Ever wander into a wine shop excited to buy a bottle, and then realise you have no flipping clue what is what, and the labels sure aren't helping? I sure have & it is the pits.
I didn't want that to happen to anyone when they walk into Wine & Such. Instead, I wanted to create a space that anyone could easily navigate and walk out with just the wine/cider/coffee/vermouth they were after.
As an American, I am used to asking questions, talking to strangers at the shop, and asking for help. It's nothing to end up chatting to the teller at a store for 15 minutes about the hair dryer you are buying and why you went for that one, and what's wrong with the old one you have, and by the time you actually pay you have given them your email so you can send them that lasagne recipe.
But when I moved to the UK, I quickly realised that's not quite the same mindset here. People are still very reserved and much prefer to, well, just not talk or ask questions. Fine with me, sometimes I don't want to talk to anyone either!
Especially when you walk into a small shop, and you are the only customer, it can feel really intimidating and awkward to browse, sometimes pretending to have a clue what you are looking at.
To help alleviate this awkwardness, I have created tasting cards to accompany each wine. When I studied at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, one of their bedrock principles is that you have to look at a wine objectively to determine its quality. It doesn't matter if you actually like the wine or not, you have to park your preferences at the door. Instead there is a list of criteria that you look at to evaluate the wine. I have taken these basic principles and applied them to my Wine & Such tasting cards, in hopes that you can browse at your leisure and understand what the liquid is actually like in the bottle. Be it wine, cider, vermouth or coffee!
Beyond the illustrative sentence or two to describe the product, there is a list of different attributes that I have rated on a scale. Now is my scale perfect? Hell no, even looking objectively there is still a lot of subjectiveness. But this is where the WSET has helped give me a good base reference point, so I shouldn't be too far off anyone else's opinion.
One last reason for the cards, instead of me just answering your questions. I am very much a visual learner, I have a really hard time taking in auditory information without seeing it simultaneously. By being able to read the information, I hope it is easier for everyone to feel comfortable shopping at Wine & Such. And of course, should you want to know anything else, I will be there to answer your questions.
Above is one of the actual tasting cards you will find in store. A breakdown of what each item means is below.
This is a very general descriptive term to which I would categorise that bottle. So if someone were to come in and ask for 'A white wine for in the garden in the afternoon, something quaffable' I would point them to the Easy Drinker. It also keeps the selection focused so you aren't overwhelmed with choices when you walk in.
The Name & Producer
Easy enough, it's the name of the wine/cider/vermouth along with the producer.
This for me is the fun bit. How I describe the wine in two sentences. Sometimes silly and fanciful, others much more literal. It's where I try to evoke the emotion of the wine.
Sometimes you haven't a clue what grape you are buying by looking at the label (Looking at you France and Italy!). The rules around the appellations and DOCs can be incredibly complex and confusing. So here it is, nice and easy.
Tannins are complex compounds that are a main component to the structure of wine. Ever left a teabag in your cuppa too long? You know that bitter, drying astringent feeling the tea left on your tongue. That's tannins.
Tannins in wine (mostly red wine we are talking about here) are extremely important. They mostly come from the wine skins, seeds, stems (in poorly made wine), and barrells. Generally, the tannins are what give a wine ageability as well. Low tannins, the wine won't last long, big tannins when it's young, age that sucker and let them mellow out.
Tannins are the hardest one to describe for me. I recently read that you can think of tannin descriptors like fabric. Rough and grippy like hessian? Or soft and supple like velvet? You can have either type in low or large amounts. So my descriptor low to high is a bit simple, I've used it to generally say are the tannins really noticeable and grippy, leaving your mouth feeling dry as HIGH and soft and supple (or non-existent) as LOW.
Tannins are also the thing that makes a wine stain your tongue and teeth more, so if after a bottle you are full on grape mouth, it's a good indicator there were a lot of tannins in there.
A much easier one...a wine is either acidic or not. I have used the WSET guidelines for determining the wine's acidity, so this should be pretty accurate.
I am gonna let you in on a secret. Without sugar, there is no wine/cider/vermouth. The sugars are what is converted to alcohol.
In natural wine making and traditional cider production, sugar is rarely ever added in. Instead the producer decided when to cut off the fermentation, thereby leaving some natural sugars, or to ferment to fully dry.
Even in a fully dry wine, there are some residual sugars. Without the sugar, the wine would be incredibly acidic and unbalanced. So even when I have a 0, none, that really just means it has been fermented to a fully dry style.
This is another one of the often confusing terms. It encompasses quite a few different components- alcohol, viscosity, weight, and richness. Think of it as the overall feel of the wine in your mouth.
Did you put on a light cotton throw or your heavy down duvet on your tongue? That's wine body.
A fairly easy one to grasp, simply when I describe the aromas in the wine, how many of them are fruity?
Ditto to above, but with earthy aromas.
Think terms like leather, mushroom, leaves, barnyard, hay, pepper, tomato, wool, wet stones, bread dough, smoke, petrol, tobacco
Je ne sais quoi
This descriptor is all my creation. It is the thing...the uniqueness of a particular wine or cider. Like that bottle that smells like a barn, or the white that has tons of tannins, or the red wine that smells like eucalyptus. This tends to be a characteristic that will make you either love or hate the wine. The 'je ne sais quoi' factor doesn't make a wine better or worse, just makes that bottle particularly memorable.
Last, there are some notes about the production of wine- vegan, biodynamic, organic, natural, etc.
There you have it, the Wine & Such tasting cards.
I hope you find them helpful and a fun way to try wines you might not otherwise pick up. After all, it's about the wine, not the label.
And just in case you want to practice tasting and evaluating wines, below is the WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting Wines, helping guide you to objectively determine if a wine is of quality.