Guide to Tasting Wine
Guide to Tasting Wine
Wine tasting is not the same as going out with your friends to a winery on a beautiful Saturday in the Spring and not being able to get up in the morning due to too much vino! Wine tasting is a sensory examination of the wine’s characteristics. Wine tastings allows wine lovers to visit their favorite wineries and vineyards, try different wines, and purchase them on site. While at these vineyards, visitors can see how the grapes are grown, processed and fermented all while enjoying walking through the rows of grapevines. Think romance with a side of learning. After all, Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Wine is bottled Poetry.”
History of Wine
Wine has been a popular beverage of mankind for thousands of years. We are drawn to appreciate its notes, its nutritious properties and its intoxicating effects. If you are wondering how wine was discovered, an old Persian fable recognizes a woman as the discoverer of wine. She was a princess who had lost favor with the King, and the shame was so great that she ate some table grapes that had spoiled in their jar in an attempt to leave this world. Instead of passing away, she became intoxicated and then passed out. When she awoke, she seemed to think all her worries had left her. So, she continued to eat the spoiled grapes, and her pleasant mood allowed her to regain her favor with the King.
On a lighter note (no pun intended), wine production can be traced back to China around 7000 B.C, followed by Armenia and Georgia around 6100 B.C. Researchers discovered the world’s oldest winery in Armenia, and there is also evidence of winemaking in ancient Iran, Egypt, Israel, Greece, Cypress and Sicily. One has to wonder if there were wine tasting way back then, and if wine tastings were as popular as they are today.
Wine Tastings Tips
Not all wines taste the same. In fact, many variables play a role in finding a wine that suits your distinguished palate. Wine tasting can be an art and when done correctly is quite enjoyable. The key to a successful wine tasting is to follow a pattern of describing wine that works best for you. The pattern suggestion from the Sonoma County Wineries Association is to Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Spit. Let’s examine each.
Swirl the wine in your glass. Tilt your glass against the light in front of a white background. Look at the wine from every angle-above and each side. Go ahead and make a guess as to the type of grape, age and alcohol content. A few examples: The more “legs” or “tears of wine” you see riding down the side of the wine glass, the more alcoholic the wine is. If you pick up amber or orange colors along the rim of a red wine, the older it is. If it is a purple red, it is a young and immature wine. A garnet red is a mature wine at its peak. You can identify the age of wine by looking at its color, feeling its aroma, and tasting it.
Swirling is an important technique in wine tasting as it gets more oxygen into the wine. Oxygen is good for wine because as soon as a wine meets oxygen, it begins to break down, which many people refer to as wine “opening up.” As wine opens up, it emits aromas and softens. However, if you forget to put your wine away overnight, the oxygen will fully oxidize the wine, which ruins it, leaving a bitter taste. I think we have all been there before. Shaking our heads for leaving the wine bottle open overnight.
Now you need to be able to get your entire nose into this! So, choose a wine glass carefully. Inhale slowly. You definitely do not want your wine to smell like mold or a dirty sock. This could indicate that the wine is flawed. Next, check for dominate fruit aromas. With white wines, think tree, tropical or citrus fruit. For red wines, think red fruit, black fruit and blue fruit. Also, check for secondary hints of flowers, spice and herbs. Do you smell any earthy notes? This could indicate an aged wine. Once you have found the primary scents of fruit and secondary aromas of earth, then check for evidence of oak barrel aging. This aging smell could give hints of caramel, vanilla, oak, cream and butter. If a wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks without a hint of oak in sight, then these wines will come across quite youthful and fresh, and full of fruit.
Even famous wine critics confuse bouquet and aroma. Don’t be one of them! Know the difference. Wine aromas are classified into three major categories: primary aromas-type of grapes, secondary aromas-fermentation process and tertiary aromas-post fermentation aging in a wine barrel or bottle. On the other hand, wines owe their bouquet to the post fermentation and maturing process. This occurs in the wine bottle itself. Bouquet takes time to develop. A good, mature wine will have a complex bouquet. Bouquet is much like a perfume. It is the combination of aromas altogether to form a new aroma.
Make sure you have a clean palate before you take the first sip. Swirl your mouth with water. Take a sip of wine and suck on it as if pulling through a straw. I know! You might get some looks, but not from wine enthusiasts that do this all the time. Really allow your tongue to savor the flavors in your mouth. The tongue can only distinguish four flavors, sweet on the tip, salt just behind the tip, acidity on the sides and bitterness at the back. Does your wine taste sweet or dry? Light, medium or full bodied? Do you taste the primary fruit flavors? Which specific ones? Do you taste secondary flavors like spices or herbs? Look for hints of earthy flavors. Does the side of your mouth feel gritty? That may indicate tannic. Do you taste any tart or sour flavors? That may indicate acidity. If you feel warmth or heat in the back of your throat or chest, that may indicate a higher alcohol content. Finally, how is the finish? Does your wine go down your throat with flavor or does that flavor go away fast? Does the aftertaste stay with you or fade? A complete wine is balanced with blended flavors, the pieces fit harmoniously, and complex with a lingering, satisfying finish. These wines are more pleasurable to savor and to learn at a beautiful winery while sharing the moment with friends and family.
If you feel comfortable, spit your wine instead of swallowing. This is polite behavior at wine tastings since it allows you to taste many wines without worrying about alcohol affecting your judgement. “It’s by spitting out the wine that you will be even more distinguished in society,” pleads Pierre-Jules Peyrat, a Paris sommelier. What is a sommelier you ask? A sommelier is a wine steward, also known as a knowledgeable wine professional who typically works in a fine dining establishment. Some sommeliers even say that the aromas of the wine often come after the spitting. So don’t feel foolish or embarrassed to spit after tasting. Spitting could be the difference between driving home or calling an Uber.
It is fine that you are not a sommelier or a professional wine taster. You have just had a crash course in some of the fundamentals of wine tasting. The most important thing about wine tasting is learning something new, trying different types of wines, and experiencing everything a winery has to offer. Ultimately, spending time with friends and family while learning a new skill is a quality experience. You may consider starting a wine journal of your adventures and most favorite wines. Taking note of the wine’s characteristics through your sense of sight, smell, taste and touch are key to strengthening your ability to choose the best wines for you. Salute!
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