A no-nonsense guide to wine tasting
We all have amazing memories of some wine we loved so much. We know we loved it but we all find it much more difficult to put our finger on why we liked it so much.
That is often the case because we don’t know what made that specific wine the way it is. To help you crack this problem, we’ve drafted a guide to tasting wine.
STEP 1: EYES
I bet you picked up your glass, held it against the light and nodded in satisfaction, thinking: What the hell am I doing? In the past, cloudiness was one of the first things you’d keep an eye out for when looking at wine. Now almost all wines are filtered, so this is no longer top of the list. Actually, if the wine is cloudy, it is likely to be a choice of the producer to make the wine special.
Nowadays, you’ve got just two things to consider.
Tilt your glass and hold it against a white background.
A wine’s colour is often described with some standard names: purple, ruby and garnet (i.e. pomegranate) for reds; greenish, straw yellow and gold for whites; pink, cherry and salmon for rosés. What these colours may tell about the wine is a very subtle exercise worth a separate post, so stay tuned.
Focus on the colour intensity instead. It can already tell you a lot about the wine: ranging from pale to deep, it gives you insight on a wine’s body and ageing. Deep colour wines tend to be more powerful in taste and aromas than paler ones.
With time any wine’s colour will tend to fade out so a paler colour is the first hint of ageing.
To get a better understanding of the wine, swirl your glass. What you are after by doing that is an understanding of how the wine behaves. Is the wine moving around like water or is it a bit thicker, like oil?
After swirling it, look at the glass from the side. Can you see the legs (or tears) slowly forming and running down the side of the glass? If that - together with the wine being more like oil than water - is the case, you have a good indication of a full-bodied wine, but we’ll get into that in a different post.
If you’re in a mood for celebration and you pop a bottle of sparkling wine, look at the bubbles. In a good fizz, you want to be looking at small, fine bubbles - and lots of them. Always remember not to swirl bubbly, or the fizz will dissipate quicker.
STEP 2: NOSE
This is the point at which many industry experts start listing some crazy aromas they smell and you begin to wonder if they are making things up. Believe it or not, those aromas really are there - some have even been scientifically identified - but the most difficult thing to do is to put your finger on them and call them out by name one by one. With a lot of practise and a little help from us here at Pulp, you’ll be recognising aromas in no time.
Aromas can tell you a lot about a wine. Ageing, oaking and winemaking techniques all leave their scented trails behind. Learn how to read them, and wines will become an open book to you.
Smell your wine: bring the nose to the rim of the glass, swirl it and smell again. This helps aromas unfold, so keep swirling your glass.
Tip: After taking a sip, exhale deeply. This brings the aromas back to your nose and palate, allowing you to appreciate them once more.
STEP 3: MOUTH
Take a generous sip of wine. Follow up with smaller sips, focusing on the 6 components that make up every bottle of wine. Start getting familiar with them and you’ll learn to recognise what it is that you love (or hate!) in a bottle of wine.
- Glycerol - makes the wine oily and smooth
- Tannins - are quite bitter in taste and give a drying feel to your gums
- Alcohol – gives the burning sensation in your throat
- Minerals - make the wine savoury, almost salty
- Sugars - makes wine feel sweet or dry
- Acids - make a wine feel fresh / crispy
Tip: “Chewing” and “dribbling” a mouthful of wine helps to spread the liquid all around your mouth, activating all of your receptors.
Finally, take note of how long the flavours linger in your mouth. This is the “length” of a wine, and a long lasting aftertaste is usually a sign of good quality.
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