Wine Tasting - A Beginner’s Guide
You will need:
- Wine glasses
- A bottle of fine wine
- Bottle opener
- A slight sense of self-importance
A basic wine tasting can add another layer of meaning (not to mention enjoyment!) to your Shabbat celebration.
- 1. To begin, fill a clean glass with a small amount of wine (when it comes to tasting, less is more). The wine’s visual appearance has a lot to do with how you’ll experience it, so first take the time to really look at the wine in your glass. Tilt it away from you and examine the color, transparency, and clarity. Can you observe anything about its texture?
- 2. Swirl the wine gently in the glass to release its aromas (also called its “nose” or “bouquet”). Put your nose right in the top of the glass and sniff. What do you smell? If it’s hard to identify exactly, try to describe it: Are the flavors intense? Earthy? Fruity? Spicy?
- 3. Finally, take just a small sip and taste the wine. To better appreciate the flavor, move it around in your mouth a bit. Is it sweet? Acidic? Bitter? What flavors can you detect? Do you taste anything different in a second sip?
- 4. Discuss your impressions of the wine with your fellow tasters. Did you like the wine? Was it well balanced? Bold? Subtle? Consider its “expressiveness”—how clear are its flavors and aroma? What kinds of food might it complement—cheese, bread, meat? To what can you compare its taste? Have you tried other wines that you enjoyed more, or less?
Since ancient times, wine has played a key role in life’s celebrations. It is one of the oldest known alcoholic beverages; archeologists have traced wine’s emergence all the way back to the 5400 BCE in northern Iran. From there, wine spread west to Greece and Turkey, and south through Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. For a long time, wine was considered an elite beverage, as it was expensive to produce and rare. That scarcity made it special, and eventually it became the most common drink for rituals and festivities. As production increased and it began to be traded more widely, wine became available to a broader population.
Wine appeared in the land of Israel about 2,000 years after it first emerged in Iran—that’s more than 2,000 years before it showed up in Europe. Its production there climaxed during the Second Temple era, which ended with the exile of 70 CE. Wine making took a hit during the Arab conquest of 600 CE, and many vineyards were destroyed due to Islam’s prohibition of alcohol. The wine industry later collapsed under the turmoil of the Ottoman Empire. Thankfully, much later, as Jews began to settle the land of Israel in the late nineteenth century, they planted vineyards as one form of sustainable agricultural development. Today the country is increasingly recognized for its wine production, and boasts hundreds of boutique wineries.
Of course, most people associate Jews and wine with thick, sweet—some say cloyingly so—Manischewitz wine. (Interestingly enough, ancient wine was thick and sweet, too, but it was often watered down or flavored with herbs or honey.) Though Manischewitz, which has been manufactured for more than 60 years, has become the “traditional” Jewish holiday drink—as well as the butt of many jokes—kosher wine is now available in so many varieties that many are virtually indistinguishable from non-kosher wines.
Since wine is such it is such a powerful symbol of celebration, it’s the perfect drink for the most festive meal of the week. When you’re setting your Shabbat table, select a wine that you really enjoy: whether dry or sweet, red or white, it’s still connected to this long history. (Grape juice is also a fine substitute.) After sunset on Friday, we don’t consume anything until we drink wine, so that the first thing we taste is clearly associated with happiness and abundance. The blessing we say over wine, Kiddush, is a kind of toast to the day; it’s recited over a large, full-to-brimming cup of wine, to emphasize that Shabbat is a time overflowing with delight.
After the blessing of the wine, if you choose to say it, some people pass one cup around the table and everyone sips from it. Others choose to “fill” everyone’s cups from the main cup used by the person who led the Kiddush. Still others provide a cup with individual servings of wine at every place setting. Do what feels comfortable and most meaningful to you—the variations on this ritual are another way of reinforcing community at your Shabbat table.