Wine tasting often seems complicated to many, however with some basic pointers to look out for, one will be able to decipher some key information.
Given that everyone’s palate varies for various reasons i.e. environment, culture, dietary and many others, each person’s palate and perception are very different.
Our quick guide will walk you through on some important steps on what to look for when tasting wine.
Before you start swirling, smelling and sipping it, look at the wine to get a sense of its colour. The colour of a wine can tell you a lot about the wine you’ll be drinking. When doing this, many people like to hold their glass of wine against a white background, as it helps to see the hue of the colour more easily. So why is colour important? This is because as white wine ages, they gain color and as red wines age they lose color. However, just like taste, there are different personal observations. What is pale yellow-green to one person, may be gold to another.
Below are several reasons why a wine may have more or less color:
- Its vintage is older
- Different grape varieties exhibit a different color
- White wines that aged in oaks may have darker color
- Certain wineries offer unfiltered red wines which may show color changes
Why do people swirl their wine? This step is to allow more oxygen into the wine. One may say, oxygen is a friend and enemy to wine — “Frenemy”. Oxygen is great for wine as it helps to break down and “open up”, releasing more aromas of the wine. However, if a wine is exposed to too much oxygen, it will fully oxidize the wine, ruining it and leaving an unpleasant taste that can be flat and even bitter.
Another reason people swirl their wine is to have an additional look at the overall appearance. The “legs” that trickle down the inside of the wine glass once the swirling stopped allows people to have an idea of the body of the wine. The more noticeable the legs, the fuller the body of the wine and a fewer legs or no legs at all indicates a “thin” tasting waste.
This is the most important part of wine tasting. One can perceive four tastes — Sweet, sour, bitter and salt. It is estimated that humans can identify approximately 2000 different scents and wines has 200 of its own. You may smell the wine for three times and the third smell usually tells more than the first attempt. Going through the nose of the wine helps identify certain characteristics which people are not spending enough time on it.
The most effective way to learn your own preference of wine styles is to memorise the smell of each individual grape varieties. Whites are generally easier to memorise, just try to memorise the three major grape varieties which are the Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Keep smelling it until you can differentiate the smell of these varieties. As for reds, it is more difficult, however you can still use this three major varieties; Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and try to memorise the smells using simple words
Another point while focusing on the smell of wine, is the defects of it. The most common fault that can be discovered on the nose is cork taint. At low levels, this can strip the wine of its fresh, fruity aromas. At its worst, it can add a pungent, unpleasant damp cardboard or musty smell to the wine. Out-of-condition wines will smell dull and stale, and may have excessive oxidative aromas (toffee, caramel or sherry). However, there are also wines such as Oloroso Sherry which are deliberately oxidised during production.
Whilst the flavour is noticed on the palate, it is the sugar, acid and bitterness components that are the most crucial aspects to consider when tasting a wine. All parts of the tongue are sensitive to all tastes, but some areas are more sensitive than others. Sweetness is the most easily detected on the tip of the tongue, acidity on the sides and bitterness at the back. To ensure you gain the clearest possible impression of the wine, take a small tasting sip then draw in air through your lips. This will ensure that the wine coats all parts of your mouth.
Sweetness: It is an indicator of how much sugar a wine contains and although wines made from very ripe grapes can have a slightly sweet flavor even when there is no sugar. Practically all red wines, and most whites are dry and which means they contain almost no sugar. Whereas, white wines that taste slightly sweet are described as ‘off-dry’.
Acidity: This is what makes a lemon or lime taste sour. Its presence makes wines taste vibrant and refreshing. Normally, the acidity level in white wines is higher. Cool climates generally result in higher levels of acidity than hot climates. Also, acidity is essential for sweet wines, if it’s too low, the wines will taste over sweet and cloying.
Tannin: This is what makes strong black tea taste bitter. Tannins are usually present in grape skins and their presence in wines depends on the amount of skin contact during wine making. Usually, white and Rosé wines receive very little thus they rarely have any detectable tannin. Thick-skinned varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah have higher tannins levels than thin-skinned ones such as the Pinot Noir.
Body: People often describe this as ‘mouth-feel’, it is the sensation of richness, weight and viscosity. This is a combination of the effects of alcohol, tannins, sugars and flavour compounds extracted from the skins. Thus, it is possible for a wine to have a high alcohol level but light in body because of its very little tannin.
Finish: This refers to how long the desirable flavours linger in the mouth after the wine has been swallowed or spat out. A long, complex finish is an indicator of quality. For a ‘short’ finish, it is usually associated with lower end wines and the flavour will dissipate within a few seconds.
After going through this guide, we hope you have gathered a few pointers to better appreciate your next tasting session.