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Tips on wine tasting

Whether you are a connoisseur or just acquiring the taste, here's how to prepare for a Finger Lakes wine-tasting experience.

For 15 years, Timothy Barr, part time instructor in the College of Human Ecology, has taught Wine and Beer Appreciation to undergraduate students at Syracuse University.  He has also worked in the wine and food industry for more than 39 years, and says that while he’s no expert, he knows a thing or two about wine. I sat down with Professor Barr to find out what advice he has for those planning a wine tour.


TheNewshouse: What’s the first thing you tell your students in your wine appreciation class? 

Barr: You shouldn’t drink a wine just because someone else says it’s good or because someone else says it’s expensive. Drink what you like; drink what tastes good to you.


TNH: What is it about wines that set them apart from other alcoholic beverages?

Barr: It’s elegant and it's romantic. You’re using all your senses with it; you’re looking at it, smelling it, tasting it. It's quite sensual, actually. There really isn't a bad wine out there, it's all about your own taste.


TNH: Do you have any advice to give to those who may be planning a wine tour in the future?

Barr: Go with no preconceived notions and an open mind. Start with the wines that you think you’ll like, because at the winery, they don’t want to sell you a wine you don’t like. They want you to like it, they want you to buy it and they want you to buy it right now.


TNH: Does the color have anything to do with the taste? Are the reds typically more dry and the whites sweeter?

Barr: No, it has nothing to do with color. The easiest way to figure out whether it is sweet or dry is to look at the alcohol content on the label. The higher the alcohol content, the drier the wine because they have been fermented longer. Sweet wines have 8 to 9 percent alcohol, medium wines are 9.5 to 11.5 percent, and dry wines are pretty much 12, 13, 14 percent.


TNH: So what is the mystery behind swirling the glass before drinking the wine?

Barr: People swirl the glass to see the body of the wine. The legs, or the wine running down the inside of the glass, is caused by the glycerin in the wine and indicates body. You can also tip the glass and rub the wine on the side of the glass with your finger. If it feels slippery, that also indicates how rich the wine is. If you swirl it and it comes right down immediately, that means it doesn't have much body or substance.


TNH: How do you know if a wine has been mishandled or damaged?

Barr: Stick you nose into the glass, and if it smells corky or like wet cardboard, it's probably been mishandled. Also, alcohol that is cloudy means it has probably been stored by heat. You want to avoid those.


TNH: Why is it that people sometimes only take a sip and pour their samples out? Is it suggested?

Barr: It's personal preference. People pour the wine out because they don’t want to get drunk. Maybe they're sampling 30 or 40 wines, and just want to get the flavor in their mouth and then spit it out. They also usually have water there to cleanse your pallete in between while tasting. 


TNH: Do the wines really taste better if you try them with cheese?

Barr: If they have several cheeses ask the person pouring which one would enhance the wine. Food changes the flavor of the wine. Sometimes make it worse and sometimes it makes it better. The fatty acids coat your mouth so you don't get the really boozy hit from a fortified wine.


TNH: Any other words of advice you would like to share?

Barr: I would definitely suggest a designated driver. There are so many darn places in the Finger Lakes it can sneak up on you before you know it. Nowadays your first DWI fine is between ten and twelve thousand dollars. You know how many cab rides you can get for $10,000? I really do think you have to drink responsibly.


A map of the Finger LakesFinger Lakes wine map

With over 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes Region, it's hard to decide which ones to visit. Get contact           information, hours and pricing for wineries from Skaneateles to Keuka lakes.

View a map of 20 wineries in the Finger Lakes




Video: The Rules of Wine Tasting

Patti Nocek, owner of Anyela's Vineyards in Skaneateles, gives tips on how to properly sample wines.


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