The Art of Tasting

I’ve had some comments from folks wondering what this whole tasting thing is about.  Rather than focus on a particular wine for this post, I thought I’d get into the science of it a little.  Now I know that some of you out there don’t really care…”just give me a glass of wine,” you say!  Well, that’s the point I guess!  To truly enjoy the wine in your glass, you must enjoy what you are tasting!


I’m going to make it really simple.  I’ll get a bit more technical later on in this post.  For now, the 4 basic steps to tasting are:
Sight
Smell
Sample
Spit (or, if you REALLY like it…Swallow!)
All start with the letter “S” for easy recall! (I’m really trying to keep it simple!)

1.  Sight.   When the wine is poured in your glass, you want to look at it.  What colour is it?  How intense is that colour?  Are there bubbles or sediment present? Is it clear, or is it cloudy?  Tilt the glass away from you to get a sense of the color in the centre of glass vs. the colour at the rim. What is the colour of the wine touching the glass?  Is it darker, or lighter than the colour in the core? And just as an FYI…the colour of the wine may be an early indicator of its age.  As red wines age, they become lighter.  As white wines age, they become darker.

2.  Smell.  To smell the wine, first give it a swirl.  The swirling will release the oxygen and all the aromas of the wine.  This is probably the most important step of the process.  One can come back to the wine and smell new things that were not there at first.  And don’t just take a cursory sniff!  Stick your nose right in the glass!  And don’t do it just once, do it several times!  Swirl, smell, swirl, smell….you get the idea!  And this just in:  each of your nostrils smell things differently, so try plugging one, taking a sniff, then plugging the other and taking a sniff.  Do you smell anything different?  And here’s another little factoid:  aroma is usually associated with a young wine, often more of the fruit is evident.  Bouquet is usually associated with more mature wines.  That is, smells that have developed over time.  These might include adjectives such as ‘earthy’ or ‘woody’ or perhaps even ‘herbaceous’.

You have often heard me describe a wine with “on the nose”, which means “what I smelled was…”

3.  Sample (Sip or Taste). You will see my reference to “on the palate” here, which essentially means, “what am I tasting.”  This is where some will slurp, suck and roll the wine in the mouth.  Seems crude and unusual, but it does serve a purpose!  The intention is to get the wine to touch all the tastebuds in your mouth.  Sweetness at the front, bitterness at the back, sourness at the sides, and saltiness at the upper rear.  Not that there is much use for the ‘saltiness’ in wine, it’s just another tidbit of information I just KNOW you were all waiting to learn about!  By letting the wine take a complete tour in our mouths, only then can we get a true sense of the various elements in the wine.  This is also when we we will experience “acidity”, which is the mouthwatering effect wine has on us, and “tannins”, which is the astringency, or “drying out” we might feel coat our mouths and teeth.

All wine contains alcohol.  Some more than others.  That being said, the amount of alcohol might also determine the body that wine will have in your mouth.  We will almost always experience the alcohol towards the back of the mouth as a ‘hot’ or ‘burning’ sensation.  Is it a light wine or full bodied wine? Can it be drunk on its own, or does it need food?
Finally, we want to judge the finish of the wine.  Everyone loves something that lasts!  Like that savoury piece of steak that melts in your mouth, such is the finish of a good wine.  Is it short or long?  Does is disappear into the mist immediately after you swallow it, or does the taste linger in your mouth long after you swallow it?

4.  Spit.  Now, I’m sure you noticed that I just asked if you swallowed your taste of wine!  A professional taster will often have to sample over 100 wines in a day.  In order not to become completely plastered with no opinion at all, (they would ALL be REALLY good wines at this point!) it is important that the wine be spit out, wait for the flavours to go or stay, then write, or recall any comments you have on the wine. Don’t be afraid to sip and spit  more than once!

Finally, let’s talk about the balance of the wine.  In the whole tasting proess, we have talked about what it looks like, what it smells like, what it tastes like; how much acidity, tannins and alcohol are present.  In the ideal wine, all of these parts combine flawlessly together to create a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.  It’s like the symphony:  all the pieces of the orchestra go together perfectly.  One doesn’t outshine the other.  They just blend together to create this beautiful melody.  Intricate harmonies overlapping each other, yet sounding as one in our ears.  So it is with that perfect bottle of wine.  It is this balance that measures the overall quality of a wine, its potential longevity, as well as potential food pairings at the dinner table.

If you’ve been reading my blogs on a regular basis, remember what I said in my very first blog:  drink what you like. What the wine SAYS it smells or tastes like, may not be what YOU smell or taste.  Always be true to yourself in what you smell or taste!  There is no right or wrong answer!  Clever marketing should never be the one to tell you WHAT is in that wine!  Trust your senses!  YOU are your own best critic when it comes to which wine you will like at dinner, on your patio, or what might sit in your cellar for a few years!

Next time you sit down to enjoy your next glass of wine, try this exercise, and then tell me about it!  I’d love to hear from you!

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