What’s in the glass? The long read

If you’re like me, you will have a natural abhorrence for the pretentiousness that some wine-lovers exhibit but you should not let this put you off beginning to think and speak about wine in a more articulate and informed way.
You don’t have to be a ponce to notice that there are very real differences between wines. Being able to talk about these differences is the first step to taking greater enjoyment from your glass. Most wine drinkers adopt the ”I-don’t-know-much-about-wine-but-I-know-what-I-like” approach. They make a virtue of being inarticulate because they don’t want to classed with the very people that they have scorned for so long. But there can be no ridicule attached to being able to tell a cabernet from a merlot, a light-bodied wine from a full-bodied one. There are extremes of sensitivity that can become laughable but there are some basic characteristics that are clearly observable, and when you start to get excited about wine it is delightful to be able to put your finger on what exactly it is that you like or don’t about what is in your glass.
I am no expert so it would be wrong for me to insert a quick how-to-become-a-wine-connoisseur course into this story but there are clear characteristics that Pinot Noir displays and it helps to know what to look for when you open a bottle.
* Breathe
First off, most wine needs to breathe before being drunk. This isn’t rubbish : its Chemistry. To get the best out of a bottle of Pinot, open it several hours before you drink it. Maybe even uncork it the day before and stick it in the fridge. The wine will “open up” if it oxidises slightly. This means that it releases a whole lot more flavour when you do this. If you don’t believe me, take two bottles of the same wine and let one breathe, then compare them. You’ll see what I mean immediately and you will never go back to opening and drinking straight away again. And I think Pinot is better slightly chilled. Not everyone thinks this but try it, especially on a hot day.
Next, look at the wine before you smell or drink it. Pinot has a very distinctive colour. It’s not like the heavy, thick-skinned reds. Pinot has a delicate rosy colour that should be about halfway between a rose and say a shiraz. If the wine is newer, the colour should be rosier. If it has aged for a long time, either in the barrel or the bottle, it will be more of a brick-red, rusty colour. You don’t want a Pinot to be too “thin” and watery-looking. Sight is one of the ways through which we enjoy the world and the visual enjoyment of wine is important.
* Swirl
Next, to “open” the wine, you should swirl it around in your glass. This does two things actually – it breathes the wine more fully and it gives you a chance to see what kind of body and alcohol it has. Swirl the wine and hold the glass up to the light. If there is a series of slightly viscous lines as the wines settles back into the glass, you can say that it has “good legs”. This means that your wine is strong, with good body. Although Pinot is a light-bodied wine, a good Pinot has real body and the alcohol should be at around 12 or 12.5.
Next is the smell. You can call it the nose or the bouquet or whatever you like. Very few drinkers actually smell their wine and if you haven’t really done this before, try it. It will give you a different window on the wine. In a good Pinot you need to look for berries and spices but I’m not going to go into this aspect of things too deeply. Different palates find different things and you don’t want to get too detailed or too dogmatic here. Suffice to say that Pinot should have good fruit, good acidity to give it zing and zip, and good “structure”. There should be good tannins and the wine should be “long in the mouth”, if that means anything to you. If these terms don’t mean anything to you, don’t worry, just look for the fruit (berries or whatever), and perhaps something a bit mustier – the French call it “forest floor”. This can be a hint of mushrooms or compost or that kind of thing. Spices are sometimes clear – pepper, cinnamon and so on – but don’t stress if you don’t find any of these.
* Drink
Finally, take a swig! See if the stuff you smelled is also in the taste. Pinot is really distinctive. Once you’ve had a couple of bottles you will always be able to recognise the wine, even if the Pinot you are drinking isn’t an exceptional wine it will be distinctive as a Pinot.
If you understand the whole process that goes into growing grapes and making wine, it makes sense that you pay close attention to the end-product. Every aspect of the wine becomes of interest to you, and so it should.
Pinot has been called “sex in a glass”. I think this is because of its seductive delicacy. It is an exciting, sensuous drink that can be ravishing. Some Pinots are so complex that they seem to have a personality, like a person.