Varietals of Vino with Andrew

Learn a thing or two about how to taste your wine!

I’m Andrew from Colangelo & Partners, your third-floor friends who have that office with a seemingly suspicious supply of booze. I promise that that’s for a real reason: we’re a tiny San Franciscan arm of a larger NYC PR agency who represents mostly wine clients, though we also work with olive oils, spirits, and a couple of beer businesses. I’ve been with the company since May and have lived out here in San Francisco for about four years, but I know you aren’t here to read my biography.

You’re here to learn how to get clever and confident with tasting your wine.

Whether you’re looking to impress your first date at the dinner table, trying to find a new favorite grape varietal, or are attempting to sound like the most pretentious person in your social sphere, this brief rundown covers the standard operating procedures of the people who do all three for a living.

  1. Eye the wine

Obviously you can tell if it’s a red or if it’s a white, but there’s plenty of wiggle room within these giant genres. When you’re going for a red: is it “thin” and translucent, like a glass of diet cranberry juice? Or is it thick, opaque and inky, like a beaker of blood headed for an English black pudding? Generally — and unsurprisingly — the lighter the color of any wine, the more acidity, citrus flavor, and the lower alcoholic content it has.

2. Shove your schnoz in there real good

Swirl the stem of your glass in a brisk counter-clockwise motion to get its aromas perky and ready for a sniff-down. Close your eyes, dip your nose past the rim, and really try to be open minded about what you think you’re smelling from the wine. It can be anything from specific fruits (although I can’t really stand when people sarcastically tell me they smell “grapes”, each time smirking as though they’re the first person who’s ever thought to say that) like lemon or raspberry, to a nostalgic and totally weird smell like that of your grandmother’s linen closet. The key is that literally whatever you say is totally subjective and therefore correct, so have fun with it and be earnest.

3. Take a small sip and jingle the juice in your gullet

After you’re done scrutinizing the wine for an amount of time that feels longer than actually necessary, it’s important to not take a big glug of wine on your first sip, since getting some air in your mouth with the juice is a deceptively important step in tasting wine. Let the liquid have a party on your palette by making it reach every inch of your tastebuds — gargle it if you have to. How do you feel? There are countless nuances in the taste of any wine due to its grape varietals, region of origin, and winemaking regimen, but for the sake of brevity here, I’ll just touch on the importance and difference oak makes. Does your (red) wine smell/taste anything like chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla, or straight-up lumber? That’s probably because it’s been aged in oak barrels, which gives it those “sweet” aromas but also more heft and structure to the flavor profile. The process also provides red wine with tannins, that kind of drying sensation you get when you have oversteeped black tea. With whites, any kind of barrel-aging impacts the classic “buttery” taste and soft mouthfeel to the wine. Oak is important in rounding out the acidic edge of many people’s favorite Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.


Know what you’re working with

A big part of the reason I (and the Colangelo team) love working with wine is the harmony you get when you perfectly pair it with the right food. Getting a grip on what kind of wine is best for what occasion — oysters with Muscadet or Malbec with steak — can help actually change and enhance the taste of what’s on the plate and in the glass. I really don’t recommend buying wine at chain groceries; instead, you should opt to get your bottles at legit wine shops or more “thoughtful” food stores (shoutout to places like Bi-Rite and Berkley Bowl). I know it’s an extra stop in your busy day, but the people and places at these kinds of shops generally have much more passion and knowledge for the wine they’re working with, making them better guides to your exploration in the world of wine.

More important than all of this, though, is that you like what you like. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should prefer.

If you’ve made it to the end, I apologize for taking up most of your lunch break. Pop on by to our office if you feel like you’ve only sniffed the surface and want to talk wine or learn some more!