Five 1-Minute Projects That Will Change the Way You Taste Wine

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Wine isn’t cheap. In fact, of all the beverages you could choose, it’s often the most expensive. So why not spend five minutes to learn a bit about that liquid in your glass?

Here are five 1-minute projects that will teach you quite a lot about how wine tastes and responds to food. Do them one at a time, or all at once, with friends!

What You Need

  • 1 bottle of a light, bright white wine—for example, Sauvignon Blanc (it doesn’t need to be expensive)
  • 1 bottle of a heavy, tannic red wine—for example, Cabernet Sauvignon (it doesn’t need to be expensive)
  • 2 glasses per person (you’ll have enough wine for up to about 6 people)
  • 1 lemon wedge per person
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar per person
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt per person
  • 1 slice of salami per person, ideally something not too spicy or flavored

Get Ready!

Pour each person about half a glass of each wine.

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Project #1: Get a Grip on Acidity

What To Do

1. Taste each wine and especially notice its acidity, or how crisp and tart it is (or isn’t).

  • Hint: One way to get a sense of acidity is to notice how much your mouth waters after a sip—a lot of watering = a lot of acidity.

What you will likely notice: Although the white is probably more acidic than the red, they’re both pretty acidic.

What you can conclude: All wine is pretty acidic. That’s not good or bad, but it’s useful to know (and it comes into play for Projects #2, 3, and 4).

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Project #2: Taste Wine With Lemon

What To Do

  1. Take a sip of white wine and, again, notice its acidity.
  2. Take a good lick of the lemon wedge.
  3. Take another sip of white wine and, again, notice its acidity.

What you will likely notice: The second sip tastes less acidic than the first. You might also notice that it tastes fruitier. (FYI, this would’ve been the case with the red wine, too, but the experience is more dramatic with the white because it’s more acidic to begin with.)

What you can conclude: Acidity in food will soften your experience of acidity in the wine you enjoy with it. It’s a little contrary to logic—you’d think that one acidic thing plus another acidic thing would add up and double the acidity—but with food and wine, it’s the opposite.

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Project #3: Taste Wine With Sugar

What To Do

1. Take a sip of white wine and, again, notice its acidity.

2. Use your finger to take a good lick of the sugar.

3. Take another sip of white wine and, again, notice its acidity.

What you will likely notice: The second sip of wine tastes more acidic than the first—perhaps even downright sour. (Again, this would’ve been the case with the red wine as well, but the experience is more dramatic with the white because it’s more acidic to begin with.)

What you can conclude: Sweetness in food will heighten your experience of acidity in the wine you enjoy with it. This is why dessert is best with dessert wine—if you serve dessert with dry, or unsweet, wine, the dessert can make your wine taste sour.

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Project #4: Taste Wine With Salt

What To Do

1. Take a sip of red wine and notice both its acidity and its tannins.

2. Use your finger to take a lick of the salt.

3. Take another sip of red wine and, again, notice both its acidity and tannins.

  • Hint: Tannins are the compounds that give you that dry-mouth sensation—you’ll probably feel it most in your gums.

What you will likely notice: The second sip of wine tastes both less acidic and less tannic than the first. You also might notice it tastes fruitier. (FYI, the salt would’ve softened the acidity in the white wine as well, but since white wine has little, if any, tannins, you wouldn’t have noticed anything about them.)

What you can conclude: Saltiness in food will soften your experience of both acidity and tannins in the wine you enjoy with it. It’s a little contrary to logic, because we’re used to thinking of salt as a flavor enhancer—but with food and wine, it can be a softener.

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Project #5: Taste Wine With Salami

What To Do

1. Take a sip of red wine and, again, notice its tannins.

2. Take a bite of salami.

3. Take another sip of red wine and, again, notice its tannins.

What you will likely notice: The second sip of wine tastes less tannic than the first. You also might notice it tastes fruitier.

What you can conclude: Fattiness in food will soften your experience of tannins in the wine you enjoy with it. This is one reason a nicely marbled steak is wonderful with a big, bold Cabernet.

The Bottom Line

Wine can taste different depending on the food you serve with it. At the least, you want to avoid making your wine taste worse—increasing the experience of its acidity or tannins, for example. At the most, you might want to bend its characteristics more to your liking.

Tips to remember:

  • Acidity and salt are good tools for food and wine—a little of each can help a food stand up to the acidity in wine. More can soften it.
  • Fat is a good tool for food and wine—a little can help a food stand up to tannins in wine. More can soften them.
  • Salt can also soften tannins.
  • Sweetness in food has the opposite effect—even a little can make a wine taste more acidic and tannic, sometimes unpalatably so. That’s why very sweet foods are best with very sweet wines. And why slightly sweet foods—mahi mahi with mango salsa, for example—are best with slightly sweet, or off-dry, wines.
  • While these effects are well-documented, what’s up for grabs is whether or not they’re pleasing to you. Experiment!

Most importantly, eat and drink what makes you happy.

(Image credits: Jill Silverman Hough)