Wine tasting is not the same as drinking it
Swirl, sip, spit. Is that all there is to tasting wine? Well, yes and no. I think there’s a lot of pretentiousness out there when it comes to tasting wine – fancy verbiage, oddly inflated egos, specialized glassware, and a myriad of fancy corkscrews and decanters – that can overwhelm a lot of folks.
I don’t think that wine needs to be fancy to be enjoyed, or even appreciated. So, what can the average person do when they want to explore the world of wine (and there is surely a lot to explore)? From Old World to New World, Right Bank to Left Bank, Barolos to Bardolinos and everything in between, what does it all mean? For the novice taster, does it really matter? I don’t think so, and don’t let others tell you it does. What matters is this: find the wine you like and drink it! Everyone has their own unique taste and wine allows for that, with literally thousands of wines that offer different types of flavor profiles available right now in Vietnam.
C.A.T in the Glass – Three Basic Tasting Steps
C. There are three basic steps to evaluate wine. The first step is the color test. Check for any imperfections, impurities or cloudiness. The color will also give you hints as to the age of the wine (but more on that in a future column).
A. Now is when you should start to swirl. Wine is like a genie. It’s been trapped in a bottle for quite some time. Swirling the wine exposes it to oxygen and brings out more aromas. Now sniff. Everyone’s aromatic appreciation is different depending on their experience. When I taste wine with people from Vietnam, their sense of smell references things from their experience. Sometimes I smell pineapple where they might smell passionfruit. Neither is incorrect, so don’t worry about being ‘wrong.’ There are no wrong observations here.
T. Now to the best part: taste. Again, keep swirling, as your genie will still be catching her breath. Take some wine into your mouth. Ensure that your sip coats your whole mouth. It isn’t required to slurp air into your mouth, as some do, but it is a fair amount of fun, and it helps bring more air, and hence, more flavor into the wine. This combination of smelling and tasting gives you a complete picture of the wine. Do you need to spit? Not really. But please note that after several tastes, if you don’t spit, your palate will get tired and you will essentially stop tasting.
Three Great Places to Taste:
Sheraton Saigon Hotel and Towers
(88 Dong Khoi, D1)
Check out Sheraton’s Lobby Lounge. It features two flights (three 50 ml glasses of red or white) for VND260,000++. The wines are each from a different place, and made from different grapes. The trio also comes with a placemat with tasting notes so that you may compare your observations with those of the experts. There is a similar deal upstairs at the Level 23 Wine Bar. In addition to a great view, the al fresco venue offers three different flights at the same price.
(74/7 Hai Ba Trung, D1; Number 1 Duong So 2, D2)
Proprietors Jim and Kylie bring a laid back Aussie feel to both their District 1 and District 2 locations. Their extensive list of wines by glass always features a few predictable drops, or you can browse the shelves and pick any wine you like from one of the best selections in Saigon. Enjoy it elsewhere, or pay VND100,000 extra and drink it on their terrace. If you’re feeling peckish, try your hand at pairing their wines with their tasty tapas selection.
(13 Ngo Duc Ke, D1)
A relative newcomer in Saigon, Wine Embassy is quickly proving it is here to stay. It easily has the largest and one of the best selections of wines by glass in town (130!), and you can pick from three different portion pours (prices vary with the wines, so ask your server for details). Certified sommelier Francois Cateau and his team of local talent preside over an Automat of wine selection thanks to their fancy wine preservation machines that keep the wine fresh for weeks, rather than the one to two days that most wines are only really good for after opening. I find it fun to compare and contrast similar types of wine in this way. The whole place is organized around the idea of exploring the wine world. Take a sip and dive in!