Wine tasting is the sensory examination by means of sight, smell touch and taste in the evaluation of a wine. The tasting of wine has been carried on for as long as wine has been produced, in order to constantly improve it.
Professional tasters such as "sommeliers" use a tried and tested formula comparing the qualities of a wine and in so doing, have developed a constantly evolving terminology. One hears descriptive words like “legs”, “body”, and “aftertaste” in association with such tastings.
Less formal wine tasting often take place among a circle of like-minded people who have an appreciation of wine, as recreational and social events. Wine tasting should be fun and educational.
There are four stages in assessing a wine:
- Sight - the appearance - color, clarity, depth
- Smell - the aroma, bouquet, "nose" of the wine
- Taste - the in the mouth sensation - texture, body, taste
- Aftertaste - the finish - aftertaste and balance - recognized flavors after the initial taste.
Appearance or Sight
Color – The color and depth of color are noted. A wine's color is better judged holding it against a white background. Color can give an experienced wine taster a good clue as to the grape variety, the age of the wine, whether the wine was aged in wood. Fuller bodied grapes have stronger colors. As wines age, reds tend to fade and whites deepen. You will hear people refer to red wine colors like purple, cherry, garnet, Ruby Red, mahogany etc., while white wines are sometimes called amber, straw, gold, green, or lemon.
Clarity - A good wine should be clear. Brightness indicates acidity and quality.
Aroma or Smell
Aroma - The shape of the wine glass helps collect the aroma or "bouquet" and hold it in the glass. A red wine will sometimes be warmed by the hands to encourage the aroma. Another helpful technique is to swirl the wine.
The swirling of a wine in the glass exposes it to more oxygen and helps release aromatic esters and aldehydes, the essential boquet chemicals. The "nose" or "bouquet" of a wine helps toward the actual perceived flavor in the mouth, where the olfactory receptors at the top of the nose come into play along with the taste buds. The bouquet "tells" the tongue what to "taste".
The bouquet is the overall smell with any nuances that there may be. Sometimes there may be a hint of cork, oxidation from excessive age, or contamination from wild yeasts, or other spoilage.
The "in the mouth" sensation is the assessment of the texture of the wine, the body, and the taste. When the wine first touches the mouth, it will awaken the taste buds to the flavors that are to come. That is why you usually "pucker" on the first taste. This is the astringency of the tannins.
The "body" of the wine is an intangible for some. It is the assessment or feeling of weight or richness that will give your wine structure. Some feelings would be silky, velvety, smooth, watery, thin, thick. Take a sip of your wine and roll it around in your mouth. Then spit it out and have another sip. The first sip clears the palate. The second sip is where you will begin to feel your wine.
The “legs” of a wine refers to the tendency for a clear rim of liquid to stick to the side of the glass when a wine is swirled around. This reflects the amount of certain glycerine-like chemicals in the wine which are associated with the “body” or viscosity of the wine. A fuller bodied wine tends to be more satisfying in the mouth than a thin wine.
Taste, like aroma, is difficult to quantify, but is likened to other recognized flavors such as fruits and berries. The "balance" of the wine is the harmony of the fruit, sugar, acidity, alcohol and tannins in the wine.
The "finish" refers to any lingering aftertaste there may be. Sometimes a further flavor comes through to the taste buds after the initial flavors have been recognized and are subsiding.
Other general observations may be made during a wine tasting, with regard to the overall complexity of a wine, its potential for laying down or keeping, and any recognized faults. In the case of a professional tasting, a wine’s overall quality is assessed compared with other similar wines and other wines in the same price range. The wine is designated as typical of its style or not, whichever is the case, and any unusual characteristics are noted.
Wines are regularly tasted on their own in this way to maintain standards, but can also be tested along with other wines to see how they compare. Wines may be selected for their vintage (“horizontal” tasting) or be all chosen from a single winery (“vertical” tasting). In this way, different vintages of the same wine, and different vineyards can be assessed.
An important consideration in these comparative tastings is that each wine should be served blind – that is without the taster(s) having seen either the label or even the bottle shape. It has long been known that the power of suggestion is strong, so that, for example, an expensive looking label or expensive sounding name is likely to attract better comments from tasters than the same wine in a cheap looking unattractive bottle.
The serving temperature of a wine can have a very significant affect on both taste and smell. Lower temperatures tend to emphasize acidity and tannin, while reducing aroma. Higher temperatures have the reverse effects. It is normal practice therefore, at a tasting to have wines served at the correct temperature, i.e. within a range of temperatures recognized and universally agreed as correct for each of the different styles of wines.
Even the shape of a wine glass can have a subtle effect on the perception of a wine, so here too there are recognized guidelines.
It is usual to make wine tasting notes, and often also to score a wine on each of its attributes. There are different scoring systems depending on the relative importance assigned to the different qualities in a wine, but, typically any modern wine should score at least 50% on any system.
Wine tasting, on one’s own or with friends, is a pleasurable and sociable experience.
Here are some ideas for your own Wine Tasting Party.