Look, smell and swirl: how to get good at wine tasting. Pro tips for mastering the complexity of the amazing drink
Many of us enjoy drinking wine but don’t really understand or appreciate the complexity of this amazing drink. And many feel nervous about discussing wines, thinking they might be saying the wrong thing.
Fear not – there is no right or wrong when enjoying wine, but the more you know and understand, the more you will truly cherish and appreciate the wine tasting experience.
Here are my top tips for trying wine tasting.
Appearance, aroma and mouthfeel
To appreciate the wine, all the senses are solicited.
Judges and formal wine critics will assess a wine’s appearance, aroma, and taste (or “mouthfeel”), and anyone who has heard the sound of a cork stopper from a bottle of sparkling enjoyed the sound.
A wine should be clear: free of any cloudiness or solids (“natural” wines may have some cloudiness due to yeast residue).
The color of a wine is also important. A young white wine should have a very pale or “straw” yellow color, and a young red can have violet overtones. Brown tints in a young wine indicate that the wine may be spoiled – possibly premature aging due to poor storage.
There are hundreds of aromatic compounds that all contribute to the smell of a wine. The term “aroma” refers to odors coming from the grape, and “bouquet” to odors resulting from winemaking.
A good wine should not be simple, it should have an interesting palette of aromas. A wine should not have unwanted or unpleasant odors, as this can also indicate deterioration. The smell of a wine should make you want to taste it!
As you taste, you can observe how the wines vary in style from dry (sugar-free) to very sweet, still to sparkling, and can have varying concentrations of alcohol (ethanol). Pay attention to the acidity of the wine and note if the wine has any astringency or bitterness – these are the tannins found especially in red wines.
Notice the different flavors derived from both the grape and the winemaking process.
All of these components contribute to the mouthfeel of a wine and must be in “balance”: no component should dominate the others.
How to taste
There are a number of factors that will enhance your wine tasting experience and three main steps when tasting wine.
Make sure you have clean wine glasses that can hold a reasonable volume of wine – at least 100ml with room to swirl! The wine should not be cold or too hot – room temperature is best.
Step 1: watch
Is the wine clear and free of any deposits or solids? Does he have a tan? Does it have bubbles when it’s not a bubbly style?
Step 2: feel
Shake the glass to coat the inside with wine. This helps release aromatic compounds. Put your nose directly into the glass and sniff deeply. Does it smell good? Free of unpleasant odors? Do you smell the fruity and floral aromas that come from the grape? Are there any oak or yeast aromas from the winemaking process?
Step 3: taste
Take a large sip and move it around your mouth. Can you taste grape flavors, acidity, heat, stickiness or creaminess? You can even suck air through your teeth, which helps release flavor compounds into your mouth, which can then pass through your nose to help you taste and smell the wine better.
Is the wine complex? Does the taste last a long time in the mouth or does the taste of wine disappear quickly?
There are also tools such as aroma wheels and tasting guides that can be useful to have on hand when tasting wines – these provide suggested wine descriptors. It may also be helpful to write down your thoughts in a journal.
And how to appreciate
The best way to appreciate and truly appreciate wine is to talk about it. Enjoy wine with others, such as a group of friends or a group of local wine lovers. Taste wines side by side so you can compare the differences.
There is a wealth of information on wine appreciation – wine reviewers give wine reviews in print and online, and most major wine retailers will also provide wine reviews. Or go to the wineries and talk to the cellar door staff or winemakers about their wines. It is very useful to talk to other people because it helps you build your “wine vocabulary”.
Consider appearance, aroma and taste, then the overall impression of the wine. Your opinion is your opinion – no one is right and no one is wrong. If you want to go back for another taste, or another drink, then you’ve found the wine for you.
(This is a syndicated PTI story via The Conversation)