When you stick your nose into a glass of wine, what do you smell? Grapes? Alcohol? You’re not alone.

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The aftermath of wine tasting with Brian McClintic at Bodega Wine Bar.

Wine tasting can be intimidating, but Master Sommelier Brian McClintic says anyone can do it, it’s just a matter of learning the language. McClintic is one of the sommeliers profiled in the documentary film SOMM which follows four friends on their quest to pass the Master Sommelier exam, a feat that barely 200 individuals worldwide have accomplished. McClintic didn’t start learning about wine until 2008 and he’s the first to admit that early on he had no idea how to look for certain characteristics in a glass of wine. Oak? He couldn’t smell it until someone said “vanilla” and then it clicked. Like any language, you need to learn the vocabulary.

Over a glass of wine at Bodega Wine Bar, I asked him for advice on how casual wine drinkers can develop a keener palate. Below was some of his advice:

  • Start a wine tasting group with likeminded friends who are at a similar skill level
  • Look at the wine. If you have a glass of red wine and you can see your fingers out the back, you know it’s a thin skinned grape therefore it’s not Syrah, Malbec, Cabernet, Cabernet Franc or Merlot. From sight alone you can tell that you’re in Pinot Noir, Grenache, Sangiovese or Nebbiolo terriroty.
  • Do swirl the glass. Oxygen coming in contact with the wine will release flavor and aroma.

Also, NPR’s The Salt recently posted a convenient list of mangeable tasting tips as well.

In the audio below McClintic explains what happens behind the doors of the Master Sommerlier exam and admits that even he gets duped by wines all the time. To test his chops we subject him to a blind tasting. Listen to find out how he fares:

Watch a trailer for the film SOMM below. You can download the entire film from i Tunes.

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