Wine Tasting Component I: Look
The first step you have to undertake in wine tasting is visual.
1. Fill up the glass up to 1/3 of its volume; never fill it more than half;
2. Hold the glass by the stem. Initially you may find this too pretentious but there are good reasons for it:
а) by doing it this way you can actually observe the wine in it;
b) this will keep your fingerprints off the bowl;
в) the heat from your palm will not change the temperature of the wine.
There’s a good saying by one of the greatest French wine lovers, Emil Painot: Offer someone a glass of wine and you can immediately tell whether he/she is a connoisseur by the way they hold the glass. " Even though you may not think of yourself as a connoisseur, you could still learn how to hold the wine glass.
3. Focus on the color intensity and the transparency of the liquid.
a) the color of the wine, and more specifically its nuances, are best observed on a white background.
b) the wine’s intensity is best judged by holding the glass without slanting it and looking at the liquid from above;
4. Next comes the swirling of the glass. This can also seem too pretentious or even dangerous if you have a full glass or a white top. But this movement is important since it prepares you for the next step in wine tasting – the Taste. The easiest way to swirl the glass is to place it on a table or other even surface, and to swirl your hand while holding the glass by the stem. Swirl hard and have the wine almost touch the rim of the glass. Then stop. The wine leaves tiny traces with irregular shapes on the inside of the glass. Some “experts" then read them with as much zeal as coffee-tellers. The truth is however, that they are just an indicator for the quality of the wine – the more alcohol a wine has, the more wine traces it forms.
What does the color of the wine tell us? The wine’s color tells us many things about its character.
First, the color shows the grape variety. Let’s take two popular varieties as examples – cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Cabernet’s grapes are smaller, with a thicker and darker skin than those of pinot noir. As a result, the color of wines made from cabernet sauvignon is usually described as violet to dark while the color of wines made from pinot noir is associated with ruby.
Second, the color is influenced by the climatic conditions. A hot summer and dry fall result in ripe grapes, with a dark, intense color. A cold summer and rainy fall will produce undeveloped grapes with a lighter color.
Third, wine-making practices also have an influence on the color of wine. For red wine, the grapes are fermented with the skin. Since the coloring agents are in the grape skin, and not in the juice, the longer the process of maceration, i. e. the longer the skin stays with the juice, the darker the wine color will be.
Fourth, the process of wine aging also has an influence on the color of wine. The young red wines are rich in coloring agents and that makes their color denser and fuller. In the course of time chemical reactions take place in the bottle and a sediment is formed at the bottom. The wine’s color gets lighter and is often described as brick or amber.
Let’s go through an example: you pour yourself a glass of red wine and after carefully observing it, you notice a full granite color, good density, and not so good transparency. What conclusions can you draw? Well, you can safely say that the wine is:
- from cabernet sauvignon grapes;
- from a Southern region;
- relatively young;
- from a good yield;
- that the wine-maker has gone for a good long maceration.
If you know the wine, compare what you know with what you see: maybe the wine has a very full color and the yield has been bad – this speaks of a good wine-making technique; or maybe the wine is too pale for its age – this speaks for undeveloped grape or poor wine-making technique.
Wine Tasting Component II: Smell
The second wine tasting component is smelling and inhaling the wine’s aroma.
Concentrate as much as you can and smell the wine, swirl the glass, and smell once again.
The stronger the aromas, the stronger the impression. Most of the wines, especially the more delicate and the older ones develop their aromas only after “being walked around" the glass.
There is no consensus as to the exact technique of whiffing. Some say do two or three quick whiffs, others prefer one single deep whiff.
The goal of whiffing is to inhale the aroma as deeply as possible so that it gets into contact with our sensory nerve and hence, with the part of the brain that is responsible for registering, storing, and deciphering sensations. The spot where that takes place is extremely sensitive: a cold or an allergy might completely block even the most intense aromas. With enough practice and concentration, you’ll learn how to extract the maximum from different aromas and how to interpret them.
The vivid connoisseurs love to concoct different aromas. “Dark chocolate!" says one. “No, that’s more like pepper, " claims another. “Tea leaves, tobacco, and mushrooms, " adds third. Are they joking?? Probably we don’t quite realize it but nowadays we are exposed to so many different smells that we find it difficult to find words to describe all the complex aromas that a glass of wine can offer.
Like color, a wine’s aroma can tell us a lot about its character, origin, and its history. Since our sense of taste is limited to only 4 categories (sweet, sour, bitter, and salt), the wine’s aroma is the most informative part of our sensory experience. So take your time, sit back and contemplate the aroma! Like the perfume of a loved one or the smell of freshly baked bread, a wine’s aroma can evoke memories of times and places that we cherish.
Wine Tasting Component III: Taste
This is the best part of wine-tasting. You might be enchanted by wine’s sparkling color or mesmerized by its aroma but it’s actually drinking the wine that the whole thing is about.
Maybe you are thinking that drinking is the easiest part – after all we start drinking from a glass from a very young age and we keep practicing for a lifetime. However, there’s a real difference between just swallowing liquid and conscious tasting. Here, just like in all good things in life, the difference is in the right technique. The appropriate technique can make sure we get the best out of the whole experience.
1. Still under the influence of the aromas you’ve inhaled in step II, take a sip of the wine. Don’t make it too big or too small. You need just enough to walk the wine in your mouth and not have to swallow it just yet. Let wine uncover its secrets. For reference, you may keep good wine in your mouth for 10 – 15 seconds, sometimes even more.
2. Walk the wine very well in your mouth, ensuring it touches each part of it. This is important because our tongue, palate, the inside of the mouth and our throat each detect different aspects of the wine.
For many years, it was believed that the tongue has different areas each of which is sensitive to a particular taste – sweet for the tip of the tongue, sour for the sides, bitter for the back and salty for the whole tongue. Today we know that all the tastes can be felt with the whole tongue, only there’s a “blind" spot in the middle of it which is not sensitive to any taste.
Another important step in wine tasting is being able to tell one’s impressions of the wine. “Astringent", “elegant", “fruity", “flat", “young" are only a few words of the wine vocabulary you’ll need to amass.