Tips to Identify Wine

AGD table with bottles on it
Options left overs, people removed for fear of exposure

There is a game called Options, played by wine-wankers. What we do (yes I said “we”) is each take a bottle of wine to dinner, the label and any other identifying marks covered. The goal is to taste each wine and, by answering questions, to deduce exactly what it is. This is achieved by selecting the correct option from a range provided by each wine’s owner.

One wine is quizzed at a time, and there are usually three options offered with each question. These questions classically concern the wine’s nationality, region, vintage, grape(s), and winery (in no regimented order, though the winery’s name comes last).

While absolute masters, freaks, and extremely dull people can identify wine in complete isolation, most of us mortals use the following tricks of the trade…

The bottle shape

Tradition means certain wines are bottled in certain bottle shapes. Unless the bottle owner is a complete prick, they have unlikely poured the wine into a different bottle. Use the Bordeaux bottle (high shoulder), Burgundy bottle (low shoulder) or Alsace bottle shape (long neck) to help guess the grape variety (in parts of Europe laws govern this).

Remember the smell

Does it smell rustic? It could very easily be French… but if the wine tastes terrible it could be just crap.

How dry is it?

Ok, table wines are dry but some have more tannin than others. Tannin dries the mouth, it makes you salivate and want food. Food wines are often European.

Play the Man/Woman

If you know the wine owner is a massive fan of the Hunter Valley or works for Wine Tasmania, there is a good chance the wine is from the Hunter Valley or Tasmania. If they drink Rum there is a good chance the wine is from Penfolds.

Look at the colour

AGD wine rim
Comparing wine rim, same wine type 10 years apart

Yes, a red wine looks reddish and a white wine is yellowy, but there’s more than that! A young red should be the same colour from centre to rim, the same for a white. But! Also notice a very oaked white wine is a vibrant gold in the centre, and that is not to be confused with the murky gold of an aged white.

Look at the rim

The rim of a wine, when in a glass and tilted to the side, can give a guide to how old it is. If the rim of a red wine is faded brown, the wine is most-likely 7+ years old. Use a similar guide for whites, but they become increasingly golden at the rim (compared to the centre).

Go with your gut

First impressions are often right. Saddam Hussein looked a bit dodgy, turned out he was. If the wine tastes a bit like cat piss, it probably is New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

You’ve drunk wine before

Even if you have no idea, you could probably disregard some options because they don’t fit what you have tasted before.

Is it any good?

If you don’t like the wine you can safely say it is made by someone or somewhere that you don’t like (hopefully!). If you do like it, but are foggy on specifics, choose options that are closest to wines you like (ie:

agd guess-who board game
Guess Who, in case you need a visual reminder

Australia’s climate is more comparable to Spain than Germany).

Remember the board game Guess Who

The further along the list of questions, the more information you have. People with encyclopaedic knowledge of wines (and quality of regions) quickly cancel options because some become unlikely.

If all else fails?


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