We can all get lost in the terminology and quasi-poetic aspects of wine. There are undoubtedly plenty of professionals and enthusiastic amateurs who can wax lyrical on the benefits of one particular grape over another, sometimes postulating things us mere mortals find difficult to comprehend.
If you’ve been invited to your first wine tasting, the good news is that it’s not as complicated nor as high-brow as you think. And if you want to grow your wine knowledge and expertise, there’s plenty you can do – all it takes is a little effort and focus.
Everyone has different tastes – not just because of the way we’ve been brought up but because of our own, personal biology. Understanding this and what can influence taste – including the food you serve with a particular wine, the cost of the bottle and the grape varieties used. Even the origin, because of the soil and weather, has an impact where similar grapes are grown.
There are several parts to a good wine tasting. So, if you want to act like a professional vintner, you need to follow these simple steps:
Take a Good Look
Before you do anything, you need to look at the wine – something that most people forget in their rush to taste. It’s all red, white or sparkly so what’s the difference anyway? Swirl the wine gently in the glass and examine it a little more closely. Something that moves around like water might be a lighter, fresher wine. Something that looks a little ‘syrupy’ should be more full bodied and potentially have a much higher alcohol content. Whites, certainly, can vary in colour which can give you an idea of the quality and the grape.
Smell the Wine
The next step is to smell the wine, most particularly if it’s a red. Swirling it around gently in the glass should release the unique bouquet, so tip your nose over the rim and take a long, gentle breath in. Smell is a big part of any wine tasting and comes on three levels:
- The easiest is the primary aroma or the initial strongest scent. You’ll often find different grapes have a different aroma and once you know how to recognise these, wines become easier to identify.
- The secondary aroma usually comes out of the winemaking process itself and can include a lot of wild and individual smells. You might have noticed a hint of freshly baked bread or coffee. This requires a more educated nose but if you keep at it you should develop over time.
- The tertiary aromas generally come from how the wine was stored. For example, if the wine was kept in an oak cask you might be able to notice that or certain spices, even tobacco or chocolate.
Most of us don’t have a highly trained sense of smell and being able to notice these things is an art in itself. If you’ve already been to a wine tasting and heard someone talking about the underlying scent of caramel and thought it was a joke, the time might be ripe for you to train your nose a little better. You need to develop this area because it’s important for when you taste the wine. Unfortunately, the only way you can do this is to go around smelling things!
Tasting the Wine
We all have different palates so how you view a particular wine will probably not be exactly the same as the person standing next to you. There are three components you need to look out for though:
- First is the body of the wine and whether it feels light or heavy in your mouth.
- The next is the level of tannin – something that is usually associated with younger wines and can make some seem sticky or intense.
- Finally, there’s acidity or how tart it feels on your tongue. The level of acidity is down to the type of grape, the production method and where it’s grown. What you usually want is the goldilocks effect where it has just the right amount of acidity but is neither too tart nor too bland.
In the end, it takes practice and effort to become a serious wine taster and you’ve got to be prepared to put in the hard work. Make the effort, however, and you’ll begin to get a lot more from the bottles of wine you choose.