How To Enjoy Wine – Any Time, Any Place, Any Price –

How To Enjoy Wine – Any Time, Any Place, Any Price

A Little Knowledge Gives a Superb Taste Experience

enjoy wine - science of wine

Enjoy wine? You’re in excellent company.

But if you enjoy wine even a little bit, you could enjoy wine a lot more.

You ask, how? By draining your wallet on expensive bottles?

No, not necessarily. The price of wine, and what you think the wine’s price is, are only two of many factors that bring wine pleasure. And the other factors, which greatly enhance the taste of your wine, don’t necessarily cost money at all.

This page and its links will show you what wine experts and scientists have learned about how we enjoy wine. And best of all, we’ll see how to use that info to enjoy wine all the more.

This is the “Enjoy Wine” Cornerstone or Hub Page. It’s a step-by-step guide for How To Enjoy Wine, with links to supporting posts about enjoying wine.

Wine is Amazingly Popular

Are you a snob if you enjoy wine? That attitude is far out of date.

Here’s what we all need to know about the popularity of wine compared with other alcoholic beverages:

  • Beer edges out wine and liquor as the most popular American beverage: 40% versus 30% and 26%. (These and all numbers apply to Americans who drink alcohol at least occasionally.)
  • However, that survey includes everyone. It doesn’t apply to a lot of people. It may not even apply to you. Here are some specifics:
  • College graduates prefer wine to beer, 44% to 35%. (The other 21% presumably prefer liquor.)
  • Higher-income adults (those in households with income over $100,000) prefer wine (37%) to all other alcoholic drinks.
  • Women prefer wine (46%) to all other alcohols.

A Founding Father Weighs In

We might wonder whether these opinion surveys are ephemeral. That they reflect temporary fads.

To counter that idea I offer the wisdom of one of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin. In 1779 Franklin wrote a letter to his friend André Morellet which among other things discussed the Biblical miracle in which Jesus converted water to wine. Franklin wrote in French, and the English translation of the most-quoted part of his letter reads:

…wine [is] a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.

Now that we have both historical utterances and modern surveys to support the quest, let’s dig into the topic of how to enjoy wine to the utmost!

I. Enjoy Wine – How and Where You Drink Matters

There’s a lot more to wine than saying “I enjoy wine” or “I don’t enjoy wine.”

It’s not a binary situation, a simple yes-no. There are many degrees of wine pleasure between those two extremes.

If you talk with people who enjoy wine, you find that they don’t enjoy everywine in everysituation, regardless of what else they are doing and what mood they’re in. Instead, you’re likely to hear “I enjoy drinking a dry red wine with dinner.”

If you ask them to tell you more, they might say “Actually, a Napa Valley wine at a relaxed dinner with friends at a fine restaurant. In fact, how about an Arista Pinot Noir served at the French Laundry restaurant to me and my three dearest friends on a quiet weekday evening?”

What’s going on here? Just that the simple act of enjoying wine becomes complicated when you consider the other things that make for a good experience.

The Trader Joe’s folks agree. They have just issued a set of five podcasts that go behind the scenes at the company. In the second episode Matt Sloan, VP of Marketing Product, describes the tasting panel that samples and grades all new products. He introduces the process like this:

We all love the glass of wine that we had on the Amalfi Coast after a long day traipsing up and down the Cinque Terra, but that same wine tastes differently at 10:00 AM under fluorescent lights on a Thursday.

Sloan suggests that if a wine or food can score well in the sterile environment of a tasting room, it’s likely to become a well-liked product because it will taste even better at a relaxed time with good friends.

In fact, scientists who have studied taste know that how something tastes to us depends on many factors. How it stimulates the taste buds is only one of those dimensions.

II. Enjoy Wine Best as a Total Experience

Here are the ingredients that make wine taste good:

  • The Wine Itself. The way it physically stimulates your taste, smell and visual senses. But wait, there’s more!:
  • The Surroundings. Sensory signals from what you have eaten and are about to eat. Who you are with. The noise, activity level, décor of the space around you.
  • The Wine Lover Within You. Your expectations based on previous experience or memories with this wine or a similar wine. And your mood, your state of mind.
  • Marketing. Also, there are factors that relate to the wine’s reputation. Advertisers exploit or exaggerate many of these elements:
    • Other People’s Opinions. What “experts” say about the particular wine. Those experts may be friends or famous people, a review article you have read, a Wine Advocate rating. And even seeing someone else buying a wine, or choosing not to buy it, can affect whether we like that wine.
    • The Name. This is surprising! When people find it difficult to pronounce the name of the winery or the wine, they report that the wine tastes better.
    • The Back Story. When we know an interesting or engaging story associated with a wine, that wine tastes better to us. The story may be in our memory and include the wine itself or certain smells or tastes. Or the story may be crafted by a copywriter at an ad agency. Either way, the story evokes emotions that affect our wine enjoyment, usually in a positive way.
    • Packaging. Advertising inputs such as the shape, color and design of the wine bottle’s label and in some cases the bottle itself.
    • Price. If we believe that the wine costs more, we expect it to taste better. That expectation biases us to like it more. And it’s not just a superficial like. Brain wave measurements show that we actually enjoy wine more when we think it’s more expensive!

These factors and more are discussed in the two articles below:
– Taste Bias & the $90 Wine
– Wine Tasting – New from New Yorker

III. How Does That Wine Really Taste?

enjoy wineOK, enjoying wine is best seen as part of a total experience. And we’ll enjoy wine most if we get those other ingredients right.

But perhaps we don’t want our enjoyment to be distorted by advertising such as the Marketing factors above. How can we focus on how the wine really tastes?

The Taste Bias article referenced above mentions that the more we know about wine, the less our taste is biased by advertising or the name on the label. And we don’t have to obtain a PhD in wine – each bit of knowledge we have makes us less of a target for the marketers and more of a wine aficionado.

Here’s how to gain the knowledge to enjoy wine more:

  • By talking with friends who enjoy wine.
  • By reading articles. And I don’t mean reviews that assign a score to specific wines. Numbers activate the “math” part of our brain rather than the “appreciation” part. It’s more useful to read descriptions of wine types, growing areas and wineries.
  • Check the winery’s website. Often it will tell about the winemakers, the vineyard, the grapes, the history of their wines. This info builds a back story that enhances our wine pleasure.
  • Taste and enjoy wine from a local area when we are visiting. A wine editor of Bon Appetit advises us to take a chance on the unfamiliar:

…throw caution to the wind and ask for a local wine. …“where it grows, it goes” is golden for a reason: The regional wines go with the regional food…

Following this idea, if you’re having a great vacation, the wine you drink can enhance your trip. And when you get home again, you may enjoy a similar wine all the more if you associate its taste with pleasant memories from your holiday.

This one requires more effort but is worth considering:

  • If you see a session in wine tasting sponsored by a local college or community group, consider attending it. Beware of tasting events sponsored by a business that makes or sells wine – those classes are usually aimed at selling, not teaching. Even half an hour of training in how to taste and smell the flavors in wine is a big help. That much learning is enough to protect people from advertising hype so they can concentrate on enjoying what they’re tasting.

IV. Do Scientists Enjoy Wine?

Scientists are just like you and me. Well, like me at least. And most scientists I know enjoy wine.

When scientists like something, they can’t help thinking about it. How can I measure it? the scientist says. How could the winemakers make it better? How could they make it the best?

As described above, when we enjoy wine the sensory experience is colored by many factors outside of the wine itself. It’s very difficult to filter out those factors so as to measure the quality of the wine itself in a way that is reliable and reproducible. It requires motivation, resources and persistence to study wine in this way.

Only serious winemakers and research scientists are sufficiently dedicated (and compulsive!) to measure the inherent qualities of wines. For your interest or guidance, the following article describes the steps that experts go through to measure wine accurately:

– Sensory Evaluation 1 (Wine): Measuring the Indescribable

V. Facing the After-Effects

I have previously blogged about the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. And the hazards of alcohol in any quantity at all!

Nevertheless, if a person is going to count alcohol as one of his indulgences, wine is one of the less harmful forms.

Why do I say that? Think of frat-party beer guzzling. Think of habitués falling off bar stools night after night. In contrast to these, I can’t think of a social meme that stereotypes overindulgence in wine.

[Well, not quite. I’m old enough to remember Ripple, a fortified wine in the 1970s. It was so cheap that it became associated with “alcoholics and the destitute” (see But I never knew anyone brag about getting drunk on it!]

Today, it’s not socially encouraged to get drunk on wine. Nevertheless, it’s possible to get a hangover from wine, either from having too much or from being highly sensitive to a particular wine. The following article on is a guest post by Ann of DontTellTheJoneses. She addresses this occasional downside to some people’s attempt to enjoy wine:

– Wine Headache – the Mechanics and the Cures

VI. Enjoy Wine Wonderfully with These Tips

As you can see, wine and wine enjoyment are complicated topics. For that reason, there’s no recipe to enjoy wine that will perfectly match every individual. However, I can suggest a practical way to enjoy wine a lot more without being obsessive about it.

Here are my steps for how to enjoy wine more:

  • Drink what you like. You are the only arbiter of what tastes and feels right for you. Drinking what you’re told you should like is a recipe for guilt and frustration, not enjoyment.
  • Taste new wines now and then. You don’t have to like them! But life inherently involves change, and if you’re willing to sample new tastes you may find some new loves.
  • Environment. Why not enjoy wine in the best possible circumstances, so you can get the most out of the event? For many people, that might mean at a favorite restaurant or in the company of friends. And boost your positive mood by looking forward to, and living within, the experience.
  • Focus on your glass of wine at least once while you sip it. (This is best done early on, before the wine over-exercises your taste buds.) Ignore your surroundings for the moment and try these steps from Wine Folly:
    • Look at the wine: its color, transparency and viscosity or “legs” (how the wine adheres to the glass when you tilt it or swirl it).
    • Sniff the wine. See if it smells like fruit, herbs or flowers. You might also notice hints of minor aromas: cheese rind, peanut shells, stale beer, autumn leaves, tobacco, baking spices.
    • Sip a small amount of wine and hold it in your mouth. Note the relative sour, sweet, bitter and salty tastes. How does the wine feel on your tongue? Slippery? Rough? Dry?
    • Swallow the sip and wait with your mouth closed. You may notice that the taste and the smell change because you’re experiencing them with a different part of your tongue and nose. See how long it takes until the sensation of the wine is completely gone (the “finish”).
    • Think for a moment. Did you like the “balance” of the wine? That is, did one factor (acidity, alcohol, tannin) seem too dominant compared to everything else? Did the wine seem especially memorable in any way? If so, what words can you think of that would help you recall its flavor?
  • Learn as much as you wish about wine in general, and the wines you drink in particular. This is not to make you into a wine snob! It’s only for the purpose of helping you enjoy wine all the more. When the learning is no longer fun, stop!

These steps make sense to me based on research I have read and my own experience. However, the most important way to enjoy wine is the one that fits you. I encourage you to see what works for you, so that you can enjoy wine to the very utmost!

Have you tried any of these ways to enjoy wine more? Which ideas seem most useful to try?

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Image Credits:
– wine glasses by qpad on
– glass of wine by piotr_halas on

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