How to Taste Wine
Posted on Wednesday, Aug 25 2010 - 12:00 am
The more wines you try, the more you'll develop your palate-it's that simple. And how you try them makes all the difference. I know when you see wine tasters doing a lot of curious slurping it seems like a highly mysterious activity...but it's not. Swirl, sniff and spit, that's all it is. So why do we swirl? What are we looking for exactly? What is acidity? Tannin?
The first step in wine tasting is to fill your glass until it's about a third full. Take a good look at it. Tilt it slightly against a white background or hold it up to the daylight to see the range of colors from the center to the rim. Older red wines start to fade at the rim with a browny, tawny color. Red wines from hotter climates and gutsier red grape varieties have the deepest colors.
Start swirling the wine and get a good motion going, this will release the wine's aroma. Place your nose right into the glass and inhale slowly. Your first impression of the wine will be the most vivid as after two or three sniffs your senses become more neutralized. If you were an experienced taster, these first few sniffs would help you identify a lot from just inhaling: what grape variety it is, even where the wine is from. As a beginner you will quickly begin to identify the key fruit flavors that indicate a particular grape variety.
When it comes time to finally taste the wine, take a good sip and roll it around your mouth. You'll often witness experienced tasters making noise while tasting their wine. This is done in order to facilitate getting the wine to every part of their tongue: sweetness at the tip; saltiness a little further back and sourness or acidity at the sides with bitterness sensed at the very back. Taking a bit of air through your lips can help kick-start the aromas and flavors on your palate. Now give the wine a good chew.
Some flavors will be more obvious than others and in time you will notice lots of others. This is the time to think about the weight of the wine in your mouth. Is it light, medium or full-bodied? Is it balanced? What are the levels of acidity, alcohol, dryness/sweetness, fruit flavor and tannin? Now, swallow...or spit if you have a lot of other wines to taste. Take note of any lingering flavors, known as length. Did you like the wine?
Things to Look for When You're Tasting Wine
This is what makes the wine taste crisp and fresh. Without enough acidity the wine will taste flabby. Too much acidity and the wine can be very sharp and bitter.
Of course alcohol is found in all wine, however, the higher the level of alcohol gets, the rounder the wine feels in the mouth. If the alcohol is out of balance with the fruit and tannin, the wine will feel hot.
This is affected by the amount of natural sugar in a wine. The sweetness needs to be balanced by acidity or the wine is too cloying. Sometimes dryness can also be confused with acidity, something you have to look out for.
Lots of people think wine tastes and smells like grapes...it doesn't. Wine flavors resemble all kinds of things...freshly mown grass, chocolate, baking spices even bread dough, to name a few.
Wine tannin is what creates that furry, drying feeling you get in the mouth after tasting a very young red. Tannin comes mostly from the skins and seeds of the grape that red wines are fermented on. Tannin does soften with age and does help with the weight of the wine.
There's lots of wine out there just waiting for you to give it a try. Go enjoy them and practice your skills.