Delicate with a slight sharpness, complex with hints of berries and plum, fruity and up front—these are only some of the terms wine connoisseurs use when referring to the drink of the gods. Such fancy words are often the reason why some people assume that wine is for snobs. However, wine appreciation is more than just taking a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir and using gaudy descriptions to explain what makes it inviting or repellent. Wine tasting is, above all, an art. The act of articulating the multi-sensory delights that wine brings is, in fact, a poetic act which not everyone could successfully accomplish.
If you’re a new wine drinker and can’t recognise a Merlot from a Shiraz, much less understand the process of tasting wine, then this article is perfect for you. Here we’ll take a look at the basics of wine tasting and how the senses play a role in wine appreciation.
The Process of Wine Tasting
Tasting wine is similar to enjoying a book—first, you choose one that looks appealing, you sniff and inhale the scent of the pages, and as you go through the story you get to learn more about the characters, afterwards you decide whether it’s satisfied you. With wine, you don’t just gulp down a glass and conclude if it’s good or not. Wine tasting takes on a deeper experience as it requires the use of three senses: sight, smell, and taste.
You can glean a lot from a wine just by its appearance. In order to properly assess it, make sure you are using the right wine glass and are in a room with good lighting. Look out for its hue, depth, and clarity. Hue refers to the wine’s colour, depth or if the wine appears light, medium, or dark, and clarity or the wine’s transparency.
Observe its colour and depth by looking straight into the glass first. This would tell you whether the wine is right for its age or not. White wines typically assume a deeper hue as they age, taking on a golden colour. Brownish hues may suggest that the wine is past its prime or has been prematurely oxidised and thus, shouldn’t be consumed. Red wines, on the other hand, begin with shades of purple or ruby and turn paler as they age.
Then, try holding the glass against a white background. Good wines should look clear and sharp when light passes through it, with no floating sediments. Lastly, give the glass a gentle swirl and tilt it to view the wine’s range of colours. If legs or tears trickle down the sides of the glass, this could indicate that the wine has high alcohol content.
A wine’s aroma reveals a lot about its personality and quality. To truly appreciate wine, you must let your sense of smell experience it before you let your tastebuds feast on it. For beginners, it can be impossible to identify the various aromas in wines like Shiraz, Cabernet, or Sauvignon Blanc. But with a bit of training, identifying basic wine fragrances should come easy.
First, take quick sniffs and make sure it doesn’t smell off. Next, swirl the glass gently and take deeper whiffs. Swirling releases the bouquet or the wine’s aroma and allows your olfactory bulb to interpret the scent and recognise if it’s familiar or not. Wines typically contain hundreds of compounds similar to that in fruits, vegetables, or herbs, which is why critics are often armed with language relating to fruit, vegetable, or herb fragrances when describing a wine’s scent.
Finally, tasting the wine! But don’t get too excited and rush into swallowing the entire contents of the glass. You’d get to pick fruit, flower, herb, and a multitude of flavours better if you take a sip and let it linger in your mouth for a while. You should also determine whether the wine is balanced, harmonious, complex, or complete. Balance refers to the proportion of the sweetness or acidity of the wine; harmonious if the elements blend together; complex if it fascinates your palate and if it’s impossible to grasp all the flavours; and complete if it has balance, harmony, and complexity.
Although it can be intimidating for beginners to sip and talk about bouquets and tannins, exploring the art of wine tasting actually helps one enjoy wine better. With some practice, recognising France’s Malbec wines from Italy’s Valpolicella, or Napa Valley’s Merlots from the famous South Australian wines should be effortless.
About the Author:
Debra Wright blogs is about a plethora of topics including wine tasting and other fields. Debra considers “Trelawney Wines” as one of the leading wineries and vineyards in South Australia.