Wine Tast­ing 101

Wine Tast­ing 101: A Basic Guide to What You Need to Know

Wine Tasting

Every­one knows how to drink wine, but not many know how to taste it. Believe it or not, tast­ing the wine is only one fifth of the wine tast­ing expe­ri­ence! Even though there are var­i­ous steps to tast­ing wine, they all fall under three of the five major senses: sight, smell, and taste.

Aspects of Wine Tasting

1. The Ground­work

Some authors have posted that the main rea­son it is dif­fi­cult for the layper­son to really taste the wine they drink is due to the con­di­tions of the envi­ron­ment at the time of tast­ing. Noisy and crowded rooms tend to make con­cen­tra­tion dif­fi­cult. With such dis­trac­tions, one can­not focus on the aspects of the tast­ing expe­ri­ence (the tex­ture, the fla­vor etc.). Due to the fact that the scent of the wine is a cru­cial aspect of the wine tast­ing process, the dif­fer­ent aro­mas present in a room for exam­ple food smells, per­fume etc. can cloud the aroma of the wine. The tem­per­a­ture of the wine as well as resid­ual fla­vors in your mouth from other sub­stances that are con­sumed all affect the wine tast­ing expe­ri­ence. The way you hold the glass can affect the tem­per­a­ture of the wine. There­fore it is best to hold the glass by the stem and not by the bowl (the part that actu­ally con­tains the wine) as the heat from ema­nat­ing from your hands will warm the wine. It is also impor­tant to sam­ple wines based on their tex­ture. That is, you should begin with light wines and then progress grad­u­ally to the heav­ier ones. This helps keep the taste buds sen­si­tive. Sip­ping water in between tast­ings is also impor­tant. Also, it is best to have a clean glass and one that is not too small, so that when we come to the “swirl” aspect (see below) the clothes you are wear­ing will not sam­ple more wine than you do!

2. The Visual

The Colour of WinePhoto com­pli­ments www​.puchang​wine​.com

It is impor­tant that you exam­ine the color and clar­ity of the wine you are tast­ing. Tilt the glass slightly and hold it up to the light or against a white/​pale back­ground. The wine should be clear, as a cloudy or murky look­ing wine may indi­cate that it is spoilt or past its time (you should still taste it to be sure how­ever). Color is impor­tant as it gives you an idea of the age of the wine. You must look at the color of the wine from the rim edges to the mid­dle of the liq­uid. Dif­fer­ent wines also go though dif­fer­ent color processes as they age. White wines gain color as they age while red wines lose their color and become brown. Some white wines are so pale there are almost clear in color. These white wines should not be bot­tle aged but used fresh. The color sequences both types of wines expe­ri­ence can be seen below:

White Wines

  1. Pale yellow-​green
  2. Straw yel­low
  3. Yellow-​gold
  4. Gold
  5. Old gold
  6. Yellow-​brown
  7. Mader­ized
  8. Brown
Red Wines

  1. Pur­ple
  2. Ruby
  3. Red
  4. Brick red
  5. Red-​brown
  6. Brown

3. The Swirl

After care­fully inspect­ing the wine, you should swirl it around using the stem of the wine­glass. As stated in the intro­duc­tion, the glass should not be too small (and there should not be too much wine in the glass). Swirling can be done with the glass on a flat sur­face. By doing this, you can also observe the body of the wine against the sides of the glass. Good “legs” or “tears” indi­cate that the wine has more alco­hol and is fuller than oth­ers that do not have good legs or have no legs at all (the lat­ter indi­cat­ing a “thin” wine). Another rea­son the wine is swirled is so to release more aro­mas as the swirling allows the wine to mix with oxy­gen, thereby releas­ing and inten­si­fy­ing the aro­mas con­tained in the wine. This process is called aer­at­ing the wine.

Wine Swirl

4. The Smell

It is a well known fact that 80% of our taste comes from our nose, so it is no sur­prise that this is the most impor­tant aspect in wine tast­ing, as the nose tells you more about the wine than the taste of it. How­ever, per­sons do not spend enough time on this step which is a shame because the smell of a wine can help you iden­tify some of the defects or faults in it. Below is a quote by Kevin Zraly, founder of New York City’s Win­dows on the World Wine School about the impor­tance of smelling wine:

“It’s sim­ple: Your tongue can only detect four main tastes, but your nose can iden­tify more than 2,000 dif­fer­ent odors. Stud­ies have shown that women have a keener sense of smell than men, but any­one can tell whether a wine is good or bad based on its smell. Wine should smell, well, like fruit – not gym socks or vine­gar or any­thing unpleas­ant. That’s why the tra­di­tion of hav­ing restau­rant cus­tomers take a sip of wine to deter­mine whether it’s gone bad is not nec­es­sary: It’s all in the nose! The first taste of a wine is always a shock to your tastebuds.”

Authors and experts in wine tast­ing tend to dif­fer on how you should smell the wine. Some say you should hover just above the wine glass and sniff as opposed to bury­ing your nose directly inside to get a deeper sniff of the wine. Oth­ers say that you should do both, but do the small sniff first and then the deeper sniff after. How­ever, you should try both tech­niques to see which one gives you the best and deep­est aro­mas. Whichever tech­nique you use, sniff­ing gives you a deeper sense of the type of fla­vors con­tained within your glass. They can also alert you to what kind of bar­rel the wine was aged in. The range of aro­mas you can encounter are fruity, flow­ery, leaves, herbs and veg­eta­bles. Below lists the com­mon aro­mas found in white and red wines:

White Wines

Red Wines

· Pineap­ple
· Pear
· Green Apple
· Apri­cot
· Peach
· Melon
· Guava
· Banana
· Lemon
· Grape­fruit
· Mango
· Pas­sion Fruit

· Berry
· Cherry
· Plum
· Rasp­berry
· Rhubarb
· Boy­sen­berry
· Straw­berry
· Black­berry
· Blue­berry
· Black Cur­rant
· Raisin
· Fig

The Smell

Despite these nice aro­mas, your nose may detect a few “off” or bad smells”:

· Sherry: indi­cates that the wine has oxi­dized from age or improper storage.

· Vine­gar: indi­cates that the wine con­tains exces­sive acetic acid.

· Cork/​Mustiness: indi­cates that a defec­tive or infe­rior cork has affected the wine.

· Sul­phur: indi­cates that the wine con­tains exces­sive sul­phur dioxide.

5. The Taste

Again, it is worth reit­er­at­ing the fact that the over­all taste of a wine is usu­ally a com­bi­na­tion of the smells and the fla­vor of a wine. How­ever, while our nose can pick up over 2000 aro­mas, the tongue can only pick up four tastes:

The Tongue

There are a few other tastes that you will expe­ri­ence while sam­pling wine that are not shown in the graphic above. One will usu­ally expe­ri­ence fruity fla­vors in the mid­dle of the tongue, an alco­hol taste at the back of the mouth (with a warm sen­sa­tion) and the taste of tan­nin (see glos­sary of terms) will give a furry sen­sa­tion on your teeth. There­fore, based on these fac­tors, one can see that tast­ing the wine is not a mere sip and swal­low exercise.

After smelling the wine, take a decent sip of it and let it spread across your tongue to see which taste buds are acti­vated dur­ing this process. Try to intake some air through your lips to aer­ate the wine and release even more fla­vors and aro­mas. This process also tends to pro­long the after­taste of the wine. The taste of the wine should con­firm what­ever con­clu­sions were drawn from smelling the wine and eval­u­at­ing the wine by sight. If you expe­ri­ence a bit­ter taste, that is caused by a high alco­hol and tan­nin con­tent. Tan­nin comes from the grape skins and is a nat­ural preser­v­a­tive, aid­ing in wine aging. An indi­ca­tion of a poorly bal­anced wine is one that has too much tan­nin and is there­fore, quite bit­ter. A sweet sen­sa­tion will be the result of resid­ual sugar left after the fer­men­ta­tion process while a sour sen­sa­tion usu­ally indi­cates that the wine is high in acid­ity. When a wine is high in acid­ity it tends to have a crisp fin­ish (if the wine is bal­anced); if it is too acidic it will have a sharp fin­ish and if it is low in acid­ity it will leave a flat, dull fin­ish. One indi­ca­tor that you are drink­ing a high qual­ity wine is a long (usu­ally 13 min­utes) and pleas­ing after­taste. After this process, you can do an eval­u­a­tion about the fla­vors and sen­sa­tions you are expe­ri­enc­ing. Usu­ally, a bal­ance of acid­ity, tan­nin, sweet­ness, fruiti­ness and a good body is ideal. After­wards, you can either swal­low the wine or spit it out (spit­ting is rec­om­mended when you are sam­pling sev­eral wines). The final step in the tast­ing process is the eval­u­a­tion of the wine’s over­all qual­ity and this can be done by ask­ing your­self a few questions:

· Did you like it? Why or why not?

· What did you notice about the body?

· How long did the impression/​flavor linger?

· Was it sweet? Acidic? Tan­nic? Fruity?

The bot­tom line of know­ing how good wine is, is this: if you enjoy it…then it’s a good wine! No one else’s taste or review of a wine should dic­tate whether you believe a wine is good or not. There­fore, it is impor­tant to trust your­self and your taste and most impor­tantly, enjoy the tast­ing process!

Glos­sary of Terms

Here are some def­i­n­i­tions of some of the wine terms used in this article:

Acid­ity – this refers to the amount of acid in a wine. Acid­ity is part of the struc­ture of wine, giv­ing it lift and inten­sity. With­out acid­ity, wines taste flat or flabby while too much acid­ity can cause wines to be exces­sively lean.

Aroma - also known as the “nose” of a wine. It is what the wine smells like i.e, all the var­i­ous smells you get when sniff­ing the wine.

Bal­ance – this means that all the com­po­nents of the wine (the struc­ture, fruit, alco­hol, sec­ondary fla­vors, etc.) are all in equi­lib­rium, with none par­tic­u­larly dom­i­nat­ing the taste buds. When a wine is per­fectly bal­anced then it has all the qual­i­ties of a great wine.

Body - this refers to the size or heft of it in your mouth. While a light bod­ied wine glides over your palate softly and with­out weight, a full-​bodied wine feels heavy and big in your mouth.

Corked - this means that the wine is flawed because it has been exposed to a com­pound called TCA (2,4,6-traichloroanisole). TCA gen­er­ally comes from mold which has infected the cork. This com­pound has a dis­tinc­tive musty aroma that some peo­ple describe as moldy, wet news­pa­per or card­board, wet dog or a damp basement.

Dry - describes a wine which has no resid­ual sugar, the oppo­site of sweet.

Fin­ish - the after­taste of a wine. A great wine has a long fin­ish which lingers pleas­ingly on your palate. It should be long and have good fla­vors and sen­sa­tions in your mouth, tempt­ing you to take another sip. A bad fin­ish is one which is very short or has off fla­vors which are not appealing.

Flo­ral - One of the wine tast­ing terms describ­ing a wine with flower-​like aro­mas or flavors.

Herbal - A wine that has aro­mas or fla­vors of herbs.

Musty - A damp, moldy aroma, often asso­ci­ated with TCA (a corked wine) but can also be present in some wines which are not corked.

Oxi­dized – the term used when a wine has exces­sive expo­sure to oxy­gen. Oxi­dized wine can also gen­er­ally be some­what flat tast­ing and dark­ens in color, turn­ing brown.

Sweet - there is resid­ual sugar in the wine which gives a sweet fla­vor like sugar. Also used to describe a char­ac­ter­is­tic of the fruit in a wine. If a wine has ripe, fruity fla­vors, it can often be described as sweet.

Tan­nic - Describ­ing a wine with a lot of tan­nin, the com­pound found in grape skins and stems. This cre­ates the dry­ing, slightly astrin­gent sen­sa­tion in your mouth. Red wines gen­er­ally have much more tan­nin than white wines.

© Arti­cle of Caribbean Dreams Mag­a­zine
© Photo 1 from mid​town​bistrosf​.com
© Photo 2 from lon​don​lo​calser​vices​.com
© Photo 3 from event​ful​.com
© Photo 4 from casaital​ianaschool​.org
© Photo 5 leav​ing​bio​.net

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