Learn about wine

10. Tasting wine

By Mark Andrew

Regardless of whether the wine you are drinking is red, white, rosé, cheap or expensive, the first step to understanding it is learning how to taste it. This is the bit where you end up swilling it around in your mouth as if it was mouthwash, and yes, I know, the main issue is whether you like it or not and you don’t need to slurp and spit in order to know if the wine tastes good. But……bear with me, this really can help you to know get to know your wines.

The Eye

I know we are supposed to be tasting the wine, but before it coats the taste buds there are other senses worth satisfying. Pour a couple of inches into a decent wine glass and hold it up in front of you, preferably against a white background. What we are looking for here is colour—red wines will vary from light red to dark purple; whites will range from a watery translucence, through yellow to a deep golden colour.

The colour of wine is determined by the grape variety, the age of the wine, the area of production, and even time spent in oak barrels.

Wines from cooler climates tend to be lighter in tone, while the hotter regions produce the more ominous-looking full-bodied blockbusters. Young whites can have a greenish tinge to them, while ageing whites in oak barrels (as is common with chardonnay) infuses them with a more golden hue. With time, reds grow paler in colour, whites grow darker.

The Nose

Give the glass a good swirl and get the liquid moving. This releases the all-important aroma compounds that make up the ‘nose’ or ‘bouquet’.

Breathe deeply and smell the wine. About 70% of our taste is obtained from our sense of smell, and every glass of wine should throw up a number of different aromas. Many of these scents will be indicative of a certain variety; the red fruits of Pinot Noir, for example. Others will tell you about the age of the wine and still more are peculiar to a particular place. Some will stand out to certain people while passing others by. The more wine you drink, the more you will recognise familiar aromas that give away details about what’s in the glass.

The Palate

Take a good sip, and move it around your mouth. Roll it over and under your tongue and get it exposed to as much of your mouth’s surface as possible. Now get some air in there. This is when the slurping noises start, but it is important, as it brings the nose back into play, drawing out characteristics that are otherwise hidden.

In order to assess quality, we are looking at the balance of the wine, which is reflected in the interaction between tannin, alcohol, acidity & sweetness. What we are looking for is a harmony between these elements that will provide a pleasant feel in the mouth. Without balance the wine is unlikely to improve and develop with age.

After the wine is spat or swallowed another key element of the tasting process comes into play – the ‘finish’. A wine that leaves a long, pleasant and lingering taste in the mouth is one that promises to develop into an even better wine, whereas a short and abrupt finish implies that the wine is of inferior quality and unlikely to improve.

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