1. LOOK Pour the wine about a third full into a simple glass that curves inward. Holding the glass by the stem, tip it against a white background. Examine the wine: Is it clear or dull? This can tell you if the wine has a fault or not. What color is it? White Wines: white-lemon-gold; Red Wines: purple, ruby, tawny; Rose Wines: pink-orange. Compare the color at the centre of the glass (core) with the color at the rim. What can the color tell you? White Wines: become deeper (more golden) with age. Red Wines: the more purple the wine, the younger it is. In young wines, the color is usually uniform. The more brown, tawny or orange the wine, the older it is. With age, the color is not uniform and is lighter at the rim of the glass compared with the center. Generally, the lighter the color of the wine, the cooler the climate. However, certain grape varieties are characteristically light or dark in color.
2. SMELL Swirl the wine in the glass to increase the surface area exposure to the air. This helps it evolve. Take a quick sniff (remember, first impressions count the most) Does it smell clean or unclean? This can tell you if the wine is corked or not. If corked, it will have a musty smell. Does it smell weak or pronounced? This can tell you about the wine's origin. The more intense the nose, the more likely that the grapes were grown in a hot climate and the level of sugar and therefore alcohol is higher. What does it smell of? Fruity, Savory, Dairy, Nutty, Spicy, Mineral, Sugary, Woody, Floral, Herbal. What can the smell tell you? Older wines tend to smell more savory and spicy and less of fruit. Younger wines tend to smell more of fruit. Some grape varieties have very distinctive bouquets.
3. TASTE Take a mouthful of wine (not too much) and swirl it around your mouth (so every taste bud gets a chance to taste it). Professional tasters draw in air at the same time to increase the contact with air and give the wine a chance to evolve in the mouth. Spit it out (optional, unless you've got twenty wines to taste!).
• Can you taste the sweetness? Sweetness is tasted at the tip of the tongue. It tastes sugary. It comes from the sugar in ripe grapes that is left after fermentation has finished.
• Is the wine dry, medium or sweet? Can you taste the acidity? Acidity is tasted on the sides of the tongue and tastes like lemons. It occurs naturally in grapes and is important to balance sweetness. White wines have more acidity than red wines.
• Does the wine have low, medium or high levels of acidity? Can you taste the tannin? Tannin is tasted at the back of the tongue and tastes bitter like a strong cup of tea that makes your mouth fur up. It also has the sensation of an under ripe or green banana. Tannin comes from the skins of the grapes and from oak ageing. It is mainly found in red wines.
• What flavors can you taste? Fruity, Savory, Dairy, Nutty, Spicy, Mineral, Sugary, Woody, Floral, Herbal. Are the flavors weak or pronounced?
• Can you feel the alcohol? Alcohol is sensed at the back of the throat and gives a warming sensation. The higher the level of sugar in the grapes before fermentation, the higher potential alcohol the wine will have, i.e. hotter countries tend to produce wines higher in alcohol. Are there low, medium or high levels of alcohol? You can also see this from the 'legs' left on the sides of the glass. This is also an indication of sweetness.
• How 'long' is the wine? This is a term that describes the length of time you can taste the wine once you have swallowed (or spat it out!). Is the length, short, medium or long? It gives an indication of quality. The longer the length, the higher the quality. What can the taste tell you?
Quality: A good sign of quality is balance. A wine is balanced when all of the wine's components (Ex. sweetness, acidity, and tannins) blend together. The balance or potential to be balanced after ageing is a sign of quality.
Maturity: Older red wines tend to taste more savory and spicy. Older white wines tend to taste more honeyed and yeasty. Younger wines tend to taste more of fruit. Origin: Hotter countries mean riper grapes and more overtly fruity wines (and a higher degree of alcohol).
Grape Variety: Certain grape varieties taste of certain flavors; Ex. Sauvignon Blanc typically tastes and smells of gooseberries, Cabernet Sauvignon of blackcurrants.
The reason wine “lingo” was established was to create some common descriptors to use to discuss such a subjective subject. Using these words helps others understand your interpretation of a wine. But it’s not necessary to use any prescribed language. You can describe a wine in any terms you want. It’s easier if you think of wine tasting terms as those that describe how the wine smells and those that describe how it tastes or feels in the mouth. The following are a few basic tasting terms that you may have heard:
Body—the viscosity of the wine (a wine can be as thin as water or as thick as cream) Big—high in alcohol Buttery—having an aroma of butter or butterscotch Crisp—high in fruit acidity (in a positive way) Fat—full-bodied Flabby—not enough acid Finish—the wine’s aftertaste Fruity—the fruit the wine is made from (the grape) or another fruit flavor is perceptible Hard—too tannic Light—light-bodied Oaky—can taste the oak imparted from aging in an oak barrel Soft—not too tannic
Sweetness: Tasted at the tip of the tongue and tastes sugary. The taste comes from the sugar in ripe grapes that is left after fermentation has finished. You can sometimes spot residual sugar from the 'legs' left on the sides of the glass. This is also an indication of alcohol or the level of fruit extract.
Acidity: Sensed on the sides of the tongue - can taste almost citric. It occurs naturally in grapes and is important to balance sweetness. White wines have more acidity than red wines.
Tannin: Tasted at the back of the tongue and tastes bitter like a strong cup of tea. Also has a drying effect on the gums. It comes from the pips and skins of the grapes and from oak ageing. It is mainly found in red wines.
Alcohol: Felt at the back of the throat, giving a warming sensation. The higher the level of sugar in the grapes before fermentation, the higher potential alcohol the wine will have; hotter countries tend to produce wines higher in alcohol. You can also see this from the 'legs' left on the sides of the glass.
Length: 'Length' is how long you can taste the wine once you have swallowed (or spat it out). It gives an indication of quality. The longer the length, the higher the quality.
Body: Weight and fullness of wine on the palate.
Balance: When all of the wine's component parts (Ex. sweetness, acidity, tannins) blend together. This is a sign of quality. This can take time. A wine is mature when it has achieved optimal balance.
A tannic wine has an astringency and bitterness that is caused by a high level of tannins. Tannins are a group of chemical compounds found in grape skins, seeds, stems and sometimes in the wood barrels the wine is fermented in. Tannins are important to the aging of wine. Wines most likely to be described as tannic are red wines.
A sweet wine is one that has a level of residual sugar that gives it a sweet taste. There is no indication of sweetness in a dry wine due to its low level of residual sugar. An off-dry wine is one that is slightly sweet.
It is not necessary, but highly recommended. The reason for swirling wine in the glass is to release its aroma, an essential step in tasting wine.
The following white wines/rosés are listed from lightest to fullest-bodied: White Zinfandel, Riesling, Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc/Fumé Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Sémillon, Viognier, Chardonnay.
The following red wines are listed from lightest to fullest-bodied: Gamay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel
The way a wine smells can give many clues to how it will taste, where it was made, and from what grapes it was made. Also, your sense of smell is imperative to your sense of taste. Most people smell a wine because they find it pleasurable or are interested in the connection between how a wine smells and how it tastes.
A buttery wine is one with the taste or aroma of butter or butterscotch. It is usually used to describe white wines and often results from the wine’s time in contact with yeast during barrel fermentation.
Bouquet usually refers to the odors found in wine which come from sources other than the grapes, such as the vanillin scent of the oak barrels in which the wine might have been fermented or aged. Earthy, herbaceous, or floral smells in wine are examples of bouquet.
The goal of a wine tasting is to discover new wines and have fun. First, decide what you want to taste: varietals from different wine regions, a few different varietals, different vintages of one producer’s wine? Tasting more than four to six different wines is not recommended as intoxication may overcome your guests. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to taste, buy enough of each wine so that each guest can have a taste (usually two to three ounces) and you’ll have some left over to enjoy after the tasting. Alternatively, you may ask your guests to bring a specific wine or a wine of their choice within a specific category or price range to taste.
Taste the wines blind - that is, cover each with a brown paper bag and rubber band and mark it with a number for identification. For a casual tasting, provide each taster with a wine glass, a pencil and paper and ask them to taste each wine at their leisure. Always provide a bucket for dumping wine and some bread or plain crackers to cleanse palates. You may want to let each person take their own notes on each wine describing flavors, aroma, and their general impression of the wine. Or, you may want to organize a rating system so everyone can give each wine an overall rating. At the end, the ratings can be compiled and a winning wine determined. Your guests can be seated at a table and taken through three evaluation steps as they taste each wine: 1) evaluate the wine’s appearance; 2) evaluate its aroma; 3) evaluate how it tastes. To help evaluate the visual aspects of the wines cover your table with a white tablecloth or provide white placemats. A wine’s appearance is easier to evaluate against a white background. You may want to ask your guests to give each wine a score on the way it looks, smells, and tastes as well as an overall rating. If the group is really good, they may even be able to guess the varietal, producer, and vintage of each wine.
A wine that has a flavor reminiscent of wood or oak is called oaky. This flavor comes through in wines that are fermented and/or aged in oak barrels.
The size of the barrel affects the maturation process (the smaller the barrel the more rapid the oxidation)
The age of the barrel (and the length of time the wine spends in it is also an important factor - the older the barrel the less intense the flavor it imparts)
The length of time the wine spends in barrel (the longer, the more intense the oak flavors)
Where the oak was grown - French oak gives vanilla and butter flavors, whereas American oak gives more molasses and intense vanilla.
Firstly, wood, unlike concrete or stainless steel, is porous and consequently allows the wine to be subjected to controlled oxidation. This leads to the tannins softening over time and the wine becoming more fully integrated. Secondly, it is used to impart a flavor and taste to a wine when used judiciously.
Wines made from Chardonnay are commonly oak aged. Dry or sweet wines made from Sauvignon and Semillon blended together can also benefit. Many reds improve with oak ageing. The average Cru Classé property in the Médoc uses seventy-five percent new oak each year, while in Burgundy a lower proportion of new wood is generally employed. Oak barrels are used extensively in Australia and California.