The Basic Principles Of Wine Tasting

There are more types of wine than we can count and how on earth are we to choose one when faced with a huge bank of bottles. Educating yourself in the wines you like is quite easy if you just make a few notes following a set pattern so that you can compare the wines you have drunk to find the ones you like best. Tasting wine is as much an art as a science and there is no right and no wrong way to do it. There is only one thing that matters – do you like that type of wine? I use a few basic pointers to help me remember the wines, for me there are four principal elements to tasting a wine, appearance, aroma, taste and overall impression.

Appearance falls into three subsections, clarity, colour and ‘legs’. Clarity - the appearance is important. Whatever its age it should look clean and not cloudy or murky. Very young reds from rich vintages can often look opaque but they should still be clear and not have bits floating around. Occasionally you can find a few tartrate crystals in the wine, red or white but this does not affect the wine and is not a fault. Colour - tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle against a white background which will show graduations of colour – the rim colour indicates age and maturity better than the centre. The colour gives clues to the vintage, generally speaking with reds, the lighter the colour the more lively the taste, fuller and more concentrated colour indicates a weightier wine. Whites gain colour with age and reds lose it so a young Beaujolais with be purple with a pinkish rim whilst an older claret will be more subdued with Mahogany tints. ‘Legs’ - you can get a hint of the body and sweetness of a wine from its viscosity. Swirl the wine in the glass and let it settle – watch the ‘legs’ on the side of the glass. The more pronounced the fuller (and possibly more alcoholic) the wine and vice versa.

The Aroma, Bouquet or ‘Nose’ of a wine is a very personal thing but should never be neglected. Always take a few seconds to smell a wine and appreciate the variety of scents that will change as the wine warms and develops in the glass. Smell is the most important element in judging a wine as the palate can only pick up sweet or sour and an impression of body. Flavours are perceived by nose and taste buds together. Swirl the wine to release the aromas and stick your nose deep into the glass taking a few short sniffs to get an overall impression, too much will kill the sensitivity of your nose. Young wines will be fruity and floral but an older wine will have more of a ‘bouquet’ sense of mixed fruits and spices – perhaps with a hint of vanilla, especially if it has been aged in American rather than French oak.

Taste is combination of the senses and will change as the wine lingers in your mouth. The tongue can only distinguish four flavours, sweet on the tip, salt just behind the tip, acidity on the sides and bitterness at the back. These can be changed by temperature, weight and texture. You may think it looks silly but ‘chew’ the wine for a few seconds taking in a little air which allows the nose and palate to work as one, hold the wine in your mouth for a few seconds to get an overall impression and only then swallow. Some wines will attack your taste buds - the first impression, and then follow through after swallowing. Some, particularly New World wines are very up front, while others have an almost oily texture (Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer) as they have low acidity. With reds you will pick up tannins (dependent on the oak barrels as well as the grape) on the back of the tongue. If the wine is young and tannic it will feel like your teeth have been coated. Tannins help the wine age well but can sometimes be a bit harsh unless the wine is well balanced.

Overall impression and aftertaste are often not given enough importance by the some of the Wine ‘gurus’ – for the rest of us it is what matters most! Cheaper or younger wines will not linger on the palate, the pleasure is ‘now’ but over quickly. A fine mature wine should leave a clear impression that persists for a while before fading gently. More important still is balance, one that has enough fruit to balance the oakey flavours for example, or enough acidity to balance the sweet fruits so the wine tastes fresh. Equally a wine which is very tannic with no fruit to back it up as it ages is unbalanced.

The most important thing, however, is to enjoy a wine. A few seconds spent tasting a wine before diving into the bottle can greatly enhance your pleasure – and you will have some idea of what you are drinking and what types of wine you to look for when you go shopping!

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About The Author, Chloe Alster
Brought up in a family of Wine Lovers Chloe Alster has a broad ranging interest in many types of wine, it's cultivation, and history as well as the more social aspect of wine appreciation. Her views and opinions are well respected within the ranks of fellow enthusiasts. She writes extensively on Wine related topics at Wine And Bottle