicator of quality.

Finally, add it all up.  The first question is, quite simply, do you like it?  What is it that you particularly enjoy or dislike?  Would you drink it on its own, with food or both? If you reckon that it’s a food wine, with what dish do you think it might work best?  Is it worth the money?

Please note that this is not intended as a fully comprehensive, meticulously ordered, all-covering set of instructions.  This is merely a somewhat random list of pointers to help you get a little more out of a glass of wine.  If it starts a little spark of extra interest and encourages you to want to learn more then it’s done its job.

Above all, keep tasting different wines.  Try outside your comfort zone.  Have fun!

How To Taste...

Picture this; some smartarse has plonked an unknown glass of wine down in front of you and said, “Right then, tell me about this.”  God I hate it when that happens.  You’re trapped, but you have three options. 

Adopt a wide-eyed look of studied innocence, glance upward slowly at your halo and announce, “I am so sorry, the Chief Medical Officer was right and I cannot allow a drop of this, the greatest evil the world has ever seen, to pass my lips.”  Yeah, right.  Like that’s going to happen.

Grasp the glass like an old friend, raise it to your mouth and lower its contents at a gulp.  Beam at your tormenter and announce brightly, “It’s wine!”  They will think that you are a tit.

Go through a few tried and tested motions in a relaxed, confident manner and demonstrate that, even if you are unable to identify it, you clearly know what you are doing.  Beaten at their own game, they will dissemble uncomfortably and back off leaving you conspicuously the better person.

The following sequence can be carried out quite quickly without any of the dramatic gestures, rolling eyes, exaggerated throat gurgles and loud hums of lavish appreciation that TV producers seem to require from their favourite wine bods.  You can, in fact, remain reassuringly normal.

Take a look at the wine; reds get paler as they mature, whites become darker.  Density can give clues about fullness in reds.  Is it bright and clear or dull, even cloudy?  Are there any bubbles yet your wine isn’t a sparkler?  Are there any little particles suspended in the wine - if it is bottled unfiltered this may not be a problem, if not it might be.  If red is it purple/black or garnet or somewhere inbetween?  If white is it water pale or gold or a shade between the two?

Gently swirl the wine and look for “tears” on the sides of the glass; this can point out alcohol content and/or viscosity.  Before you move to the next stage you already have clues to the condition, body, possible age and a guess at sweetness/dryness from a glance.

Time to employ your hooter - this is the really important bit.  First check for faults - does it smell clean?  If not, does it smell musty like wet cardboard or old damp cellars?  If it does it’s probably corked.  Does it smell a bit like Sherry or Madeira?  If it does and it is neither of those delightful drinks, then it is likely that the air has got to it and it has become “madeirised”.  Is there an acetic, vinegar-like odour?  This usually indicates microbial spoilage, not as has been supposed before, a strange prog rock band from 1971, but contamination by bacteria.

Does it remind you of another fruit?  Different grape varieties suggest, say, blackcurrant or plum in red wine or perhaps gooseberry, lemon or apricot in white.  Are there any floral components - maybe a touch of elderflower or eucalyptus, perhaps green leafy aromas?   Can you smell oak?  Look for vanilla or woody spice like a hint of cinnamon.  What other aromas can you find - mushroom, leather, mocha?

Do any of these help you to identify a grape variety, or varieties in combination?  Look out for the signature aromas to match to a grape name; it takes time and experience but you never stop learning which is the perfect excuse to keep practising.  It is unhelpful to generalise too much but, to illustrate, watch for blackcurrant in Cabernet Sauvignon and nettley/gooseberry aromas in Sauvignon Blanc.

Is the aroma mild or intense, subtle or in your face?  Is it straightforward and fruity or more complex?  Are there mineral notes or honeyed, glycerin aromas indicating ripeness and/or dryness/sweetness?

In a couple of sniffs you can add to or confirm what your eyes have told you in phase one;
you now know if it’s in good nick, you have clues to the maturity and grape variety/ies, an evolving idea of the quality and expectations of fullness/lightness, as well as sweetness/ dryness.  With experience the sum of these details may give you pointers to the country and even region of origin and you haven’t even tasted it yet.

Next, use your palate to confirm the above and assess the flavour which is made up of other influences beside taste.  Different parts of the mouth are particularly adept at recognising acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin; where do you feel them most?

Is it high or low in acidity?  Is it sweet or dry?  Is it full-bodied or lighter?  Do you think that there is any oak present, or clearly high or markedly low alcohol content?  Is it generously fruity or more austere?  Do you find it instantly agreeable or is it a more subtle wine that grows on you?

If it’s red you will detect the presence of tannin, a compound found in the skin of red grapes which is what can make your teeth feel furry.  Contrary to popular, inexperienced opinion this is not usually a negative thing as it is a natural preservative, important in red wines destined for laying down and adds texture to the palate.

Does the flavour linger or fade away quickly?  The flavour that remains after your mouth is clear is called the finish and a long finish is an indicator of quality.

Finally, add it all up.  The first question is, quite simply, do you like it?  What is it that you particularly enjoy or dislike?  Would you drink it on its own, with food or both? If you reckon that it’s a food wine, with what dish do you think it might work best?  Is it worth the money?

Please note that this is not intended as a fully comprehensive, meticulously ordered, all-covering set of instructions.  This is merely a somewhat random list of pointers to help you get a little more out of a glass of wine.  If it starts a little spark of extra interest and encourages you to want to learn more then it’s done its job.

Above all, keep tasting different wines.  Try outside your comfort zone.  Have fun!

How To Taste...

Picture this; some smartarse has plonked an unknown glass of wine down in front of you and said, “Right then, tell me about this.”  God I hate it when that happens.  You’re trapped, but you have three options. 

Adopt a wide-eyed look of studied innocence, glance upward slowly at your halo and announce, “I am so sorry, the Chief Medical Officer was right and I cannot allow a drop of this, the greatest evil the world has ever seen, to pass my lips.”  Yeah, right.  Like that’s going to happen.

Grasp the glass like an old friend, raise it to your mouth and lower its contents at a gulp.  Beam at your tormenter and announce brightly, “It’s wine!”  They will think that you are a tit.

Go through a few tried and tested motions in a relaxed, confident manner and demonstrate that, even if you are unable to identify it, you clearly know what you are doing.  Beaten at their own game, they will dissemble uncomfortably and back off leaving you conspicuously the better person.

The following sequence can be carried out quite quickly without any of the dramatic gestures, rolling eyes, exaggerated throat gurgles and loud hums of lavish appreciation that TV producers seem to require from their favourite wine bods.  You can, in fact, remain reassuringly normal.

Take a look at the wine; reds get paler as they mature, whites become darker.  Density can give clues about fullness in reds.  Is it bright and clear or dull, even cloudy?  Are there any bubbles yet your wine isn’t a sparkler?  Are there any little particles suspended in the wine - if it is bottled unfiltered this may not be a problem, if not it might be.  If red is it purple/black or garnet or somewhere inbetween?  If white is it water pale or gold or a shade between the two?

Gently swirl the wine and look for “tears” on the sides of the glass; this can point out alcohol content and/or viscosity.  Before you move to the next stage you already have clues to the condition, body, possible age and a guess at sweetness/dryness from a glance.

Time to employ your hooter - this is the really important bit.  First check for faults - does it smell clean?  If not, does it smell musty like wet cardboard or old damp cellars?  If it does it’s probably corked.  Does it smell a bit like Sherry or Madeira?  If it does and it is neither of those delightful drinks, then it is likely that the air has got to it and it has become “madeirised”.  Is there an acetic, vinegar-like odour?  This usually indicates microbial spoilage, not as has been supposed before, a strange prog rock band from 1971, but contamination by bacteria.

Does it remind you of another fruit?  Different grape varieties suggest, say, blackcurrant or plum in red wine or perhaps gooseberry, lemon or apricot in white.  Are there any floral components - maybe a touch of elderflower or eucalyptus, perhaps green leafy aromas?   Can you smell oak?  Look for vanilla or woody spice like a hint of cinnamon.  What other aromas can you find - mushroom, leather, mocha?

Do any of these help you to identify a grape variety, or varieties in combination?  Look out for the signature aromas to match to a grape name; it takes time and experience but you never stop learning which is the perfect excuse to keep practising.  It is unhelpful to generalise too much but, to illustrate, watch for blackcurrant in Cabernet Sauvignon and nettley/gooseberry aromas in Sauvignon Blanc.

Is the aroma mild or intense, subtle or in your face?  Is it straightforward and fruity or more complex?  Are there mineral notes or honeyed, glycerin aromas indicating ripeness and/or dryness/sweetness?

In a couple of sniffs you can add to or confirm what your eyes have told you in phase one;
you now know if it’s in good nick, you have clues to the maturity and grape variety/ies, an evolving idea of the quality and expectations of fullness/lightness, as well as sweetness/ dryness.  With experience the sum of these details may give you pointers to the country and even region of origin and you haven’t even tasted it yet.

Next, use your palate to confirm the above and assess the flavour which is made up of other influences beside taste.  Different parts of the mouth are particularly adept at recognising acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin; where do you feel them most?

Is it high or low in acidity?  Is it sweet or dry?  Is it full-bodied or lighter?  Do you think that there is any oak present, or clearly high or markedly low alcohol content?  Is it generously fruity or more austere?  Do you find it instantly agreeable or is it a more subtle wine that grows on you?

If it’s red you will detect the presence of tannin, a compound found in the skin of red grapes which is what can make your teeth feel furry.  Contrary to popular, inexperienced opinion this is not usually a negative thing as it is a natural preservative, important in red wines destined for laying down and adds texture to the palate.

Does the flavour linger or fade away quickly?  The flavour that remains after your mouth is clear is called the finish and a long finish is an indicator of quality.

Finally, add it all up.  The first question is, quite simply, do you like it?  What is it that you particularly enjoy or dislike?  Would you drink it on its own, with food or both? If you reckon that it’s a food wine, with what dish do you think it might work best?  Is it worth the money?

Please note that this is not intended as a fully comprehensive, meticulously ordered, all-covering set of instructions.  This is merely a somewhat random list of pointers to help you get a little more out of a glass of wine.  If it starts a little spark of extra interest and encourages you to want to learn more then it’s done its job.

Above all, keep tasting different wines.  Try outside your comfort zone.  Have fun!

How To Taste...

Picture this; some smartarse has plonked an unknown glass of wine down in front of you and said, “Right then, tell me about this.”  God I hate it when that happens.  You’re trapped, but you have three options. 

Adopt a wide-eyed look of studied innocence, glance upward slowly at your halo and announce, “I am so sorry, the Chief Medical Officer was right and I cannot allow a drop of this, the greatest evil the world has ever seen, to pass my lips.”  Yeah, right.  Like that’s going to happen.

Grasp the glass like an old friend, raise it to your mouth and lower its contents at a gulp.  Beam at your tormenter and announce brightly, “It’s wine!”  They will think that you are a tit.

Go through a few tried and tested motions in a relaxed, confident manner and demonstrate that, even if you are unable to identify it, you clearly know what you are doing.  Beaten at their own game, they will dissemble uncomfortably and back off leaving you conspicuously the better person.

The following sequence can be carried out quite quickly without any of the dramatic gestures, rolling eyes, exaggerated throat gurgles and loud hums of lavish appreciation that TV producers seem to require from their favourite wine bods.  You can, in fact, remain reassuringly normal.

Take a look at the wine; reds get paler as they mature, whites become darker.  Density can give clues about fullness in reds.  Is it bright and clear or dull, even cloudy?  Are there any bubbles yet your wine isn’t a sparkler?  Are there any little particles suspended in the wine - if it is bottled unfiltered this may not be a problem, if not it might be.  If red is it purple/black or garnet or somewhere inbetween?  If white is it water pale or gold or a shade between the two?

Gently swirl the wine and look for “tears” on the sides of the glass; this can point out alcohol content and/or viscosity.  Before you move to the next stage you already have clues to the condition, body, possible age and a guess at sweetness/dryness from a glance.

Time to employ your hooter - this is the really important bit.  First check for faults - does it smell clean?  If not, does it smell musty like wet cardboard or old damp cellars?  If it does it’s probably corked.  Does it smell a bit like Sherry or Madeira?  If it does and it is neither of those delightful drinks, then it is likely that the air has got to it and it has become “madeirised”.  Is there an acetic, vinegar-like odour?  This usually indicates microbial spoilage, not as has been supposed before, a strange prog rock band from 1971, but contamination by bacteria.

Does it remind you of another fruit?  Different grape varieties suggest, say, blackcurrant or plum in red wine or perhaps gooseberry, lemon or apricot in white.  Are there any floral components - maybe a touch of elderflower or eucalyptus, perhaps green leafy aromas?   Can you smell oak?  Look for vanilla or woody spice like a hint of cinnamon.  What other aromas can you find - mushroom, leather, mocha?

Do any of these help you to identify a grape variety, or varieties in combination?  Look out for the signature aromas to match to a grape name; it takes time and experience but you never stop learning which is the perfect excuse to keep practising.  It is unhelpful to generalise too much but, to illustrate, watch for blackcurrant in Cabernet Sauvignon and nettley/gooseberry aromas in Sauvignon Blanc.

Is the aroma mild or intense, subtle or in your face?  Is it straightforward and fruity or more complex?  Are there mineral notes or honeyed, glycerin aromas indicating ripeness and/or dryness/sweetness?

In a couple of sniffs you can add to or confirm what your eyes have told you in phase one;
you now know if it’s in good nick, you have clues to the maturity and grape variety/ies, an evolving idea of the quality and expectations of fullness/lightness, as well as sweetness/ dryness.  With experience the sum of these details may give you pointers to the country and even region of origin and you haven’t even tasted it yet.

Next, use your palate to confirm the above and assess the flavour which is made up of other influences beside taste.  Different parts of the mouth are particularly adept at recognising
acidity, sweetness, alcohol and tannin; where do you feel them most?

Is it high or low in acidity?  Is it sweet or dry?  Is it full-bodied or lighter?  Do you think that there is any oak present, or clearly high or markedly low alcohol content?  Is it generously fruity or more austere?  Do you find it instantly agreeable or is it a more subtle wine that grows on you?

If it’s red you will detect the presence of tannin, a compound found in the skin of red grapes which is what can make your teeth feel furry.  Contrary to popular, inexperienced opinion this is not usually a negative thing as it is a natural preservative, important in red wines destined for laying down and adds texture to the palate.

Does the flavour linger or fade away quickly?  The flavour that remains after your mouth is clear is called the finish and a long finish is an indicator of quality.

Finally, add it all up.  The first question is, quite simply, do you like it?  What is it that you particularly enjoy or dislike?  Would you drink it on its own, with food or both? If you reckon that it’s a food wine, with what dish do you think it might work best?  Is it worth the money?

Please note that this is not intended as a fully comprehensive, meticulously ordered, all-covering set of instructions.  This is merely a somewhat random list of pointers to help you get a little more out of a glass of wine.  If it starts a little spark of extra interest and encourages you to want to learn more then it’s done its job.

Above all, keep tasting different wines.  Try outside your comfort zone.  Have fun!