Considered by many to be a snobbish activity, the act of methodically tasting and evaluating wine serves a simple purpose – to get the most enjoyment out of the wine you’re drinking! This step-by-step guide will show you how.
When tasting wine please bear the following in mind:
- It is possible to describe wine with a wide array of words. Although it may seem daunting at first it is crucial that you use words that are especially significant to you as a person – this will assist you in recalling the scent and flavours later on.
- Wine can have a tremendously personal impact, acting as a gateway to memories and sensations you might not have considered before. Although it is often possible for others to understand don’t be surprised if your subjective approach to a wine is difficult to communicate at first.
- Remember that you will not be fond of all wines – don’t become bogged down in listing the merits of particular varieties if you aren’t fond of them yourself. People like and dislike different things and sampling wine is no different!
The tongue has four key taste receptors – at the very tip it is especially sensitive to sweetness whereas at it is sensitive to bitterness. The right of the tongue is identified with sourness. Finally, salinity has the most impact in the centre and towards the front of the tongue. There are some who would argue there is a fifth
taste often referred to as umami. This is an all-embracing attribute which deals with the general savouriness or appeal of a dish rather than a specific taste.
A - Appearance
When first faced with a new wine much can be inferred from simply taking a look at its outward appearance. By doing so you can learn much of its age, value, place of origin and the type of grape used. Although light bubbling is to be expected from certain types of young wines anything more than this strongly suggests there is a problem – the wine is possibly refermenting due to a combination of left over sugar and improper filtering. Likewise if you see any deep colours in a younger, drier wine this hints that there may be a problem. Wines in general should not be cloudy.
B – Nose (bouquet)
Next comes the aroma of the wine. Professional wine tasters consider the nose of a wine to be one of the most important tools in detecting a problem, such as the musty scent given off by a corked bottle. When tasting blindfolded your sense of smell will give you the first key bits of information about both the type of grape used and its point of origin. It is possible to become accustomed to the local, and often very striking, aromas given off by wines from various parts of the world. Cabernet Sauvignon is often described as reminiscent of blackcurrants, whereas the Sauvignon Blanc gives off a floral scent that is often compared (oddly enough!) to gooseberries.
Aged wines are far more difficult to pin down. Once there was an immediate distinction between the pungent and fruity smells given off by New World wines and the more reserved constitution of European wines. However, this has all changed due to a widespread improvement of viticulture with winemakers catering to the consumer’s wishes.
C – Taste (palate)
Upon tasting the wine you should attempt to assess all important components of the wine. Key things to be aware of are acidity, sweetness, alcohol, tannin and the fruitiness of the wine and its aftertaste.
It is important to note that (typically with Old World wines) some wines are intended to be drunk alongside food and so in isolation cannot display their full merits. Conversely, some foods can render the taste of a decent wine utterly repulsive. For example, drinking dry red after an especially sweet pudding is not recommended.
The vast majority of wines are intended to be drunk soon after purchase. A few whites do become fuller and softer and some reds do tend to become silkier as time progresses.
D – Judgment
Once the tasting is over with you must draw together the various elements of the wine – its visual appearance, nose and palate. If one is especially striking to the detriment of other characteristics it is considered to be lacking in balance. A wine too rich in alcohol content could well be described as ‘hot’, blotting out the other sensations.
It is very difficult to assess the inherent quality of a wine, but there are a few obvious pointers. A strong indicator as to the quality of the wine is the amount of time it takes for the taste to disappear from the mouth (this is referred to as the wine’s length). In addition, the range of flavours and scents given off by a particular wine is of great importance, as well as their concentration. If the wine has these it is known as complex. Be careful of putting too much emphasis on complexity – some wines, such as fresh, delicate ones are intended to provide a more crisp taste.
Price and quality do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. It is almost as possible to find an inexpensive but quality wine as it is to find an expensive but poor wine.