DCanter makes it easy — and affordable — to learn how to enjoy and understand different wines right here in D.C.
Wine is fun. There’s no question about that. But it’s also complex, and if you’re not an expert, learning how to enjoy it properly might be daunting. There are options for formal wine education, including certificate programs like the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (or exams through the vaunted Court of Master Sommeliers), but what if you just want the basics?
Luckily, there’s a spot right here in D.C. that can help you – DCanter, a sleek-and-bright wine boutique located on 8th Street Southeast, caddy-cornered from the Marine Barracks. Owned by Michelle Lim Warner and her husband Michael, DCanter focuses on selling wines from small producers and organic, sustainable vintners, and living “the wine lifestyle.”
“My first love was Italian wine – I studied abroad when I was in college, and that’s when I learned what wine is supposed to taste like, not Franzia.” Warner says.
She and Michael opened DCanter as a counter to the stuffy, formal wine shops with what Warner calls “male-focused decor.” But beyond that, the shop fills a niche in D.C. by providing casual, yet meaningful, wine education.
“Before, if you didn’t want to do a wine certification, you didn’t have a place to learn in D.C.,” Warner says.
DCanter hosts drop-in wine tastings on the weekends, where guests can sample a few bottles from across the world. For something a bit more sit-down, Warner teaches wine classes that explore wines across a given region or variety, that understand the diversity of the wine world, that teach about new styles and that explore fancy wines reserved just for special occasions. Classes are $45, as opposed to over $1000 for some of the certifications. The DCanter team even takes guests around the world to walk the vineyards and see how their favorite wines are made. This month, they’re going to Hungary.
But fear not: you don’t need to summer in Burgundy, fly out to parts unknown with the group, or take the Master Sommelier exam to enjoy “liquid poetry.” Since Warner’s big focus is education, she’s got a few tips to help you appreciate this liquid poetry at home.
“Wine tasting is always more fun with company, plus you can compare notes and opinions,” Warner says.
She recommends using clear, stemmed wine glasses to better appreciate the appearance of the wine, to have a blank white piece of paper on hand to act as a proper backdrop and to serve plain cracker to help cleanse your palate between tastes.
To try wines properly, Warner recommends three steps: see, swirl, and sip. First, hold your glass up to a white background and observe the visual qualities of the wine. Take note of what colors you are seeing. Is the wine opaque or translucent? Does the “rim” of the wine take on a different color? Do you notice any other physical properties?
Next, take a good whiff of the wine before gently swirling your glass. This way, you’ll get a sense of the wine’s aroma straight out of the bottle and as the wine begins to mix with air and open up.
This is also a good way to immediately tell if the wine is flawed, or “off.” The aroma can also give you a hint about the flavors that are inside the bottle.
Finally, the good part: sip. Gently drink (or slurp, that’s okay, too) and think about the flavors, texture and consistency. Pay attention to things you can recognize, and don’t worry so much about figuring out what you “should” be tasting.
“Remember taste is subjective, and everyone’s palate is different,” Warner says.
Many tasting notes echo the same aromas and flavors we might find in our own lives, so if you feel like you’re tasting strawberry or black cherry or lemon in a wine, that’s totally legitimate. When tasting, it’s also good to keep in mind how acidic a wine is, or if it’s boozy (“hot” in wine lingo), or sweet. There are plenty of resources online (for example, WineFolly) that can help you learn specific terms.
If you visit DCanter, you’ll find it welcoming and open, with wines sorted by flavor profile, not varietal or region like most shops — so the notes you take during your at-home tastings can come in handy when perusing the selection. Warner suggests starting with international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. These grapes are grown across the world, and different wine regions may present different flavors and textures. If you’re still lost, or prefer to have experts pick out wines for you, DCanter has a “wine concierge” service where Warner and her team will pick out wines specific to your taste and deliver them to your doorstep.
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