There is no mystery to tasting wine. Most people can become excellent tasters with just a little practice and by following a few basic ground rules. You will find here the correct structure and basis of appraisal which can be applied to all wines – it’s simple and it’s fun.
What you will need…
Proper tasting glasses
A box of six standard ISO tasting glasses, available from most good wine shops is a modest and invaluable investment. These are designed to maximise the bouquet (nose) of the wine.
It is impossible to appreciate the colour characteristics of a wine in poor light. A bright room with a white tablecloth or any white background is ideal
A sense of smell
Don’t worry if it’s not great at first – it will improve with practice. Avoid wearing perfumes/after shave etc. – they spoil it for you and for everyone else.
Wine is for sharing and a small group of friends is an ideal way to reduce cost and spread the enjoyment.
Start with four or six straightforward varietal wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc etc. If you have a small group let one person select and buy the wines and split the cost or rotate the purchasing.
Pen and paper
Always write a note, no matter how short or uncomplicated. You don’t have to read it to anyone but it’s great to look back on for reference. See our sample tasting notes.
A keen sense of enjoyment
This is what wine is all about. It is a social creature that is there for our enjoyment. We just need to remove some of the mystique that surrounds the subject.
The approach to tasting…
Arrange your glasses in a row, marking them from 1 – 6 etc. from left to right. Pour all the wines to fill approximately one third of each glass – never fill the glasses. Serve the whites lightly chilled but not too cold as this masks the aromas. Reds should be at room temperature and, if possible, opened one hour beforehand – longer if they are more serious wines. Always taste from white to red, from dry to sweet and from young to old. Allow ten minutes per wine and approach your tasting as follows:
Tilt the glass against your white background and look at the wine. See if it is clear with no obvious haze and comment accordingly. Check the colour – in whites it can go from almost water white to deep straw yellow, depending on style and age, and in reds from light cherry red, through deep ruby to almost mahogany brown. Note a colour and see if it changes between the core (centre) and the rim – this is often an indication of age.
Give the wine a swirl (that’s why you didn’t fill your glass) and a good sniff. Does it smell clean – fresh, floral or fruity, honeyed, earthy, stalky, vegetal, oily – these are all characteristics of different wine styles, which you will learn and identify as you progress. Watch out for acrid aromas, sour or vinegar style, excessive mustiness that can indicate a wine is out of condition, corked or simply past its best. Many mature quality wines can assume very complex aromas which take time to understand and appreciate, so start with young fresh varietals and work up from there.
Taste the wine, swirl it around your mouth, swallow a fraction and spit the rest (you can enjoy a drink after the tasting). The first discernible factor is whether it is dry, off dry or sweet on the finish. This requires a little practice as fruit concentration or ripeness can sometimes be confused with sweetness. Most varietal wines are nowadays vinified dry – if in doubt check our wine database and read the section on vinification*.
The next important consideration is acidity. All wines require acidity as otherwise they will taste flat or flabby. Acidity is that prickle you get on the side or your tongue after you swallow – a type of drool. It should be there, so comment on it. Tannins are present and are a vital component of red wines. These are generally noticed on the gums and roof of the mouth and have a drying effect. Try a sip of cold black tea to demonstrate a tannic effect.
Fruit is next and should be there in abundance. It could be gooseberry or green apples in a Sauvignon, tropical and pineapple in a ripe Chardonnay, soft blackberry and cedar in a mature Cabernet etc.
What you find is what you get and your description is important to you alone as it will help you to identify the varietal in future tastings. Drawing in a little air before spitting highlights the alcohol content of the wine and can merit comment if pronounced. Most still dry wines fall into the 11.5% – 13% alcohol category with some notable exceptions.
Having viewed, nosed and tasted the wine and noted your observations, you should now draw your conclusions. Is the wine well made? Are the components in balance? Is it drinking well now or will it improve with time? What is the quality level? Tasting a wine with the label exposed is cheating a little, as invariably you will write your note to that label. Try covering the labels – a blind tasting – it is not as daunting as it seems especially in the company of like-minded friends. www.wineonline.ie