What is Wine Tasting and How Does It Work?
We all know how to taste wine, that’s how we enjoy it! But to level up your wine tasting can be intimidating. So here are a few simple tips that can help you get started.
From understanding the basics of wine and how to properly taste it, to honing your palate – this guide will give you all the tools you need to become an expert wine taster in no time. So grab a glass and let’s get started!
The Five S's of Wine Tasting
When it comes to tasting wine, the five S's - See, Swirl, Smell, Sip and Savour - are essential steps in order to fully appreciate the flavour and aroma of a particular wine. By taking each step it will help you appreciate your favourite glass of wine even more!
a. Sight: Observing the Wine's Appearance
In wine tasting, "Sight" refers to the initial step of observing the wine's appearance. By visually examining the wine, you can gather valuable information about its characteristics and potential quality.
Here are some key aspects to consider when observing the wine's appearance:
Colour: Note the colour of the wine, which can vary based on the grape variety, age, and winemaking techniques. Whites can range from pale straw to deep golden, while reds can vary from light ruby to dark garnet or even opaque purple.
Transparency and Clarity: Assess the wine's transparency and clarity by holding the glass against a white background. A clear and brilliant wine is generally an indicator of good quality, while haziness or sediment may suggest possible flaws or aging.
Rim Variation: Observe the colour variation at the edge or rim of the wine. For older wines, the colour may be lighter or have a slight orange or brownish hue, indicating aging and potential development of complex flavours.
Viscosity or "Legs": Swirl the wine in the glass and observe the way it clings to the sides, forming droplets or "legs." Thicker and slower legs can indicate higher alcohol content or sweetness in the wine.
While sight alone cannot determine the taste or quality of a wine, it provides valuable clues that, when combined with other aspects of wine tasting, help paint a complete picture of the wine's character.
b. Swirl: Understanding the Importance of Swirling
Swirling may seem a bit of wanky thing to do, but it does serve a purpose. It allows you to unlock and enhance the wine's aromas. By gently swirling the wine in your glass, you promote the release of volatile compounds, increasing the wine's exposure to air and helping to unleash its full potential.
Here's why swirling is important in wine tasting:
Aroma Enhancement: Swirling the wine agitates it and increases its surface area, which accelerates the evaporation of aromatic compounds. This leads to a more pronounced and expressive aroma, allowing you to fully appreciate the wine's bouquet.
Oxygen Interaction: Swirling introduces oxygen to the wine, aiding the process of aeration. This can soften harsh tannins in red wines and open up flavours and aromas that may have been initially muted or closed off.
Temperature Equalization: Swirling helps distribute the wine's temperature more evenly, allowing the aromas to be perceived more accurately. It can also help cool down a wine that may be slightly too warm, providing a more pleasant tasting experience.
When swirling the wine, it's important to use a gentle and controlled motion to avoid splashing or spilling. Hold the base of the stem or the bowl itself, depending on the glass type, and make slow circular movements to ensure thorough swirling without excessive agitation. Understanding and implementing swirls can take your wine tasting experience to another level!
c. Smell: Uncovering the Aromas and Bouquet
When it comes to wine tasting, "Smell" plays a vital role in uncovering the aromas and bouquet of a wine. By engaging your sense of smell, you can explore the intricate layers of scents and fully appreciate the wine's complexity.
Here's why smelling is essential:
Aroma Identification: Smelling the wine allows you to identify and discern various aromas present in the wine. These can include fruity notes like berries, citrus, or tropical fruits, as well as floral scents, herbal or vegetal aromas, earthy undertones like mushrooms or truffles, and even hints of spices or oak.
Bouquet Evaluation: The bouquet refers to the overall aromatic impression of the wine, which develops through the interaction of various aromas over time. By deeply inhaling and analyzing the wine's bouquet, you can detect the harmonious combination of primary, secondary, and tertiary aromas, which contribute to its overall character.
Quality Assessment: The intensity, complexity, and balance of the aromas can provide insights into the wine's quality. Aromatically rich and well-balanced wines are often regarded as more desirable.
To properly smell the wine, swirl it gently in the glass to release its aromas. Bring the glass to your nose, taking short sniffs to capture the full range of scents. Allow your senses to explore and identify the various aromas present.
Remember that everyone's sense of smell is unique, and there is no right or wrong when it comes to perceiving aromas. Developing your olfactory memory and vocabulary through practice and exposure to different wines will help you become more adept at identifying and describing the aromas you encounter, enhancing your wine tasting experience.
d. Sip: Evaluating the Taste and Texture
Finally, we can now taste the wine (the best part)! When sipping, there are several aspects you can focus on to evaluate and appreciate its qualities. Here are some key elements to consider:
Flavour Profile: Assess the different flavours present in the wine, such as fruitiness, acidity, sweetness, bitterness, and any additional complex or subtle notes.
Balance: Pay attention to the harmony and balance of the wine's components, including the interplay between acidity, sweetness, and tannins (in red wines).
Body: Evaluate the weight and texture of the wine in your mouth, ranging from light-bodied to full-bodied.
Tannins (in red wines): Consider the presence and quality of tannins, which contribute to the wine's structure and mouthfeel*, often perceived as a slight drying sensation.
Finish: Notice the lingering taste and sensations after swallowing or spitting the wine. A long and pleasant finish is often indicative of a high-quality wine.
Complexity: Appreciate the layers of flavours, aromas, and sensations that unfold as you taste the wine, indicating its depth and complexity.
Ultimately, assess your personal preference and how much you enjoy the wine, considering factors like its compatibility with food or the occasion.
*What is mouthfeel?
Another wanky term that most are not familar with, so let’s make some sense of this….
Mouthfeel refers to the tactile sensations and texture that a wine creates in your mouth. It encompasses various elements such as body, viscosity, astringency, and smoothness, which contribute to the overall sensory experience of drinking wine.
The mouthfeel can be described as light or full-bodied, thin or velvety, crisp or creamy, depending on the weight and texture perceived on the palate. The level of alcohol, residual sugar, acidity, and tannins present in the wine all play a role in shaping its mouthfeel.
For example, a light-bodied white wine might feel refreshing and crisp, while a full-bodied red wine can create a more substantial and velvety sensation. A wine with higher tannins might impart a drying or gripping feeling on the gums and tongue.
Mouthfeel is an important aspect of wine tasting as it contributes to the overall balance and enjoyment of the wine, complementing its flavours and aromas.
e. Savour: Appreciating the Finish and Aftertaste
In wine tasting, "Savour" refers to the act of appreciating the finish and aftertaste of a wine. It is the final step in evaluating a wine's sensory experience.
Here's why savouring is important:
Finish Evaluation: The finish refers to the lingering sensations, flavours, and aromas that remain after swallowing or spitting the wine. By paying attention to the finish, you can assess its length, which can range from short to long. A longer finish is often indicative of a higher quality wine.
Flavour Evolution: During the finish, you may notice a development or evolution of flavours. Certain wines can unveil additional nuances or complexities during this phase, offering new layers of taste and aromatic characteristics.
Aftertaste Appreciation: The aftertaste refers to the flavours and sensations that persist in your mouth after the finish has dissipated. By focusing on the aftertaste, you can evaluate its quality and note any lingering flavours or impressions left by the wine.
Savouring the finish and aftertaste allows you to fully understand and appreciate the wine's overall character and quality. By taking the time to observe the length, flavour evolution, and aftertaste, you gain a deeper understanding of the wine's complexity and can form a more comprehensive assessment of its overall sensory experience.
How to Describe Wines?
It’s not an easy task to vocalise what you experience in a wine, but you have been eating and drinking for years and have built up a wealth of knowledge about flavours and textures. It’s simply a matter of beginning and using your memories and opinions to describe what is in front of you.
Use a diverse range of vocabulary to describe aromas, flavours, textures, and sensations.
Draw on common descriptors used in wine tasting, such as fruits, spices, floral notes, mineral tones, or specific aging characteristics.
Practice and expand your wine vocabulary over time.
Remember that tasting and describing wines is a subjective experience, and each taster may perceive different aspects of a wine. Developing your palate and vocabulary through regular tasting, exposure to different wines, and learning from experienced tasters can help you refine your evaluation and description skills.
Wine tasting is an exciting journey of discovery and appreciation. By following a few key steps, you can unlock the secrets of wine tasting and enhance their enjoyment of this ancient and intricate beverage.
Starting with observing the wine's appearance, swirling it to release aromas, and then delving into the complexities of scent, taste, and mouthfeel, you can develop their palates and begin to discern the nuances of different varietals. Understanding the importance of balance, finish, and aftertaste, you can evaluate and describe wines using professional techniques, building their vocabulary and knowledge over time.
With practice and exploration, you can embark on a fulfilling and rewarding adventure in the world of wine!