Expert Wine Tasting Tips

Sip with style and confidence. Broadmoor sommelier Michael “Bucky” Buckelew gives tasting tips in advance of the Grand Tasting at the Wine Festival of Colorado Springs.

The Wine Festival of Colorado Springs offers scads of chances to sample wine over its three days. The centerpiece is the Grand Tasting, where attendees could try as many as 300 wines in a single evening—good luck with that. To help you get the most out of the experience, we talked with Michael “Bucky” Buckelew, a 27-year veteran of the business and lead sommelier at the Broadmoor, about the ins and outs of wine tasting.

Springs: What’s up with all the swirling?

Buckalew: It is a funny thing that we super wine geeks do. My wife has caught me several times swirling my water glass, and has asked, “What the heck are you doing, Bucky?” But it is a valuable technique anybody interested in unlocking the secrets of a glass of wine can utilize. Swirling your wine glass facilitates the incorporation of oxygen into the glass, thus freeing volatile and fleeting aromatics that represent at least 80 percent of the enjoyment of a fine wine.

Do you need a special glass to drink?

A special glass is nice, but you don’t need to go crazy. At home we use a simple $10 a stem all-purpose glass made by Schott Zwiesel that’s a little over 18 ounces in volume. It is perfect for every wine we might drink— from a sparkling Champagne to an off-dry riesling to a powerful, structured barolo.

sommelier Michael "Buckey" Buckalew
Sommelier Michael “Buckey” Buckalew

Do I hold it by the stem of the glass or the bowl?

Always try to hold your wine glass by the stem. If the wine’s been served at a thoughtful, correct temperature, it’ll help to maintain that temperature for a longer time period. I like to call the holding of the wine glass by the bowl the “football grab,” and it has the strong tendency to put big fingerprints on the glass. They can ultimately obscure the way the wine actually looks, which can oftentimes be quite beautiful.

How does what I like to drink (lemonade, say, or gin and tonics) tell you about what varietals I might like?

The lemonade drinker will gravitate toward New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, albariño from Rías Baixas in Spain, and chardonnay as it is produced in Chablis, France. If you like G&T’s, you are going to love you some chenin blanc from the Loire Valley in France, verdicchio from Le Marche on the Adriatic Coast of Italy, and most definitely riesling from the Mosel valley of Germany.

What am I looking for when I smell a wine?

Really try to isolate the different aromas in a fine wine. Take small steps at first and always try to smell/taste with other people. It’s a technique called “collaborative tasting” and can be enormously helpful. But what you’re really looking for ultimately are smells that you are familiar with and can form a connection with so that you will easily recall them in the future.

How can you possibly smell leather or forest floor in a wine?

Yes, it does seem crazy that you can smell so many different things in a glass of wine. Hundreds of volatile, aromatic chemical compounds are created during the fermentation of grape juice into wine—leather and forest floor being two of the more evocative expressions of these compounds. The memories of the fragrance we have locked up in our brain can help us to isolate many of these compounds and associate them with particular places or things. The thing that really makes drinking wine such a compelling experience is the fact that it tastes like everything but grapes.

What’s a reserve wine?

The term reserve has no legal definition in the U.S. In other parts of the world, in particular Italy and Spain, the terms riserva and reserva are legally binding and respectively connote a wine that is of superior quality because of a combination of factors including aging and potentially a rigorous selection of the wine put into bottle.

Is old better than young in a wine?

Old can sometimes be better, or sometimes it can just be old.

Why is New World wine different from Old World wine? Does it taste different?

The Old World is specifically Europe and the Middle East. The New World is everywhere else, including the U.S., South America, Australia and New Zealand. Exactly why wine from the New World tastes different from wine grown in the Old World is difficult to precisely define, but I believe it is due dominantly to two factors: First, the climate of wine growing regions in the New World are just a little bit warmer, resulting in wines that have a stronger expression of sweet fruit flavors; and second, since the Old World has had Vitis vinifera vine (the native European grape vine species) planted in vineyard sites for multiple millennia—as opposed to a max of just a few hundred years in the New World—the wines in the Old World have really incorporated the flavor of the earth into the matrix of their complexity.

There are a lot of wines to sample at the Grand Tasting. How do I keep my palette on track?

A simple three-word mantra: Always be spitting.

Wine Festival 2018

Read “Wine Festival of Colorado Springs: Toast to French Wines” for the full schedule, March 8-10, 2018.

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