How To Taste Wine
Three Important Aspects To Wine TastingPeople can get into some really complex ideas about wine tasting, but there is a basic technique to exploring the wine in your glass. In a nutshell, you are exploring three things: the look of the wine, its smell, and how it tastes.
Look At Your Wine Before Tasting It:First give the wine in your glass a look. Check it out from above, tilt and swirl it, and hold it to the light. The depth of its color gives you a clue to its density. Held to the light you can see if it is clear or murky. A murky look to the wine may simply mean that it’s unfiltered or has yummy sediment (the good stuff from aging). When you swirl the wine in your glass, the presence of “legs” down the sides indicates greater alcohol and glycerin content, which gives insight to the wine’s character.
Smell the wine before tasting it:Sniff the wine at the top of your glass to identify fruit flavors or flaws.
- Floral, herbal, grassy, earthy, leathery, or mineral smells can reveal the type of grape used, or perhaps the terroir (environment, soil, climate) it grew in.
- Toast, smoke, vanilla, chocolate, or espresso are all scents that may come from the type of barrel the wine was aged in, and its cellar life.
- If you smell “musty old attic” your wine is likely “corked.” The cork failed during aging, and you may ask for a new bottle from your wine purveyor.
- If you smell acrid scents, such as burnt matches, it’s likely a sign that the sulfur dioxide used in processing is out of balance; it hopefully will diminish with vigorous swirling or leaving the wine uncorked for a bit while drinking.
- The smell of vinegar may indicate volatile acids, such as acetic acid in your wine. It is often caused by overexposure to oxygen during winemaking or storage.
- If your wine smells like a sweaty saddle, it may have a bacterium called Brettanomyces in it. A little bit of “Brett” in a wine gives it a leathery taste and some character; too much and the fruit taste is gone! Basically, the cleaner the vineyard and cellar, the less chance of this.
Taste the wine a sip at a time:The best way to taste wine is one small sip at a time with a pause in between to allow the wine’s full flavors to be revealed. Technically you are looking at about a teaspoon of wine at a time. Professional tasters will spit the wine out after they are through; they can still enjoy and evaluate the full taste of the wine without swallowing it. The reason for a small sip is to be able to coat your entire mouth with the wine. Once there, allow it to rest for a while before swallowing. A smaller amount will warm up quicker, and you’ll get fuller flavors. Your first taste is the “attack” (what you taste immediately). Your second taste is the “midbody” (a more complex wine will have a different taste midway through). Then, after you swallow it and pause for a while, you may get a third taste, the “finish”. Again, allowing time in your mouth and between sips allows you to get the wine’s full expression and complexity. Fun fact: Each of us has a different “palate”, and the same glass of wine may taste differently to us, because our mouth bacteria and pH are slightly different. Our taste buds all vary in detecting sweet, sour, salty, and bitter tastes.
What affects the taste of a wine?
- If a wine is too cold, you will not get its full flavors – warm it up by allowing it to sit at room temperature for a short while or cup the glass in your hands to warm it.
- The age of a wine affects your taste. Most Americans drink their wine too young. Wine chemistry changes with age. A young wine may taste more flaws and less fruit than a perfectly aged wine. The lighter the wine, the less age to achieve its perfection! The darker the wine, the longer it can age, soften its tannins, and reveal its fruit expressions.
- Residual flavors from food or other drink can affect your wine tasting experience. If you wish to rinse your wine glass, rinse with wine, not water.
- A sweet wine may have residual sugar left over from the winemaking process and will rarely benefit from aeration or bottle aging.
- A more sour-tasting wine may contain higher acids, which will be excellent with the right food pairing. There is a whole science to food and wine pairing. That’s another video/blog!
- A wine that has more of a biting quality at first may have a higher alcohol content.
- A wine that causes your mouth to pucker or tastes more bitter likely has more tannins from exposure to grape skins or stems during winemaking. These will mellow with age.
- A good wine is harmoniously balanced between these factors.
Know that the greatest wines ever created are now available to you by your local winemaker! There has never been a better time to enjoy wines than now. Cheers!