Kickstarter is Union-busting, and We’re Not Going to Stand For It

We got word this morning that Kickstarter fired two employees involved in unionization efforts within the company. This is on the tail of a previous union-related firing last week, and lots of generally shitty takes from Kickstarter management through this whole unionization process. You can read more about this news here.

If our Kickstarter campaign were to succeed—which, thanks to all of you, it’s well on its way to doing (seriously, thank you)—we would owe Kickstarter at least $600 in fees. In the grand scheme of things, this is a small amount of money, but we’re unwilling to hand it over to an organization that is actively conspiring against its workers. So, we’re shutting down our campaign early, and in doing so canceling all of our existing pledges.

This will not stop us, but it will make things a littler trickier on our end. We’re still buying a risograph, we’re still going to collaborate with local artists, and we’ll still be out with a new (and cheaper) issue when all is said and done. If you still want to help us, thank you, and please check out our Patreon page, where we’ve mirrored this Kickstarter’s content. Patreon is monthly, so feel free to cancel your recurring payment immediately to emulate Kickstarter’s one-time payment behavior. We’ll also remind you if you’re at one of the higher tiers. This is not ideal, we know. Reach out if you need help.

To us, this fund-raising campaign represented the start of our zine-publishing and art-printing business. We’ve always been critical of businesses that refuse to take principled actions when there’s money on the line. We want to found our business on the same principles we preach, so we’re taking a stand.

If you want to stand with us, or even if you’re just pissed off that you’re being inconvenienced, please get loud and give Kickstarter a piece of your mind on social media.

If you’d like to continue supporting our work and helping us buy a riso, you can find us on Patreon, and becoming a patron there would mean a lot to us. Thanks.

— Liam & Philip

A Wine Opinion From a Guy Who Doesn’t Know Wine

When I was a precocious (read: underage) young drinker, I was concerned with how to appear as mature and distinguished as possible in my drinking habits. I drank a lot of difficult peaty scotches that tasted like licking the inside of a Cadillac, and I came of age (or rather, pretended to) when IPAs were beginning to become the beer nerd’s favorite. I cultivated a taste for these things, and I still have it, partially because a stubbornly immature part of me likes when other people gag at my drink order.

But in the past few years, I’ve started leaning towards inexpensive, low-alcohol (often canned!) beer. I love Olympia and Hamm’s. I drink Pacifico, Rolling Rock, and once, courtesy of my brother, a devastatingly cheap LaCroix-esque gas station beer whose name was sadly as forgettable as its flavor. I’ve found that there’s beauty in trying to love and appreciate something that does not call out to be loved and appreciated—in putting as much thought and attention into simple things as we are taught to put into complex things.

And in our marathon canned wine tasting, there were a lot of complex things on display. We tasted the shit out of that wine, y’all. I tried my damndest to really taste wine the way people have taught me, and actually had some success. A lot of times I’d write down a fruit or a texture and feel inwardly rewarded when somebody else had it down, too. Elusive tastes became as intoxicating as alcohol.

Yet when all is said and done, I think the canned wines I’m most likely to go back to are the sparkling ones. A canned red can be good, but it doesn’t leave condensation in your palm. It doesn’t dance on your tongue. I want to forget I’m drinking anything at all, sometimes. What I want, come to think of it, is Miller High Life.

I don’t think that Miller High Life is the champagne of beers, as the folks at Miller insist. There is no “High Life” region of France, as far as I can tell. But I contend that canned sparkling wine is the Miller High Life of wine. That’s a high compliment, in my book.

In Which We Review 24 Canned Wines

In order to really review canned wine the way it’s mostly likely to be drunk, I put all the non-red cans in a cooler the night before, and filled that cooler with ice. I re-filled with ice periodically, and by the time our tasting panel arrived, the cans were ice-cold.

We did the tasting in groups, going from Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Gris to Chardonnay to Riesling to Rosé to Sparkling to Red. For each group, we took the cans out of the cooler (we didn’t chill the reds), and tasted each can, pouring a taste of the can for all six of us. We all tasted simultaneously, and wrote down our thoughts on a tasting notes form before talking about them. The tasting notes form we used will be available on our Patreon, or by asking us for it. The goal was for each taster to have their notes on paper before discussing with the group, and hopefully reduce the power of influence on the tastings.

Once everything was written down, we discussed, compared notes, and moved to the next wine. We took little breaks between the varietal groups, and at the end we came up with a rating based on this question: Would you be happy to drink this wine again? Wine rating scores are often subjective to the point of meaninglessness, but a group of six people from various backgrounds saying whether or not they would be happy to drink a wine again hopefully gives you, the reader, a sense of whether or not the wine is worth you buying.
If you want to just get a list of which wines we thought were best, skip to the end. If you want details, then let’s start with some Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc

Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc

Happy to drink: 3/6

This wine split the group, and didn’t meet our bar for recommendation, although that might be because some of the group are not Sauvignon Blanc fans to begin with. The aroma was citrusy fruit and sour apple, with an undercurrent of sweet that followed through into sour or underripe fruit on the palate. The finish was artificially sweet, described by one taster as a bad Jolly Rancher. If you needed a wine for a white sangria, this wouldn’t be a bad choice, although given that it tastes identically to the bottled Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc, buy the bottle and save yourself the can.


Essentially Geared Sauvignon Blanc 

Happy to drink: 0/6

I would not drink this wine. You should probably not drink this wine. I’m not entirely sure why this wine exists. The aroma, palate, and finish were very light, and the dominant characteristic was “sweet”. “Grape Coors” was used by one taster to describe this wine, and other than some light hints of candy and Apricot, that’s pretty accurate. 

She Can New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Happy to drink: 0/6

Where the Essentially Geared Sauvignon Blanc was absent any property beyond sweetness, the She Can might have been too much. An aroma of funk and chemical is your entry to a palate of sour stone fruit and leftover grape juice. Plum and apricot were present in the finish, but you’re left with an overall impression of the juice at the bottom of a fruit cocktail cup.

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc

Happy to drink: 4/6

Our first recommendation, and our only recommendation in the Sauv Blanc category. Bright fruity aromas of lemon and blueberry and tangerine are layered on top of jasmine, and the citrusy notes continue through the palate. A hint of minerality travels from the palate through to the finish, which dials down some of the fruitiness and leaves a pleasant taste of white tea. I’m seeing this can at more and more wine shops, and recommend grabbing some cans.

Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio

Underwood Pinot Gris

Happy to drink: 0/6

Underwood is a juggernaut in the canned wine industry. It seems like you can find them at every trendy restaurant and coffee bar where wine could theoretically be sold. Honestly, this is a bit of a shame, because Underwood regularly underperforms compared to other canned wines in their category. The aroma has some floral and funk, and if you go searching for it you might find some lemon zest. The palate… isn’t there. At a stretch, you can find white peach, but if someone handed you this as a flat La Croix you might believe it. Don’t buy, if you can.

Dark Horse Pinot Grigio

Happy to drink: 4/6

Our only recommendation in the canned Pinot Grigios we tried, the Dark Horse had pear, lemon, and floral notes on the nose, with pear and minerality on the palate. While there wasn’t a ton of body to this wine, the finish had more minerality and vanilla notes. Overall it was highly pleasant to drink. One reviewer said that she was reminded of honey and cream, and that if she needed a Pinot Grigio she would buy this one.

Crafter’s Union 2017 Pinot Grigio

Happy to drink: 2/6

I was expecting more from this can design, but it became very obvious during our tasting day that can design does not correlate with wine quality. A lot of yeast, funk, and reduction on the nose, with hints of lemon underneath. The Crafter’s Union Pinot Grigio tastes better than it smells (which is really not a great quality for wine) and the palate has honey, melon, and citrus dancing across the tongue. As the wine warms, the honey notes become more prominent, especially in the finish.

Chardonnay

Essentially Geared Chardonnay

Happy to drink: 5/6

Imagine our surprise. After our completely negative reaction to the Essentially Geared Sauvignon Blanc, the Essentially Geared Chardonnay ended up being our choice in this category. It is a completely solid example of an American Chardonnay, with aromas of apple, butter, vanilla, and lemon. Buttered popcorn and apple pie might be a great way to describe this wine, as yeasty and citrusy notes on the palate gave way to more vanilla and spice on the finish. Those vanilla and spice flavors mean that this wine was almost certainly “oaked”, either by adding oak chips to the stainless steel tank it was made in, or (unlikely but possible) actually aging this Chardonnay in oak barrels before canning. We would recommend, and would pretty happily drink again.

House Wine Chardonnay

Happy to drink: 1/6

Everything that was good about the Essentially Geared Chardonnay turned bad in the House Wine Chardonnay. Harsh, funky, yeasty, and reductive describe the palate, to the point where you might be forgiven for thinking what you were about to drink was toxic. Oily, weird, harsh vanilla crawled across the palate, ending in a sour finish with some lingering oak.

Riesling

Companion 2017 Riesling 

Happy to drink: 5/6

The one riesling I could find a single can of was this Companion 2017. What’s most fascinating about this can is that we mostly agreed we would be happy to drink it, and we couldn’t for the life of us agree on what it is. Take the aroma: Some reviewers got apple and rose, some got oak and citrus, some got almond cake and dill. Or how about the palate: Raisin and yogurt, or maybe apples and flowers, or possibly tropical fruit. The only place there was consensus was around texture: fizzy. One reviewer thought it had finished fermenting in the can. One reviewer wanted a whole glass of it. Most of us want to drink it again, and think you should too.

Rosé

Welcome to the motherlode. Far and away, rosé was the largest category, with seven. What can we say about them? Mostly that they were rosés. They almost all bore those floral-and-fruity characteristics, and for whatever reason rosé seems to be a natural fit for a can.

Underwood Rosé

Happy to drink: 3/6

The Underwood Rosé is fine. It wants you to know that it’s a rosé, with florals and berries on the nose, but reveals some more interesting notes on the palate. Some of us got watermelon, some of us got blood orange, some of us got sweet scones. It’s a rosé. Not bad, but we can do better.

Tangent Rosé

Happy to drink: 3/6

The Tangent shows some different qualities in rose-colored wine. Bubblegum notes were present in the aroma and the palate, although the aroma also had notes of seawater that were a little off-putting to some. The finish was, in something of a pattern for canned wines, tinted chemical and bitter. While we couldn’t agree on this one and wouldn’t recommend it, this one does suggest a pairing of some store-bought sushi for that parking lot lunch when you’re on the go.

She Can Rosé

Happy to drink: 0/6

One of our reviewers put it best when she said “She can, but she shouldn’t”. None of us were happy with this wine. Basic aromas of rosehip jam, citrus, and minerals to a palate that one reviewer called “cherry cola, watered down”. The color here was the lightest of all the rosés, so light it could be confused for a Pinot Grigio.

Dark Horse Rosé

Happy to drink: 5/6

Dark Horse remained consistent throughout our tastings, and the rosé was no exception. Aromas of strawberry, roses, lavender, and minerality became a palate of berries, stronger minerality, and stone fruit. The Dark Horse is sweet, but not cloying, and it’s one failing is that the finish goes nowhere.

Crafter’s Union 2017 Rosé

Happy to drink: 2/6

It was here that I despaired of any Crafter’s Union wines being good, despite the truly fantastic can art. Nothing really stuck out about this rosé, it had the florals-and-fruit you would expect, and if it had any distinguishing marks it was around the effervescent texture and the artificial flavor finish. Skip this and drink the Dark Horse.

Cupcake Rosé

Happy to drink: 5/6

For this rosé, I want you to go back and read the review of the Dark Horse rosé. Got that in your mind? Good. Now add more nectarine and bubblegum, give it a very nice, thick, rich, chewy, almost chardonnay-like texture, a hint of chemicals and lemon juice on the finish, and voilá. You have the Cupcake Rosé. We liked it, and you probably will too.

Una Lou Rosé

Happy to drink: 3/6

I want to like this rosé. The label is simple and charming, the story behind it (it’s named after the winemakers’ young daughter!) is heart-warming, and some of the proceeds go to charities. The ecosystem around this rosé is everything Adult Juice Box wants to support. If all that sounds good to you, go buy it right now, preferably from a local wine shop, and skip the rest of this review.

I can’t give this rosé a full recommendation, however, because we were split on whether or not it’s a good rosé. It was overpoweringly floral and mineral for some, without the fruit balance that they were looking for. A number of the group thought it was sour, or had an artificial finish. Some people liked the sour strawberry on the palate, others thought it was too much. Half the group said they would go out and buy it, the other half weren’t happy to drink it. While I hate to do this, you, dear reader, are going to have to make up your own mind on this one.

Sparkling

Underwood Rosé Bubbles

Happy to drink: 4/6

An Underwood we can recommend! Taking the rosé and making it sparkle changes the flavors and aromas, lightening them up, adding a bit of tartness to the palate, and dancing across the tongue. The finish was still a little chemical, which is one of the reasons this wine wasn’t recommended across the board, but this wine is an excellent choice when you’re on the patio or by the pool (or chilling in a bubble bath) and want to feel a little pampered.

Underwood The Bubbles

Happy to drink: 3/6

How ironic it is that we can recommend the Underwood Rosé Bubbles, but not the The Bubbles. The aroma on this sparkling wine is yeasty and funky, with a hint of citrus and stone fruit. The palate is like a fizzy apple tart, with some “generic sparkling wine” flavors. The finish was yeast and honey, with a hint of chemicals. While we can’t recommend this whole-heartedly, it would probably make some fine French 75s or Mimosas.

Essentially Geared Bubbles

Happy to drink: 4/6

Dial up the apple and citrus flavors from the Underwood, get rid of the weird chemical aftertaste, and you have the Essentially Geared. This sparkler tends more towards “caramel apple” than “apple tart”, and is better for it. Hints of lychee and tropical fruit drift through the aroma and palate, and this is a sparkling wine that would be closer to my choice for a patio sipper. This is the best of the Essentially Geared we tried, and worth getting.

Reds

I could only find four standalone red cans, and by the time we got here we were so desperate for some red wine that our reviews might be a little skewed.

Crafter’s Union Red Blend

Happy to drink: 5/6

All the quality that was missing from the other Crafter’s Union wines was delivered like a punch to the palate in their red blend. This wine is fantastic, and I wish I had some as I’m sitting here writing this article. The aroma is the smell of your favorite pie bakery, red fruit and vanilla and smoked butter, cinnamon and black pepper. The palate can best be described as a camp fire fruit cobbler, with more hints of that red fruit and smoke. Some leather, tobacco, and Dr. Pepper drift across the palate, and lead to a vanilla-and-spice heavy finish. This wine was definitely oaked. The tannins sit well on the tongue, a little donut-y but not bad. Go buy this, and buy one for me while you’re there.

House Wine Red Blend

Happy to drink: 1/6

At the other end of the spectrum from the Crafter’s Union, we have this House Wine Red Blend. Aromas of licorice, tobacco, olives and red fruit become a palate of green vegetable, pepper, and dark plum. The green vegetable notes continue through to the finish, which is something of a minestrone or primavera taste. The tannins form something of a U on the front and sides of the mouth, nothing in the middle. We don’t recommend this wine.

Simpler Wines Red Blend

Happy to drink: 4/6

Similar in some ways to the Crafter’s Union, the Simpler wines emphasized the fennel and pepper on the nose, while still leaning heavily into red fruit and dark fruit. The palate was white pepper and butter, with some cola. The tannins were like three lines down the middle and sides of the tongue, but the wine had some nice chew to its texture. Oakiness and blackberry juice made up the finish, and overall this was a nice red blend.

Nomadica Red Blend

Happy to drink: 5/6

Ending our tasting day on something of a high note, the Nomadica was the only red wine we tried that had hints of undergrowth on the aroma, what is sometimes referred to as “sous bois” in wine — that aroma of walking through a forest and smelling the combination of new growth and decay. Dark berry, pepper, and chocolate notes were also strongly present. The palate was surprisingly sweet, with dried fruit, tobacco, and green pepper notes. The tannins made an anchor down the tongue, and gave way to a finish of tart cherry and vanilla and spice. This is an excellent can of red wine.

Crushing the Cans

So where does our tasting day leave us? Out of the 24 wines we tried, 11 met our bar for being recommended. If you had told me before this experiment I would be recommending half the canned wine I could get my hands on, I would haven’t have believed you. I expected a few diamonds in the rough, but this is a better-than-expected showing for a style and format of wine that is still in its early days.

There is canned wine in the world that can hold up to or exceed bottled wine at the same price point. To be clear; most of these cans were around $7, and contained about half a bottle’s volume. Some of the wines we tried blew the pants off some $14 750ml bottles I’ve had; these cans are worth going out and getting on their own merits.

As the craft beer industry makes canning operations more prevalent and more efficient (there are canneries-in-a-truck that will come your local craft brewer), my hope is that we’ll see more craft winemakers selling their better wines in this newer format. There’s a future where picking up some of your favorite wines from Napa or Sonoma or Amador doesn’t involve filling a 20 pound case with bottles, but only requires six pack you keep in the iced cooler in your trunk during your day of tasting. To that idea, we at Adult Juice Box say: “Cheers”

Here’s our favorite wines from the day of tasting:

  • Essentially Geared Chardonnay(5/6)
  • Companion 2017 Riesling(5/6)
  • Dark Horse Rosé(5/6)
  • Cupcake Rosé(5/6)
  • Crafter’s Union Red Blend(5/6)
  • Nomadica Red Blend(5/6)
  • Starborough Sauvignon Blanc(4/6)
  • Dark Horse Pinot Grigio(4/6)
  • Underwood Rosé Bubbles(4/6)
  • Essentially Geared Bubbles(4/6)
  • Simpler Wines Red Blend(4/6)

How to Drink Canned Wine

On the one hand, this article is nonsense. Pop the top and start sipping, right? We’ve known how to drink from cans for most of our lives. If that’s your style, cool, see you in the next article.


On the other hand, canned wine is still wine. Some of it is bad wine. Some of it, as you’ll see from the other articles in this issue, is quite good wine, wine good enough to seek out and enjoy. In all cases, you can choose to drink canned wine the same way you drink bottled wine, and get more out of it as a result.


In our last issue, we talked about our approach to tasting wine, which is:

  1. Swirl the wine
  2. Sniff the wine
  3. Taste the wine for acid and alcohol
  4. Taste the wine for it’s palate and texture on your tongue 
  5. Taste the wine for it’s finish and any other characteristics
  6. Color — check it, try to categorize it
  7. Enjoy the rest of the glass (or don’t!)

All these steps still apply to canned wine, with some slight changes. First, let’s talk about temperature. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting a six pack of canned white or rosé wines in a cooler, filling that cooler with ice, taking it to the beach or the park, popping the top, and drinking deep. We filled a cooler with ice to chill all our whites and rosés for our big canned wine tasting day.


But canned wine is still wine, so you can do better if you want to get more out of it. You can start by pouring that wine into a glass, which will let you observe the pale straw or Instagrammable pink color of the wine. Once it’s in a glass, you can clink that glass with a friend’s glass and follow our tasting guide above, to really see what the wine has to offer.
Now that the wine is in the glass, you can use your hands to warm it up a bit from the ice cold cooler, and wake up the compounds in the wine that produce more of the aroma and flavor. Ice-cold is cooler than whites and rosés want to be, so a little bit of hand warming will help the wine “open up”. You probably only want a little bit of warmth, here, and alternatively you could chill the cans in the fridge instead of an ice bath.


You might notice I’ve only talked about whites and rosés so far. That’s because while you could fridge-chill your reds a little bit if you really wanted, most reds, especially canned reds, want to be closer to cellar temperature or room temperature. You’re going to miss some of the flavors in the wine if you get it ice-cold, and you’re going to freeze your hands waiting for it to open up. I especially recommend pouring red wines into a glass, for two reasons. 1) I always find it easier to drink from a glass than a can, and red wine spills aren’t my definition of fun. 2) Red wines are fun to look at in the glass. Sitting on your patio in the summer, having a glass of red wine in your hand to catch the light from the setting sun, turning the opaque garnet into crystal ruby in the fading rays — at Adult Juice Box we call that a hell of a good time.


Enjoy drinking your can at your own pace, and remember to recycle.

Issue 2 Editor’s Note

A few weeks ago, I had this idea. Step one: Buy a can of every wine they would sell a single can of at Safeway. Step two: have some people over (initially just Liam and myself, thankfully expanded to six by tasting day) to try them all. Step 3: See which, if any, we could recommend as being good, as being wine we would happily drink and encourage others to drink.

We ended up with 24 cans of wine. We consumed all of these in a 4 hour period. Most of them were from Safeway, three were from Decant in San Francisco, one was from Trader Joe’s and one was from the fridge in a friend’s office.


If you’re asking “why would I do this”, you’re not alone. Wine has a lot of social baggage wrapped up around who drinks it, how it sold, how it’s drunk, and what’s “high brow” or “low brow”. Canned wine isn’t necessarily sneered at, because it’s often not even considered as something worth study. It’s dismissed as “quaffing wine” or “jug wine”, and not subjected to scrutiny.


I think this attitude is a mistake. The wine industry is changing, consumer tastes are changing, even the preferred format is changing. Many of the people I talk to who want to enjoy wine, or who already do enjoy wine, want to enjoy wine a glass or two a night. Some of them have partners or friends who don’t drink, or who are allergic to alcohol. Yes, our wine preservation technology grows by leaps and bounds every year, but the 750ml format is still a hindrance more than a help to a vast number of aficionados.


So let’s take canned wine seriously enough to appreciate it, or at least judge it on its own merits, and encourage our friends to buy the wines worth drinking. By doing so, we’ll hopefully encourage producers to adopt and expand canned wine as a consumer-friendly alternative to the traditional bottle.

– Philip James, EiC

Review from AJB Issue 1

2016 Houndstooth Rorick Heritage Vineyard Barbera Calaveras County. Immediately this wine hit me with black pepper and butter-basted steak and fettuccine Alfredo. Once I got under that first wave of aroma, I found the dessert course for this ultra-rich dinner; raspberries and plums and hints of spice, opening to a pie crust yeastiness. The steakhouse meal delivered by the aroma and front-palate gave way to fruit that was more heavily spiced and almost underripe in it’s sourness. This is the wine you want when you’re having a Summer barbecue with fresh berry cobbler to follow, and it’s only it’s tannins that keep it from being truly special for me: They’re well-balanced, but thin.

2017 Heidi Schrock Furmint Burgenland. Imagine you’re at a trendy restaurant in downtown Oakland, and you order the cheese board. The waiter brings you a hunk of chipped slate on which are a dizzying array of meats, cheeses, crackers, and fruit. An opening in the middle of it all is unfilled, and as you watch the waiter opens a jar and pours a healthy portion of Orange Blossom honey into the right onto the slate. That minerality and floral sweetness hits your nose all at once, and you dig in. That is this wine in a nutshell. It comes from the Austrian-Hungarian border, and this wine draws on the sweet wine roots of the area to make what is effectively orange honey as a dry white wine.

2015 Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Napa Chardonnay. Here I’ve done a more broken-down tasting.

Aroma: Butter. (Yes, that’s all I wrote. Butter.)
Weight: Medium
Texture: Butter, acidity
Taste: Butter, butterscotch, nuts, thyme, minerality
Finish: Nice long finish that clung to the palate well.
Color: Pale yellow

These notes might lead you to believe that the butter flavor in this Napa Chardonnay was overwhelming. It was not. This wasn’t movie popcorn butter, this was butter sauce, butterscotch like I said above, with an emphasis on the butter. Excellently balanced between acidity, fruitiness, and oak flavors.

V Coturri Founder’s Series “Red”. A wine that I almost couldn’t believe I was drinking as I was drinking it.

Aroma: Black cherry, aged vanilla, raisin
Weight: Medium
Texture: Rough cotton, woolly tannins
Taste: Black cherry, raising, caramelized fruit, raisin tart, golden raisin spice roll
Finish: Raisin and oak, dry, slightly woody
Color: Rusty tawny

Do the notes above put you in mind of anything? If you thought to yourself, “boy, that sounds like a Port”, you’d be right. The Coturri Red is effectively a dry Port, and it fascinated me so much I’ve bought three bottles. If you see this, and you have any inclination towards Port, buy it. Buy as much of it as you can. It is excellent.

Finally, we turn to a wine that not only surprised me, but has surprised every person I’ve tried it with. The  2017 Pheasant’s Tears Shavkapito is a wine from Georgia (the country, not the state) that blew me away with it’s complexity, and the complexity of it’s minerality. There’s elements of clay (which makes sense given the wine is aged in clay pots) but also shale and petrichor. There’s blackberry and black cherry and spice and it’s all wrapped in a tannin bundle that cries out for decanting, but also makes your tongue sit up and pay attention. There aren’t my normal tasting notes for this, but I will say this wine has made me more excited than I ever thought I would be about Georgian wines.

How to Taste Wine

I have a Rule 1 when it comes to drinking wine: Drink what you like. Most wine professionals that I respect agree with this rule, even those with serious wine tasting training. But if the goal is drinking what you like, what’s the deal with the forensic tasting that the professionals seem to do so often? What’s with all the swirling, and sniffing, and tilting and holding up to the light?

That process is for many, myself included, one of the ways we find out if a wine we’re drinking is wine we like, and more importantly why we like it. So here I’m going to go through my wine tasting process, adapted from a number of books and talking with wine professionals about how they drink wine.

Image: Philip James

Swirl the wine. With the wine glass on the table, move the glass in little circles so the wine starts spinning up the sides but does not go over. Aroma is a huuuuuge part of how we taste, and swirling the wine up the glass releases more of the components that make up a wine’s aroma into the air.

Image: Philip James

Sniff the wine. Get your nose way deep into the glass and take a bunch of short sniffs or one long one — whatever works best for you to get the most of the aroma into your nose. While you’re doing that, try to find things in the aroma. For white wine, you’re normally going to find citrus, tree fruit, tropical fruit, minerality (smelling like wet rocks is a desirable quality for many wines) and floral scents. For red wine, we’re going to look for red fruit or black fruit or berries, as well as earthiness and spiciness. We do this so we can start trying to build a profile of the wine in our minds. This profile is going to help us determine whether (a) we like the wine and (b) if we like it, what we like about it so we can find other wines we might like. If you’re at a tasting room, they might have one of those “Flavor Finder Wheels” handy.

Taste the wine. At long last! We can drink the wine! Hold on though. To help us build that profile, we don’t want to be taking big gulps of wine. We want to take a small sip, swirl it around the mouth, checking for how it feels against cheeks, tongue, and teeth. This is looking for the texture of the wine. At the same time, we’re checking the taste on the tongue and how it tastes in feels in the back of the throat. … WOOF! That’s a lot to try to get out of one taste. Which is why the next step is…

Taste the wine. Give it another sip, swirl it around again in the mouth, and check for the things in step 3 you were looking for. Texture, taste, and finish. Once you’ve done that, it’s time for the next step!

Taste the wine. What, again? Yes, again. This is where you make an important final decision: Do you like the wine? Now, maybe you knew this from the first sip, or even from the first sniff, but three tastes will help you definitively know whether this is a wine you’re going to be taking home, buying again, or leaving at the tasting room.

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Check the color. A lot of tasting guides say to start with color, but I find that color is way less important than aroma or taste. Color can confirm things you find in the wine through sniffing and tasting, but in my experience it can’t tell you if you’re going to like the wine or not. What you’re looking for here is depth of red in red wine, which will tell you things about how dark the grape is, and how long the wine was left on the skins of the grape in fermenting. In white wine, the darker the color the more likely it is that the wine was aged on oak.
Enjoy the wine! Continue the tasting, share the bottle with friends, or decide that the best thing you can do for this wine is let someone else enjoy it while you find one that fits you.

Remember, this process is supposed to help you find wines you like, and help figure out what parts of the wine you like best, so you can remember the ones that that make your mind sing, and find their equal again. In the same way there there’s no universal best flavor, there’s not universal best wine. There’s the wines that are best for you, and the wines that are best for someone else. Like what you like.

Here’s the process one more time:

  1. Swirl
  2. Sniff
  3. Taste
  4. Taste
  5. Taste
  6. Color
  7. Enjoy!