We’re sure you don’t have any problem drinking wine, but do you know how to taste wine? If not, don't worry because you're not alone. But you can get ahead of the crowd by following this wine tasting guide.
Read on and follow these six simple steps to learn the proper and fun way to taste wines!
1. Setting the scene: Bringing together the right conditions
The idea behind wine tasting is as simple as this: Slow down. Relax and take the time to think about what you're drinking and enjoy it.
To properly appreciate a wine, you’ll need all your senses (except for hearing; nobody listens to wine, they only listen to good music while drinking). In other words, if you have a cold you shouldn't drink good wine.
For the same reasons you shouldn’t eat foods like garlic or drink coffee before your tasting. The ideal moment to taste a wine is before a meal because at that moment your senses are more alert.
It may sound silly to remind you, but a tasting uses your senses and we do not all all have equal abilities to sense. Some people have sensory predispositions or have prior sensory experiences (for example a perfumer) which will influence their impressions so that theirs will be different from yours.
Find a comfortable and luminous place, at a reasonable temperature and without any strong odors. Nothing wrecks the nose of a fine wine like a blast of your Chanel No. 230 or incense.
As for the glasses, choose one with a shape of a large tulip. These glasses allow the wine to better contact the air, which causes the wine to develop its aromas, and concentrate the aromas in the glass.
Fill your glass up to its widest part in order to promote maximum contact with the air. Finally, always hold your glass by its foot or stem to prevent your hand from heating up the contents.
Now that all the conditions are met let's get to the heart of the matter.
Hold your glass of wine against a white backdrop to examine its colour, intensity and clarity. For red wines, this can be especially helpful in seeing if it’s a youthful wine (brighter with purple hues) or if it has some age to it (ruby with garnet hues).
Swirling wine around in the glass is not just about making you look cool. It allows air to come in contact with the wine.
This will let the wine breath and unwind a bit. This doesn’t have to be overly exaggerated – just a slight circle around in the glass will suffice.
4. Sniff & Smell
After mastering your swirling, it’s time to smell and sniff the wine. When smelling a wine for the first time ask yourself these 3 questions:
1. What is the aromatic intensity of the wine?
2. Is this an aromatically complex wine?
3. Are there any troubling or problematic aromas?
Aromatic intensity can be determined by asking yourself: how easy is it to smell the wine? Can you smell its aromas while holding the glass at arm’s length, or do you need to stick your nose well into the glass to smell the wine?
A wine is high in aromatic intensity if it easily identified and has distinguished aromas.
A wine is low in aromatic intensity if you have a hard time identifying any characteristics when smelling the wine, or if you cannot distinguish a certain flavor or point of reference with what you’re smelling, or not smelling for that matter.
Wines will also vary in their complexity, depending on age, winemaking style and grape variety. There are three aroma types that you can associate with the complexity of a wine:
1. Primary Aromas:
Aromas from the grape variety itself, along with the environment in which it grows. This includes aromas such as fruit flavours, herbal flavours, earthiness, floral notes and spice
2. Secondary Aromas:
Aromas from the winemaking and fermentation process, including a bready or yeasty like aroma. Typically found in young wines that have yet to experience ageing.
3. Tertiary Aromas:
Aromas that have evolved with the ageing of a wine, sometimes referred to as the bouquet. Tertiary aromas often come from oak aging, and attribute to dried fruit aromas and/or nutty characteristics.
It can happen even to the best of wines – a wine can simply be ‘off.’ Can’t quite put your hand on what that unpleasant smell coming from your wine is? There are 3 typical culprits: A wine can be reduced, oxidised or have cork taint.
Reduced wines can have a burnt rubber or cabbage aroma that can at times be unbearable. Keep in mind, there is a difference between a reduced wine and reductive aromas.
Oxidised wines are wines that have been exposed to too much oxygen. It is the most common wine fault and results in a loss of brightness in colour and flavour, in other words, the wine is flat.
Cork taint smells like damp cardboard or nail polish remover. It can be caused by the cork itself, or, in the unfortunate case, be present in the winery and negatively impact entire batches of wine.
5. Sip and taste
No slurping is needed, though it's not discouraged. Take a sip of your wine and make sure to swish it all around inside your mouth.
You want to engage all senses – from your tongue to your gums. You should ask yourself if it's a heavy wine, if it's thin, and if it’s rich or velvety.
Enjoy the flavours and textures of the wine – its acidity, sweetness, tannin and alcohol.
Acidity is a mouth-watering sensation. You may feel it by rubbing your tongue on the roof of your mouth and feeling a gravelly texture.
Sweetness is felt on the tip of your tongue. This could be a slightly tingling sensation or a feeling of viscosity.
Tannin is felt on your gums and can be a grippy, sandpaper-like sensation. Tannin tends to dry out your mouth and can also be felt along the sides of your tongue. Tannin can also be a source of headaches caused by wines.
Alcohol contributes to the body of a wine, which can provide an overall snapshot of the wine. The level of alcohol can be felt at the back of your throat and in your chest after swallowing the wine.
What flavours can you taste?
There are two primary flavours in both red and white wines:
Red Wine Fruit Flavours
Black Fruit: (typically Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Tempranillo & Syrah)
Blackberry, Black Currant, Marionberry, Black Plum, Blueberry, Black Cherry, Black Raspberry, Prune & Fig
Red Fruit: (typically Pinot Noir, Grenache, Sangiovese, Merlot, Nebbiolo)
Cranberry, Red Cherry, Strawberry, Raspberry, Red Plum, Pomegranate & Goji Berry
White Wine Fruit Flavours
Tree Fruits: (typically Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Moscato, Sauvignon Blanc & Gewurztraminer)
Apricot, Peach (white & canned), Nectarine Apple (green, red, baked) & Pear
Citrus: (typically Semillon, Chardonnay, Riesling & Pinot Grigio)
Grapefruit, Orange, Passion fruit, Lemon, Lime & Pineapple
Lastly, remind yourself to enjoy the finish, and see how long it lasts. Is it as short as a bad first date, or is it as long as afternoon tea with your Great Aunt?
Here’s a simple guide to determine the finish of a wine:
Have fun! Take a drink. Take two. Enjoy your wine with or without a meal, feel its taste, texture and weight. You’re enjoying yourself!
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