Wine Tasting For the Rest of Us: How to Enjoy the Experience Like an Expert

Wine tasting isn’t just for wine aficionados, and Jayme Neumann and Chalet Sturgeon from Local Pour want you to know it can also be a lot of fun. Local Pour is a “tasting room with a twist” in Sawyer, where guests can explore a variety of Michigan-made wine, beer, and spirits under one roof. With so many choices to sample in a single location, it’s a great place to begin your wine education. Regardless of your level of wine snobbery (or lack thereof), wine tasting is a wonderful way to learn more about different varietals made locally and find your new favorite.

Chalet Sturgeon and Jayme Neumann, Local Pour

Where to Begin?

When you arrive at any tasting room, you will likely be presented with a menu from which to make our selections. But, where should you begin? At Local Pour, Chalet and Jayme recommend you start with dry whites, move to rose’, then onto dry reds, and finish with sweet wines last, in order of lowest residual sugar to the highest.

Adam McBride, Hickory Creek Winery

According to Adam McBride, winemaker and owner of Hickory Creek Winery in Buchanan, a rustic and approachable 38 acre estate with a big red barn tasting room, “When you taste something sweet, anything you taste with less sweetness after that will stand out as bitter and less fruity.  Your palate actually changes temporarily in the same way it does when you brush your teeth and then taste orange juice.  It’s not the end of the world to go back to something drier, just try to cleanse your palate first. A salty cracker is perfect for this.”

While cleansing your palette between samples isn’t required, Jayme and Chalet suggest that it allows you to get all the flavors of the next wine without interruption from the previous wine, making a clearer distinction between the two. 

Swirling and Slurping

If you really want to level up your tasting game, there are two techniques that will allow you to detect different flavors in each variety – swirling and slurping. Have you ever noticed someone swirling the wine around in their glass as soon as it is poured in? This allows the wine to “open” and as air gets to the wine, the aroma will be more pronounced. According to Adam, “Smell and taste are closely related and this step allows us to start putting together the flavor profile of the wine.” 

After smell comes taste, and Jayme encourages her guests to slurp in a small amount and allow it to fill their mouth before they swallow. She says, “This technique helps you determine where the wine flavor lands – sour will be detected on the sides of the tongue, bitter in the back, and sweet on the tip of the tongue. Adam agrees and says, “It’s important to get enough in each sip to coat the palate and get the wine in contact with as many taste buds as possible. We should be able to pick up flavors and aromas that come from the actual grapes, but also from the fermentation vessel and any bottle aging it has gone through. In addition to flavor, the actual tasting is where we are able to feel the wine — like acidity, tannin and the mild heat sensation from the alcohol in each sip.”

What’s In a Year?

The year, or vintage, indicates when the grapes were harvested to make that particular wine. As Adam describes, “Grapes might be harvested in the fall, go through fermentation in a stainless steel tank for a few weeks, then get pressed and put through another process that can take weeks to months called malolactic fermentation. Once complete, the wine might then be moved to barrels for aging for months to years.  Then the wine could then be moved back to a tank for a few months for storage, and then get filtered and bottled. Then it can age in the bottle for a year and next thing you know, it’s 2026 and the winery is releasing a “new” 2021 vintage wine.” 

So is the old adage true – the older it gets, the better it gets? Adam says that older is not always better, and in fact, “Most light and medium bodied white wine should be consumed within a year of bottling.  It probably won’t get better with age and might actually get worse as it slowly oxidizes.  Fuller bodied white wines can age a few years, but a general rule is to enjoy white wine while it is young, fresh and bright.  Reds, on the other hand, can benefit from some bottle aging.” 

The Ultimate Goal

From the perspective of a sommelier (the person on the other side of the tasting room bar pouring the wine), the overall goal is for the guests to enjoy the wines and the experience. This could include conversations about how the wine was made and education on the different varieties of reds and whites. Jayme from Local Pour encourages guests to be open to trying new things and reminds them that the most expensive wine is not necessarily always the best wine. She says, “We hope that people that visit Local Pour and learn some new things about wine. Whether it be about the vineyard, the growing and making process, or how to taste wine and distinguish aromas and flavors. The overall goal is to try something new and find your new favorite.” Jayme adds, “Michigan makes some amazing Rieslings, both dry and sweet. On the dry red side, Cabernet Franc is another favorite and one I encourage people to try.”

At both locations, Local Pour and Hickory Creek Winery, they provide an experience that is neither intimidating nor pretentious. Adam states, “I hear people qualify their feedback with “well, I’m not a wine aficionado, but…”  However, often the best feedback for me as a winemaker comes from someone with very little wine experience. They don’t come in with preconceived notions of how certain wines are supposed to taste. I’ve actually modified my own tasting notes after interactions like that.  It’s a cool moment when I learn something about my own wines from someone experiencing them for the first time.”

What Do The Experts Recommend?

So the bottom line is to keep an open mind, try new things, and figure out what you like and what you don’t like when wine tasting…finding a favorite (or three) before you ever buy a bottle. And what are the experts recommending these days?

Hickory Creek is known for their dry wines, both white and red, however their dry roses are usually popular too. When pressed to pick a recommendation, Adam would steer his guests to a crisp white like their 2020 Pinot Gris followed by their earthy 2020 Pinot Noir. 

As purveyors of a wide variety of Michigan wines, Jayme and Chalet recommend a dry Marland Cabernet Franc, a sweet White Pine Traminette, and a bubbly Mawby Detroit. 

Where Can You Learn More?

Wine education for all is a passion for Local Pour, which is why they offer a Wine Education class open to the public the third Wednesday of every month from 5:30-7:00 pm. Guests will learn how to taste wine, distinguish between varietals and vintages, and what goes into making a bottle of wine! For $12, build your wine knowledge, taste five different wines, and walk away with tips to share with your friends on your next Michigan wine tasting adventure.

This article – and your next bottle of wine – are brought to you by Local Pour, a unique tasting room in Sawyer featuring a wide variety of Michigan made beer, wine, and spirits. Local Pour gives everyone “a seat at the table” to taste, learn, and laugh while celebrating Michigan’s spirited bounty. 

About the Writer: Stacey Martin is a local author and freelance writer with a passion for promoting Southwest Michigan. Take writing off your to-do list and inquire about content creation for your business at staceymartinwrites.com. She is the author of We Grow Kids Here and New Girl at Church, and the creator and host of “The Folks Back Home” podcast.

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