A beginner's guide to wine

Wine critic Nick Stock wants everyone to be able to enjoy the drink without judgement on their personal tastes. Photo: New Zealand Herald
Wine critic Nick Stock wants everyone to be able to enjoy the drink without judgement on their personal tastes. Photo: New Zealand Herald
The best way to develop a taste for wine is to raise a glass, international wine critic Nick Stock tells Melissa Nightingale.

''The idea that there is some sort of right answer with wine is complete bullsh**.''

International wine critic Nick Stock has strong feelings about the drink, and about people's attitudes towards it.

''The idea that there is a set of rules and there's sort of people who know and people who don't know ... it's not a real thing and it's kind of an old-fashioned thing.''

Stock is passionate about wine, and about anyone being able to enjoy it.

The Australian, who was in New Zealand for the annual Winetopia event, has shared his tips for beginners who know nothing about wine but want to give it a go.

Where to start

''Obviously, if you're interested in wine you've got to find some way to get into it,'' Stock said.

For a beginner, it is as simple as trying one of the many different wines available and figuring out what they like best, and what it is they like about it - whether it's white or red, fruity or earthy, and so on.

''Once you can sort of figure that out, then you can sort of start off on a little road trip, if you like, of discovery.''

Going to a wine event was a good way to start, because you could essentially visit 60 different wineries in the space of a couple of hours.

When trying new wines, beginners should think about the way the wine looks, tastes, and feels .

''You look at it, you smell it, you take a sip, stop for that little moment, and think: 'how much flavour does this wine have to offer?' That's the most basic idea of quality.''

Smelling wine

''Wine is full of all kinds of different aromas. They actually give you a lot of clues about the sorts of flavours you're going to experience,'' Stock said.

''You basically get a preview of the things you're going to experience when you taste the wine.''

People should smell their wine delicately, he said.

''It's not like you're about to go diving for abalone or paua. You don't need to take a big, deep breath and hold your nose.

''A lot of people get a bit too intense about it.''

Drawing too much air too quickly would dilute the aromas.

It was more like ''smelling a flower'', he said.

What about the glass?

Tapered wine glasses are important to help keep the aromas in the bowl of the glass, Stock says.

That is why sparkling wines should be drunk from white wine glasses instead of champagne flutes - the tall, thin glasses do little to keep the smells in, leaving the sensory experience lacking for the drinker.

''Whilst they look good and they look really elegant, they're not necessarily always the best thing for sparkling wine.

''For sparkling wine, put it in a white wine glass rather than a flute. You get a lot more in terms of the aromas.

''With the little flutes, they've got nowhere to go, so they just leave. You don't get a chance to catch them.''

Glasses also add to the overall experience of drinking wine. The look and feel of them combine with the trapping of the aromas.

''Sort of subconsciously, when you have the drink, you're taking in a lot of things around you.''

A too-small glass would ''cramp the wine's style'', but a too-big glass would again dilute the smells.

''It's a bit like a lens - putting the rights lens on the camera to take the right shot.''

What's the point of swirling?

Swirling wine coats the inside of the glass with the contents, aerating the wine and creating a greater surface area, which releases ''a whole lot more of the wine's aromas''.

It is particularly good when tasting a cold wine straight out of the fridge, or an old wine that has been in a bottle for a long time.

But swirling wine to check out its ''legs'' was ''not actually a thing'', Stock said.

''There are lots of different things that create viscosity in a wine which will influence that effect.''

The viscosity would not tell the drinker much about what they were about to get, he said.

For beginners learning how to swirl their wine without splashing it, they should start by swirling it with the base of the glass still touching a table.

This will help them get the hang of the motion.

When a bargain is not a bargain

While some might rejoice over scoring a cheap bottle of wine at the supermarket, there is a price buyers should not drop below, Stock says.

''Below a certain price point you can't farm grapes really, really well without using chemicals, taking certain shortcuts ... If they knew the corners that had to be cut and the methods that had to be used to get that wine into their hands for $5, they probably wouldn't want to drink it ever again.''

While it was hard to set an exact figure, Stock estimated $15 was the point below which the wine stopped being quality.

Why get into wine?

''Wine's about pleasure, and pleasure is a very personal thing, and that's why there's literally hundreds of thousands of different types of wine produced all around the world,'' he said.

''It is all about discovery and sharing in enjoyment. That's what friends do together.'' 

-By Melissa Nightingale

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