Introduction To Wine Tasting
Employing A Methodology
Learning a proven tasting method is the first step in deepening your understanding and enjoyment of fine wines. There are some basic concepts to keep in mind when tasting wines. The process is an analytic one and benefits from a systematic approach. When evaluating wines, we look to examine them from the perspectives of Appearance, Bouquet, Taste, and Aftertaste. Let us examine each of these, always utilizing adjectives common to our everyday life’s experience. No right and no wrong, only your personal perceptions of a given wine.
We look at a wine’s appearance to see what it can tell us. After pouring into a glass we first examine its color. With the glass 1/3 full and holding it by the stem look at it before a white background. Assuming a red wine, is it “deep” or “light.” Can we see through it or is it so concentrated that it is opaque. Is it “clear” or “cloudy.” Discuss the meaning of these terms and how they reflect on the expectations we develop for the wine being analyzed.
See the Color
With the glass about 1/3 full, hold it by the stem before a white background. Tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle and observe the depth of color and the way the light catches it. Much more than plain red or white, wine comes in many shades, such as straw, yellow, gold, amber, brick, ruby and purple.
We then will swirl a wine to further examine its appearance. As the wine cascades down the inside of the glass what we look for are its “legs.” An examination of a wine’s legs will give us information concerning its “body”. Is it “light”-bodied or “full”-bodied. The legs give us the first clues as to this very important aspect of a wine.
Next, one’s nose is brought into the glass and close to the wine and a deep “sniff” taken. Here the adjectives of a lifetime come into play in describing what one experiences. Relate the bouquet of the wine to everyday items in your environment. Different grape varieties will have distinctive characteristics and exposure to these will expand your wine vocabulary. Flaws in a wine’s bouquet will most certainly carry over into its taste. Its treatment, both good and bad, will be revealed for the first time here. Again, when discussing attributes of bouquet utilize adjectives common to your everyday life’s experience.
Swirl and Sniff the Aroma
The objective in gently swirling the wine is to release the aromas by coating the inside of your glass. More surface area is thus exposed to the air, increasing evaporation, which transports aromas into the air. After a few swirls, put your nose deep inside the rim and take a couple of sharp sniffs. The aromas are the most important part of wine and, as anyone who has had a cold with a stuffy nose can attest, the sense of smell is integral to tasting.
Next is the taste of the wine. It is brought into the mouth and mixed aggressively with air in order to bring out all of its flavor characteristics. Let the wine cover the entire inside of your mouth so that all of your taste centers can come into play. The palate perceives but four tastes: Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Salty. Sweetness is perceived on the tip of the tongue. Sour and bitter are mostly in the middle of the tongue and it’s sides. Saltly is not a characteristic found very often in wine. If it is, it is not a positive attribute.
Sip to Sample
Take a small sip of wine and hold it in your mouth–don’t swallow yet. Move the wine around your mouth and feel its weight, or body. How thick, heavy or juicy does the wine seem? This is your first clue to the wine’s body. Concentrate as your tongue deciphers tastes and you pick up the flavors. After about 30 seconds, spit or swallow the wine. (Experts choose to spit when sampling a number of wines.) Either way, continue to concentrate as you now taste the wine’s finish; it may be brief or lingering.
In expressing the attributes of taste, again rely on the experiences of a lifetime. We discuss some adjectives used to describe both aroma and taste in red, white, sparkling and port wines in the pages to come.
This is the lingering effects of a wine on the palate. Is it “long” or “short?” “Consistent” or does it change? The length of aftertaste is a positive characteristic of great wines which can linger for 2 to 3 minutes! Discuss aftertaste and the adjectives you can employ to convey this aspect of a wine to fellow wine tasters.
Appearance, Bouquet, Taste and Aftertaste. These are the elements used to take a wine apart for analysis. They are constant and are extremely helpful in assisting us in finding a wine’s attributes, both good and bad.
And please remember, as you begin tasting and making notes, these are your personal perceptions. There NEVER are right or wrong answers. Only enjoyment, education and the gathering of experience!