Professional Steps For Wine Tasting
The first and foremost step to wine tasting is to ensure perfect tasting conditions because it impacts your assessment of the wine. For example, a boisterous room packed with people can make it hard to focus. Culinary whiffs, pet odours, dust and even fragrances can diminish one’s capability to get an idea of the wine aroma. The shape and size of the glass holding the wine can also affect its zest.
Other factors that can have an impact on your evaluation are the temperature and age of the wine. The tasting environment should be as neutral as possible. There should be no residual taste from previously consumed food or beverage. If the wine is very cold, cup the glass with your hands to warm it. If the glass looks mouldy, rinse it with wine and not water, spinning it so as to cover all sides. This process is termed as conditioning the glass. Lastly and most importantly, if the room has a strong smell, particularly that of perfume, move as far away from it as possible into neutral atmosphere.
Evaluation by sight
Once the tasting environment is proper, the subsequent step is to visually inspect the wine. The glass should be around one-third full. Follow the below steps to evaluate by sight:
Straight Angle View
To see all shades of the wine, other than the dark centre, go by these steps:
- Look straight down into the glass
- Hold it to the light
- Tilt the glass, so the wine reels towards its edges, allowing you to see the full array of colours.
When you get an idea of the colour intensity, it gives you a hint about the density and fusion of the wine. You will also be able to identify grapes by colour and odour. A deeply infused, purple blackish coloured wine could be Syrah or Zinfandel. A lighter, pale brick shade could be Pinot Noir or Sangiovese.
To know how clear the wine is, look at it through the side of the glass, holding it in light.
A wine having chemicals or issues with fermentation will appear misty. It could also be a unfiltered wine or one that’s got sediments as a result of being shaken up before pouring it out. A clear, sparkling wine is a good indication and is usually excellent.
To gather cues about the wine’s age and weight, tilt the glass so the wine thins out towards the edge.
If the colour seems a bit pale and moist near the rim, it implies a somewhat thin, perhaps bland wine. If the colour is orangey or brownish (for a white wine) or auburn or rusty brick (for a red wine), it is either old or one that may be past its peak.
Lastly, swirl the glass around by keeping it steadfast on a flat surface. Beginners are not recommended to try freestyle open air swirling.Check if there are formations of ‘legs’ or ‘tears’ by the wine, running down the sides of the glass. Wines with good legs indicate more alcohol and glycerine content. This usually implies that they are aged, finer, more mouth-filling and denser than those with not so good legs.
Evaluation by Sniff
Once you’ve taken a nice look at the wine, move on to evaluating it by taking a good sniff. Swirl the glass, while hovering over it, slightly away. Do not keep it too close to your nose. Repeat the process a few times taking short and quick sniffs. Then step aside and sink in the information to assess the wine further.
One can actually train one’s nose to detect key wine scents, both good and bad. Although there are countless components in a good wine glass and it can be fun to spell out all those herbs, flowers, fruits and scents, one does not have to know them all for the purpose of assessing and tasting wine. Once done with the quick sniffs, look out for the following tangs to help you better comprehend the wine’s properties.
To begin with, try looking for smells that indicate a spoiled wine. It is likely to smell stuffy and taste like moist paper. It is a lethal defect and cannot be fixed.
A bottled wine with a heavy quantity of sulphur dioxide has an odour like that of burnt matches. The odour is released with a slightly forceful whirling.
Vinegar like smell indicates volatile acidity while ethyl acetate is when it smells like nailpaint.
Brettanomyces is unwanted yeast that stinks of sweat. The presence of brett provides red wines with an earthy, leathery element- but excess of it destroys all the essence of the wine.
Knowing how to recognise these irregularities is almost as important as knowing all flowers and fruits. It also helps you comprehend your palate sensitivity and blind spots. The skill to be able to choose your wine comes with ascertaining what you are familiar with and what you relish.
If there are no evident odours of a spoiled wine, search for fruit smells. Since wine is prepared from grapes, it should give an aroma of fresh fruits, unless it is aged, sugary or stone cold.
Look for some particular fruits or grapes. Many grapes are likely to display a gamut of probable scents that might help identify the thriving environment of the vineyard- warm, moderate or cool.
Flowers, Leaves, Herbs, Spices & Vegetables
In cool climates, white wines like Riesling and Gewürztraminer and a few Rhone kinds (including Viognier), are known to give off flowery scents.
Other grapes may be herbal or verdant scents. Cabernet Sauvignon has a hint of herbs and vegetation, while Sauvignon Blanc is strongly reedy. Rhone reds often release enchanting fragrances of Provencal herbs. Largely, people prefer herbal scents to be subtle. The best wine fragrances may be complicated but at the same time, they are also well adjusted, detailed and pleasant.
Another set of wine aromas may be classified as earthy. In many red wines, one can identify scents of mushroom, damp earth, leather and rocks. A mushroom smell is distinct and helps you detect the presence of a possible grape or the originating place of the wine. Too much of it indicates unripened or inferior quality grapes.
The smell of horses or leather can be intonation, but excess of it signifies brettanomyces.
Aromas of earth, minerals and rock are found occasionally in the finest of white and red wines. These could be indications of the completely natural environment in which a wine is produced – soil, topography and climate – termed as terroir. These conditions are reflected as specific essences and zests in the finished product.
Wine Barrel Aromas
Scents like that of toast, vanilla, chocolate, coffee, smoke, roasted nuts or caramel in a wine suggest that they have been aged in oak barrels.
Barrels can transmit a variety of smells and flavours to the end product. It’s like a colour palette with a number of paints. These factors include the type of oak, procedure of making the barrels, their age, the level of char used and the method in which the winemaker has mixed and matched them.
Young, white and sparkling wines have a smell very close to that of beer due to the yeast.
A few dessert wines have a strong smell of honey, which suggests the presence of botrytis (also called the noble rot) and is characteristic of the very best Sauternes.
Chardonnays smell of butter popcorn or even caramel and have been in all likelihood put through a secondary fermentation process of converting malic acid to lactic acid (malolactic) to reduce acidity in some wines and liberating the whiffs.
Older wines have a slightly more complicated but less fruity scent. A completely mature wine will have a gamut of highly delicate fragrances, perfectly mixed and practically impossible to spell out. It is simple, wholesome pleasure.
Nevertheless, putting words to the aromas can help one concentrate on, comprehend and retain the impressions of a variety of wines. Building a memory of those scents and their associated meanings can add value when one is in the wine tasting business. Knowing the terms can help dismiss some related myths, for instance, the misperception around wine labels’ description. And questions like why grapefruit is added to Gewurztraminer and raspberries to Zinfandel.
Evaluating by Taste
Finally, it’s tasting time! Take a small sip of the wine and try slurping on it as though you are pulling it with the help of a straw. This helps to aerate the wine and circulate it within the mouth.
You will come across an array of fruit, floral, herbs, minerals and barrel flavours. If you’re well acquainted with sniffing, most of these will trail from where the scents left off. Other than just detecting flavours, you are also making use of your taste buds to analyse if the wine is stable, harmonious, intricate, evolved and complete.
A well balanced wine should have its fundamental constituents in a good ratio. Our taste buds can know sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
Residual sugar (sweet) and acid (sour) are evidently essential components of a glass of wine. The salty taste is not very common and the bitterness is usually derived from the astringent than actual bitter tangs.
Usually a mix of flavours resulting from the scents is displayed in most dry wines, accompanied by the taste of acids, tannins and alcohol, which cannot normally be perceived by smell alone.
No single perfect formula exists for all wines, but there should always be a steadiness in the flavours. A well balanced wine cannot be too sweet, too sour, too bitter, too alcoholic or too flabby (lacking acid). If it is new, it is unlikely to age properly; if it is old, it may be crumbling or maybe wholly gone.
A harmonious wine has all its savours incorporated effortlessly. It’s a possibility, more so in younger wines, for all constituents to be integrated in appropriate quantities, but they can be sometimes obtrusive. One can easily identify them since they are not amalgamated. Good winemaking is when a young wine is infused with all its relishes existing in perfect balance.
Complexity can denote several meanings. Your capability to diagnose and know the value of complexity in wines will be a measure of your development in learning wine tasting.
The easiest flavours to spot are resonant of soft drinks – ripe, jammy fruit and strong vanilla from innumerable oak treatments. People new to wine drinking will relate to them first in most cases, since they are well known and pleasant. Some very successful wine brands offer these flavours in plenty. But they may not offer intricacy.
Complex, delicate wines seem to swirl in the mouth. The taste buds pick different zests during the process. In aged wines, these densities occasionally advance into uplifting territory. The length of the wine, meaning the time for which the flavours continue to linger on after swallowing, is a good indication of its intricacy. People even use a watch to make note of the time, instead of quickly moving on to the next sip, especially with an interesting glass in hand.
A wine is termed complete when it is balanced, pleasant, multifarious and advanced, with a long lasting, sustaining finish. These wines always have more to offer, in terms of both desire and learning, as compared to others.
Once you have completely understood the wine tasting process and its nuances, you are free to experiment. It will be useful to take notes and create a wine journal of your tasting events – incorporating your likes and dislikes. Make note of the details of each wine and it will be of vast help as and when you start learning to choose your own wine.