Welcome to the Quad-City Times' new wine column. My name is Kate Murphy and I will be your bi-monthly tour guide and try to keep you updated on all things wine. I write about wine events, great wineries to visit, wine gadgets, winemaker profiles, what wines to drink now and what wines to lay down. I will do my due diligence to unearth it all. And, of course, I will keep you posted on what I am drinking and how to pair it for a better wine drinking experience.

Visit the online version of this column at qctimes.com and share what you are drinking, your recommendations, experiences, questions, comments and reviews.

Let's kick this column off, starting with the basics:

7-S Tasting Process

Have you ever found yourself staring at your goblet of wine, not understanding what all the fuss is about while those around you massage, woo and lovingly caress their glassware? You don’t have to be pretentious or well-versed in the art of wine-speak to participate intelligently in wine conversation. Nor do you have to write for Wine Spectator to be qualified to rate the glass of wine you’re holding. The single most important rule of wine tasting is this: Know that your taste is the only one that matters. As one wine expert friend once said to me, “Wine is like music. There are lots of experts, but it all comes down to what you like. It’s extremely personal.”

Sure, it can be intimidating to sit with the seemingly incomprehensible language of the trendy wine drinkers around you, but if you follow seven simple steps, all beginning with the letter S, you’ll be relaxed and confident enough to enjoy, ask questions and learn.

The 7-S System. See. Swirl. Smell. Sip. Swish. Spit or Swallow. It’s a simple approach and will provide the tools to feel comfortable in the wild world of wine, whether you’d like to conquer the most arduous tasting or simply better understand wine and your own palette while sitting on your back deck. The best way to become more knowledgeable about wine is to taste and share your findings.

See. See the wine and examine the color. Wines come in many colors and may give good clues about the quality and characteristics. Is the white wine pale yellow, a fair orange, or vibrant gold? Is your rosé a blushing pink, an intense crimson or a pale orchid petal? What about the many shades of red? Ruby, copper, maroon, purple, brown, garnet, black cherry: these are just a few of red wine’s many colors.

Here’s a tip: Hold your glass of wine up to a white wall, white dinner linen or a piece of white paper to get a truer idea of the color. Keep in mind the color of the wine doesn’t always indicate its intensity. A dark red, for instance, might surprise you with its crisp, light flavor. The color around the edge of the wine can also indicate the age of the wine. In an older wine you will see hues of amber. Finally, check for sediment and clarity in your glass: sediment or muddiness can be attributed to winemaking methods used in fermenting, filtering and organic production.

Swirl. Swirling the wine in your glass essentially prepares you for the next step of smelling. Swirl the wine counterclockwise in your glass for two to three seconds to allow your wine to interact with the air, providing more surface area to liberate the bouquet to enhance the wine’s natural aromas.

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Smell. Now stick your nose deep into the chamber of the glass or goblet. Concentrate. Is the smell inviting or offensive? Does the odor remind you of anything? Try to associate the aroma of the wine with smells from your everyday life. Talk about them with others when possible; it may cue your brain into what smell you are associating with it. Pick out notes of aromas found in flowers, spices, fruits, plants or your father’s old smoking jacket.

Tip: if you get hints of wet cardboard, vinegar or rust through your nostrils, take heed. That wine you’re about to sip may be bad or corked.

Sip and swish. OK, swig. Take a big gulp of your wine. But don’t swallow just yet. Let the wine roll around in your mouth and on your tongue, chew it up and let it tickle all the different taste buds in your mouth. Notice if the wine is dry or sweet. A sweet wine is one that has a higher level of residual sugar. An off-dry wine is one that is slightly sweet, and a dry wine is not sweet, as all the sugar has decomposed into alcohol. Determine if there are notes of fruit, bitters, floral or earth (yes, this can resemble dirt). If none of these descriptions stand out, consider the wine balanced. Is it light, medium or heavy bodied? The bolder and more robust the wine is in your mouth, the heavier it is.

Tip: If the wine burns a little in your mouth, this is a good indicator it has a higher alcohol content. You’ll want to keep this in mind as you continue to the next step.

Swallow or spit. Taste how the wine changes in your mouth as it settles. Now spit or swallow, the choice is yours, but either way savor the finish - a good wine will linger long after it leaves your mouth. The finish can help you decide about food pairing. Does the wine stay on your tongue with an oily finish? Or is it crisp and dry? As a very general rule, bolder wines will stand up to heavy or rich foods, lighter wines will pair well with lighter food. As you explore and taste more wines and become a more interested critic, you might consider taking a few notes for recollection and a better understanding of how a wine changes with age or vintage.

This 7-S method may help take some stress off your wine experience and make it what it should be -- interesting, educational and fun. 

Kate Murphy is the wine writer for the Quad-City Times. She can be reached by e-mail at kate.murphy@lee.net.

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