Wine tasting isn’t hard, just turn Closeau!!

wine tasting

Wine tasting is easy when you know how!

Some regard wine tasting as a bit of a dark art, but, like most things in life, it’s quite simple when you know how. There are clues all over the place so you just need to play Chief Inspector Closeau (unnecessary to elevate that to Luther or Taggart to tie the evidence together!!).

So how do you go about it? Well don’t make it hard for yourself! It’s easier if there’s good (and natural) light in the room and away from strong odours and smells….kitchens aren’t brilliant particularly if you’ve just been cooking. Get your mouth ready too! Leave it for a while if you’ve just brushed your teeth or drunk orange juice and definitely avoid eating strong flavours like chilli, onion, coffee etc.

wine tasting glasses iso

ISO tasting glasses make wine tasting far simpler

Use clean small tulip shaped glasses, although ideally get yourself some ISO tasting glasses as they are specifically shaped for wine tasting. These are easily available and pretty cheap from Amazon.

So ready to get going? Well there are 3 main elements to tasting: –

  1. How it looks….the appearance
  2. How it smells….the nose
  3. How it tastes….the palate
Tilt the glass around 45° against a white surface

Tilt the glass around 45° against a white surface

Appearance 

The appearance divulges the least number of clues about a wine, yet the ones it does are still important to gather up. First is it clear and bright. If not, it can indicate a potential fault e.g. if it’s hazy etc and all will be revealed on the nose if it is!

If there is any petillance, tiny little bubbles adhering themselves to the glass, this can disclose the wine is either faulty (re-fermentation in the bottle) or perhaps the winemaker has intentionally retained some CO2 to enhance the freshness and add texture – more likely with unoaked white wines.

Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age”  Pope XXIII

Studying the core (main area of the wine) versus the rim (where the wine hits the side of the glass) gives away other clues in particular age: –

  • White wines
    • Rim
      • Young white wines have a wider watery rim in youth that narrows with age
    • Colour spectrum
      • In ascending order from the youngest are: –
        • Lemon-green
        • Lemon
        • Gold
        • Amber
        • Brown
  • Red wines
    • Rim
      • Young red wines have a narrow watery rim in youth that widens with age
    • Colour spectrum
      • In ascending order from the youngest are: –
        • Purple
        • Ruby
        • Garnet
        • Brown
wine tasting 2

Gently swirl the glass to release the aromas

Nose

Gently swirl the wine around the glass. Watch how the wine adheres to the glass and how fast or slow the legs, or tears, form and fall on the glass. When they are slower, this is ‘tipping you the nod’ that there is potentially higher sugar and/or alcohol and/or a particularly viscous grape like Viognier etc.

Now smell the wine. It should be clean, but if not it could be the sign of cork taint (damp cardboard and musty) or perhaps it has oxidised (vinegar).

Consider how intense the aromas are. Some wines like Pinot Grigio have a light intensity yet a Gewurtztraminer is the opposite and pronounced. Do the aromas seem fruity and floral (more youthful) or oxidation i.e. toffee, honey, caramel and coffee (aged).

Finally what aromas can you smell? It’s good to ask yourself if you can detect any of following categories as it makes you consider and focus on each of them i.e. fruits, floral, spices, vegetables, oak, other. If for example you can smell black fruit, ask yourself what black fruit, if it’s citrus fruit, which citrus fruit etc.  The Flavour Wheel below is a great thought provoker!

Palate

Some make quite an exhibition AND NOISE when they taste wines. You can too if you want, but its not necessary. What is necessary, if you want to be able to really taste wines properly, is to use your olfactory glands as they ‘house’ a great proportion of your wine tasting senses! Sounding complicated and painful? Not at all and it’s incredibly simple. Take a sip of wine, swirl it around your mouth then keeping your head up (avoids any embarrassing dribbling), form your mouth into an ‘O’ (easy – say the word ooohhhhh – actually you don’t need to say it just pretend to and you’ve got the perfect mouth position) and draw in some air for a couple of seconds before re-swirling the wine around your mouth again. Then either swallow the wine or spit it out.

wine tasting citrus fruit

Citrus fruits: grapefruit, orange, lemon and lime

  • Acidity  We recommend you do acidity first. As soon as you spit the wine out, put your head back up and drop your jaw. If your mouth waters significantly and immediately, the acidity is high, if it takes a bit longer then it’s becoming more medium etc. Acidity can be from low to high.
  • Tannin  Tannin (source from grape skins and oak) is predominately only in red wines. To gauge the level, just think about how much of a cloying and drying sensation your teeth and gums have. Tannin can be low or high and even if they are high they can still be soft and velvety. If you fancy another way of experiencing tannin, chew some raw rhubarb or split open a tea bag and chew on some tea leaves….you might prefer to imagine this to get the drift!!!
  • We detect sugar at 4g/L

    We detect sugar at 4g/L

    Sweetness  We detect sugar at 4g/L on the tip of the tongue.  5-9g/L is classed as off-dry, medium dry to medium sweet 10g/L – 45g/L, sweet 45g/L and luscious a staggering 150g/L!

  • Imagine sipping a Cognac to assess alcohol

    Imagine sipping a Cognac to assess alcohol

    Alcohol  Alcohol is detected by how much ‘heat’ you get at the back of the throat. Imagine sipping a Cognac and that warming feeling at the back of your throat, well that’s alcohol.   Be careful though, a wine can be spicy, but that warmth/heat will be to the front of the mouth. Alcohol can be low (10.5% abv or lower), medium (10.5%abv+ to -14% abv) or high (14% abv+). (ABV = alcohol by volume).

  • Work out the ‘chompability’ using milk!

    Body  Body is basically judged by the mouthfeel of the wine…the ‘chompability’!! Swirl the wine around your mouth and stick your tongue through the liquid to asssess the weight of the wine.  An easy way to try and gauge this is to consider the wine in terms of milk e.g. light bodied as skimmed milk, medium bodied as semi-skimmed milk and full bodied as full fat milk!!

  • Detecting black or red fruit, ask yourself which black or red fruit

    Detecting black or red fruit, ask yourself which black or red fruit

    Aromas  Again just like the nose, what aromas and flavours can you taste? As mentioned, it’s good to ask yourself if you can detect any of following categories as it makes you consider and focus on each of them i.e. fruits, floral, spices, vegetables, oak, other. If, for example, you can smell black fruit, ask yourself what black fruit, if it’s citrus fruit, which citrus fruit etc.

wine tasting flavour wheel

Flavour Wheel

Savoury, yeasty and bready notes indicate lees contact (dead yeast) and dairy, buttery, creamy notes signal malolactic fermentation (commonly known as MLF) where the harsh malic acid is converted into the softer lactic acidy. Majority of red and non-aromatic whites like Chardonnay often undergo MLF.

Oak is commonly used in red and non-aromatic white wines. French and USA oak predominate around the world yet they have different flavour profiles. French oak adds more toasty nutty flavours whilst USA oak contributes a sweeter vanilla and coconut.

Use the flavour wheel to try and help you think of some specifics.

  • Finish or length  You can work out length by how long the flavours linger and last. Not just one or two of the flavours, but all of them together. If the fruit flavours only last a few seconds, but say the oak or some bitterness lasts longer, the wine would have a short finish. If all the flavours linger together the wine would have a long finish.
  • Quality assessment  To consider the quality, just review all your clues.  Assess the balance, intensity, concentration and length. A wine that is well balanced (it could have high alcohol yet it should be nicely integrated and not standing out), with good intensity and concentration (complexity) of aromas and flavours on the nose and palate with good length would be described as very good quality. A wine, which is dominated by alcohol, could be described as being unbalanced or a wine that promises on the nose but fails to deliver on the palate would be downgraded to good or acceptable.

So there you go. Step by step you too can start to pick up the clues and solve the contents and quality of your own wine purchases!!!

Enjoy yourselves……..

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