How to Taste Wine

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Always wondered how the experts taste wine? It starts here ...

Preliminaries

The front and back of the tongue contain the taste buds and rather than specializing in a particular taste sensation, all taste buds are capable of detecting sweet, sour, bitter and salty flavours, although there may be some slight differences in sensitivity. So that you get the most out of your taste buds, when wine tasting, swish the wine around your mouth, which will allow all of your taste buds (and your sense of smell) to participate in the detection of the finer flavours of the wine.

Smell and Taste

Have you ever tried desperately to detect flavour from a food or beverage when you had a terrible cold? You probably tasted very little, if anything at all. Research indicates that 70 to 75% of what we taste is actually due to our sense of smell. Specialized "aroma" nerves in the nose are necessary to identify tastes more subtle than sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Smell and taste go hand-in-hand when wine tasting . . . without your sense of smell you would be unable to detect the delicate flavours of chocolate, herbs or smoke in your wine.

Wine Tasting Techniques

Wine tasting is not just like art, it is an art. While wine tasting can be subjective in nature, wine connoisseurs follow some general "guidelines" when judging a wine. It's very easy to learn the techniques of wine tasting, and if you already enjoy wine, learning the nuances will simultaneously increase the pleasure you derive from tasting.

The three steps in wine tasting are: Look, Smell, and Taste.


Look

You can tell much about a wine simply by studying its appearance. The wine should be poured into a clear glass and held in front of a white background (a tablecloth or piece of paper will serve nicely) so that you can examine the colour.

The colour of wine varies tremendously, even within the same type of wine. For example, white wines are not actually white; they range from green to yellow to brown. More colour in a white wine usually indicates more flavour and age, although a brown wine may have gone bad. Where as time improves many red wines, it ruins most white wines. Red wines are not just red; they range from a pale red to a deep brown red, usually becoming lighter in colour as they age.

Rim colour: You can guess the age of a red wine by observing its "rim." Tilt the glass slightly and look at the edge of the wine. A purple tint may indicate youth while orange to brown indicates maturity.

Swirling: Swirling the wine serves many purposes, but visually it allows you to observe the body of the wine. "Good legs" may indicate a thicker body and a higher alcohol content and/or sweetness level.

Smell

Swirl your wine. This releases molecules in the wine allowing you to smell the aroma, also called the bouquet or nose. The two main techniques that wine tasters use are:

  • Take a quick whiff and formulate an initial impression, then take a second deeper whiff or
    Take only one deep whiff.

Either way, after you smell the wine, sit back and contemplate the aroma. Don't try to "taste" the wine yet, concentrate only on what you smell.

It may be difficult to describe in words when you're a novice, but after trying many wines you will notice similarities and differences. Sometimes a certain smell will be very strong with underlying hints of other smells. Take your time. By labelling an aroma you will probably remember it better. You may even want to keep a notebook of your impressions of wines, and save the labels; next time you see the wine you won't have to purchase it to know if you like it . . . or you don't!

Taste

The most important quality of a wine is its balance between sweetness and acidity. To get the full taste of a wine follow the following three steps:

  • Initial taste (or first impression): This is where the wine awakens your senses (your taste buds respond to sensations).
  • Taste: Slosh the wine around and draw in some air (even if you do look funny in front of your dinner guests). Examine the body and texture of the wine. Is it light or rich? Smooth or harsh?
  • Aftertaste: The taste that remains in your mouth after you have swallowed the wine. How long did the taste last? Was it pleasant?

After tasting the wine, take a moment to value its overall flavour and balance. Is the taste appropriate for that type of wine? If the wine is very dry, is it supposed to be?

Some serious wine connoisseurs assign a point score to a wine to determine its quality. While this method can be useful, it is in no way necessary to determine a quality wine. The more different wines you try, and the more attention you pay to each wine, the better you will become at ascertaining and describing each wine's characteristics

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