Wine Tasting

By Nokomis

Going to Wine School was a wonderful experience, and the continuing practice is an occupational delight. We thought we already appreciated wine, but school taught us a deliberate, thoughtful method for tasting wine that has added to our enjoyment.

When you taste a new wine, you should follow 3 steps: use your eyes to determine the visual characteristics, use your nose to determine the aroma characteristics, and finally taste using all the regions of your tongue and mouth.

Visual Characteristics:

• This will give you information on the age and the condition of the wine. Be sure you have a clean glass. (True believers then condition the glass by swirling a bit of the wine around the inside of the glass and then discarding it.)

• Pour an ounce or two of wine into the glass and tilt the glass away from you. It helps to have a clean white background behind the glass – tablecloth or napkin or even a piece of paper.

• Look for clarity – is it clear, cloudy, have visible sediment? This will tell you whether the wine is filtered or unfiltered. Both are delicious, but it is nice to know.

• Look for brightness – is the wine star bright, day bright, bright, or dull? Brighter is better.

• Look for color. This can give you a clue for the age of the wine if you don’t already know that. White and blush wines tend to darken with age, and reds tend to lighten. Young whites can have a green or silver tinge.

o Whites can range from watery, to straw, to yellow, to golden brown depending on the grape variety and the age.

o Red wines made from nebbiolo, tempranillo or granache grapes can throw an orange cast

o Red wines over 10 years of age may show separating pigments and tannins making some sediment. These wnes should be decanted to avoid getting sediment in your glass.

• Look for “legs” or “tears” of viscosity. Swirl the wine in the glass and watch to see how fast the legs or tears flow down the side of the glass. The bigger and slower the legs, the higher the alcohol content.

This seems like a lot of things to look for, but once you understand the list, the assessment takes only seconds.

Nose Characteristics:

Smell is 85% of taste. Humans can smell 10,000 distinct aromas but only taste 5.

Some small percentage of wines develop flaws. Smell can help you identify wine that has gone bad and should be sent back. Flaws detected with the nose include if a wine has TCA or in common terms “is corked”, or if it has oxidized due to age or poor storage, or if it has volatile acidity and is moving toward vinegar, or if it has excess sulfur (that rotten egg smell). As your server to smell also, and never hesitate to send back a bottle that is “off”. The restaurant can usually send it back to the distributor for credit.

Once you know the wine is not spoiled, smell for 3 things, fruit, earth and wood. Depending on the type of grape and wine, the fruit aromas can include stone fruits, citrus, berries, flowers, spice, herbs, and even vegetables. Earthy smells are prized by those who love European style wines and can include damp earth, mushrooms, dirt, even barnyard. Wood aromas from cask storage include vanilla and coconut.

Taste Characteristics:

Take a sip and roll it around in your mouth and throat. Professional tasters then spit. Some of the rest of us swallow.

You will detect whether the wine is sweet or dry with the tip of your tongue, and earthiness in the middle of your tongue. The acidity of a wine can be judged by whether and how quickly the wine makes your mouth flood with saliva. Tannins feel like little “PacMen” nibbling at the edges of your tongue.

Feel the weight of the wine in your mouth. Is it light, medium, or full?

Taste for fruit, earthiness and wood. Does it match what your nose told you? Or is there a change?

After you spit or swallow, pay attention to the “finish”. Does the taste linger in your mouth for a long finish? Or does it dissipate quickly. Longer is better.

You are the Boss

Wine tasting is individual and the wines you like may be different from the wines your spouse likes. You are both right. The whole point of thoughtful tasting is to enhance enjoyment. Over time you build a mental library of how certain wines taste and can compare them. And there are always days and wines when just quaffing it is what you want. You are the boss; just enjoy.

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