Wednesday, June 17, 2009

About Wine: Wine Tasting

Photo by: smcgee

This is such fun information particularly if you are interested in wine and all the little details about wine. My friends often ask me what type of wine I like and my usual response is "the type that tastes good." What? isn't that enough? Nope..apparently its kind of cool to know a little about all those different flavors, heat, wet or dry, etc.

So here's a nother great post from Neil at On the Grapevine.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There is a lot written about wine tasting. A lot of it can be pretentious and over the top.

So let’s try to stick to basics here and keep it simple…..and fun.

Wine tasting involves three senses.

  1. Sight.
  2. Smell.
  3. Taste and mouth feel.

So pour yourself a glass (well, not a full glass, around 30mL or 1 oz is best) of your favourite wine and follow these steps:

  • Tilt the glass slightly and check its clarity. It should be clear, not hazy.
  • Look at the colour against a white background. Note the shade (hue) and depth (intensity) of colour. A young white wine can be anything from water white through green to straw yellow. They darken towards orange/brown as they age. Purple can mean a young red wine. Brick red can mean oldish. Brown can mean really old (and possibly off!). You may have to tilt the glass and look at the rim of the wine to get the best idea of its colour. And the colours should be bright, not dull.
  • Swirl the wine around the glass and look at the liquid remaining on the sides of the glass as it slides back down. These are called the “legs” and indicates the viscosity of the wine which is related to the alcohol content. The more legs the higher the alcohol content.

So far so good. You now have an idea about the wine’s age and condition.

Not too hard so far.

  • Swirl the wine around the glass and sniff the wine. Put your nose right into the glass. Not too many sniffs however, a couple will do.
  • Think about what you are smelling. Any off smells? Sulphur? Vinegar? Mould? Nail polish remover? Wet hessian (burlap) bags? None of those, I hope! Now you know the wine is “clean” (or otherwise).
  • A couple more sniffs. What do you smell? Fruit? If so what sort? Flowers ? If so what type? Berries? Toast? Smoke? Cigars? These are the aromas of the wine. There are many more descriptors and it’s up to you to decide what they are. No one else can smell what you are smelling. Aromas fall into three categories. Primary fruit characters (that which the grape imparts to the wine and each variety tends to have a more or less distinct aroma eg. Riesling = citrus), developed fruit characters (what happens to the primary fruit characters on ageing eg. Riesling = toast and honey) and winemaking inputs (the result of what the winemaker has done to the wine during production eg. oak maturation). Experience will eventually allow you to differentiate. Don’t try and recognise everything now.
  • So what do you think? Were the aromas intense, medium or light? Did one smell dominate or was the over all impression one of harmony? Now you have an idea of the flavours to follow.

This is not as difficult as you thought, is it?

OK, here comes the best part.

  • Take a small sip (around 10mL) and move it around the mouth for about 10 seconds. Think about the flavours and the feel of the wine in the mouth. Then spit it out, or much better, swallow it. (When you are tasting 200 wines a day say, as a wine judge, swallowing would have you on the floor by lunch time hence the spit alternative).
  • You may have heard some experienced wine tasters making peculiar noises at this stage. They are sucking air into their mouths to help the wine release its volatile components which enhances the wine’s flavour. Absolutely no necessity for you to do this.
  • The taste components will be sweet, acid and possibly bitter along with flavours that have the same descriptors as the aromas. The wine should have a good balance of sweetness and acidity (one should not dominate the other) and hopefully no bitterness. Flavours can again be described as intense, medium or light. You should notice a change in these components the longer you hold the wine in your mouth. And the more diverse the flavours, the more “complex” the wine is considered to be.
  • After swallowing, the taste may linger for varying times at varying intensities or in some cases, not at all. This is known as “length”. Longer is better.

Another perceived taste is that dry, puckering of the mouth associated with tannins in red wine. These come from the grape skins as well as the oak during storage. This is really not a taste but a textural sensation ie. mouth feel. Tannins can be described as soft, silky, grainy. They should never dominate a wine.

Other textural features (and just not limited to red wines) include creaminess, viscosity, the “weight” of the wine in the mouth, “heat” where high alcohol content produces a warm feeling at the back of the mouth after swallowing.

So now you have an overall impression of the wine.

In time you will learn to look for:

  • Any wine faults
  • Varietal nose and flavour
  • Flavour and component balance
  • Richness and fullness
  • Complexity
  • Pleasant mouth feel
  • Length and finish

Some may think this is all too much trouble and are happy just to enjoy wine as a drink. Nothing wrong with that.

But if you are interested in knowing more about wine, all this will help you understand what you like or dislike about the various wines varieties and styles you try. And hopefully this will encourage you to look for new experiences in the world of wine. It’s really a never ending adventure out there.

Visit Neil to learn more about wine and about his homeland, Australia.