Tuesday, 26 June 2012 15:49
Drinking wine is easy. Anyone with the ability to remove a cork, unscrew a cap, or maneuver one of those dispensers on boxed wine has the capacity to drink any wine, any time. But tasting wine is where is gets complicated. Scary, even. The connotation of ‘wine tasting’ brings to mind stuffy, snobby critic types slurping and swirling, spitting and smelling, all to come up with terms like ‘terroir’ (earthy flavor), ‘piquant’ and ‘insipid’ to describe a wine. Where do they come up with these descriptions? Contrary to popular belief, it’s a relatively easy pursuit that, like any art or skill, takes practice to improve. Wine is fascinating and popular because it is so complex. But it shouldn’t be intimidating. Here are the basic steps to tasting any wine:
First, just take a look at what you will be drinking. All wines have a different appearance in the glass. When you get a sample, hold the glass up to the light. With white wine, colors are described as straw, gold, or amber. It refers to deepness of the yellow color of the wine. With reds, colors are typically designated as purple-red, ruby, garnet or brick red. The colors of both types of wine can indicate the varietal, length of exposure to grape skins, and the health and/or age of the wine.
As you look at the wine, you should also notice the clarity of the liquid. Is it brilliant, clear, dull or cloudy? These terms refer to how clear the wine is as you look through the glass. You may see sediment or undissolved material floating the wine. It doesn’t sound appealing, but in red wines, it is usually the remnants of the grape skins that have separated from the liquid, so usually it is nothing to have concern about. Many times, the clarity of the wine shows the quality of the wine, because it can show how much (or little) a wine was refined during the vinting process.
Finally, swirl the wine around in the glass a little bit. As you swirl, make sure that you are not holding the bowl of the wine glass. Try to hold the stem, or keep the base on a surface to swirl. Holding the bowl of the glass can heat up the wine, which affects the flavor. Look at how the wine runs down the sides of the glass in tracks. These tracks are called ‘legs’. They show how thick or thin a wine is (also called viscosity). Thicker, or denser, wines will usually have more legs running down the glass, which tells you that it has a higher alcohol or sugar content.
The next step in tasting wine is smelling it. Since you have already swirled the wine around in the glass to look at the legs and viscosity, you have already begun this step of the process. Swirling the wine exposes it to air and releases vapors from the wine that adheres to the glass as you swirl. This enables you to determine a variety of smells before you take a sip. These aromas are also referred to as the wine’s bouquet. Smelling may not seem like an important step, but experts estimate that 80% of our sense of how something tastes is actually centered in what we smell, so it really has a huge impact on the flavors of wine you will discover.
When smelling wine, there is no specifically right or wrong way to go about it, but you want to get your nose close enough to the glass and liquid so that you can register all the variety the wine has to offer. One long, deep breath, three short, quick breaths; the approach is up to you. The goal is to find as many different smells as you can. At first, you may only smell the alcohol of the drink, but try to go beyond that smell. Your palate may need some practice, as I mentioned before, but that’s the fun part!
Finally! The best part of the process. The actual tasting of the wine. If you go to a winery to taste their wines, they will usually pour you a half ounce to an ounce of the selection. Take about half of this as your first sip. This is not the time to just drink the wine. This is the time to let the wine sit on your tongue and spread over your taste buds to absorb the flavors. The taste and flavor of the wine will develop over a few seconds as you process the first sip you take. The flavor process of the taste comes in three stages:
This sounds rather severe for such a refined process, but basically, this is the first impression of the taste of the wine. Many people can find evidence of the alcohol, tannin, acidity, and residual sugar within this stage of the taste. These parts will not come across as actual flavors in the wine, but more as the way the wine feels in the mouth. These feelings can be described as sweet, dry, crisp, creamy, complex, soft, firm, light or heavy. Overall, you are looking for balanced feelings from this first taste. Too much acidity in the wine can cause a sharp or overly tart feeling. Too much alcohol will cause a hot and biting feeling, and too many tannins will make your mouth pucker and the wine feel harsh.
Now is the time you will get a real flavor from the wine. This is where most people are nervous in using descriptors. Too many people are afraid of saying the wrong thing in describing a wine. There are literally hundreds of different flavors that can be apparent in wines, but really it is as easy as comparing the taste to something else you have tasted before. Many people just starting out in wine tasting will need a suggestion of what to look for in the flavors before they can identify what they are specifically finding. Look at the tasting notes on the bottle to help you prepare before you taste. A lot of white wines will present with flavors of apple, pear, tropical or citrus fruits, or the taste may be more floral in nature or consist of honey, butter, herbs or a bit of earthiness. Red wines have berry, plum, prune or fig; perhaps some spice – pepper, clove, cinnamon, or maybe a woody flavor like oak, cedar, or a detectable smokiness.
The finish of a taste of wine is the length of time the flavor lingers on the tongue and in the mouth. This helps you determine if this is a wine you would want to continue drinking, because this is the way your memory is impacted by the taste. As you think about the finish of a taste of wine, consider: What was the flavor you were left with? How long does it last on the palate? What was the body of the wine – light (like water)/medium (like milk)/full (like heavy cream)?
All of these steps and considerations are taken in over the course of several minutes, so it can go by quickly. But practice makes perfect! Organize a wine-tasting night with friends, or visit a local winery (like Fahrmeier Family Vineyards) to get more practice and meet people who enjoy tasting. If you want to host your own tasting night, keep in mind that an appropriate wine tasting order is: sparkling wine – light, younger whites – heavier, older whites – rose – light, younger reds – heavier, older reds – dessert wines. This order will keep your palate clear enough for the next type of wine. Drinking a red before a white can overwhelm the taste buds, causing you to miss a lot of the flavor differences.
Wine tasting isn’t just for snobby critic types. It is for anyone who wants to enjoy a drink and learn about their own preferences and tastes. So get out there and start tasting! (Responsibly, of course).
Monday, 20 February 2012 14:01
We have put this group of articles together to help take out the complexity of wine and help make it fun. It is such a large subject that it can sometimes be overwhelming. This is only a guide and is just information that we have gathered over the years and found helpful to us. Hopefully it is helpful to you.
The link on the left will allow you to select any of the categories you would like to learn more about.