Wine must be tasted properly to truly appreciate it. I highly recommend that you read this section with a glass of wine in hand, and actually attempt that steps as you read along. If you're interested in learning more about wine check out Learn about Wine.
The 5 Steps of Tasting Wine
Wine tasting procedure is commonly broken down into 5 basic steps. These steps are:
You'll need adequate lighting for observing the color of your wine. Sometimes with white wines, it is necessary to observe the wine when it has a white background because white wines often are clear. Napkins and tablecloths can be used for the required white background. The colors that you will see depend on the type of grape, the type of wine, and the age of the wine. Here is a list of some of the colors you will see in order from young wine to older wine:
- pale yellow-green
- straw yellow
- old gold
- brick red
Colors tells you a lot about the wine. Age is especially noticeable upon aging the wines. Notice from the list above that white wines gain color as they age and red wines lose color. Since red wines are usually made to age more than white wines, generally once a red wine becomes becomes slightly see through it's ready. White wines will also be darker if they're aged in wood. Different grapes have different colors too, and you will have to come to learn them. For instance, a Chardonnay is usually darker than a Riesling.
Swirling is the easy part as almost everyone does it right. You can swirl clockwise, counterclockwise, whatever you like. Swirling allows the esters, ethers, and aldehydes to oxygenate to form the wines bouquet or smell. Swirling aerates the wine and gives it a better smell. Since the smell and taste senses are linked so closely together, smelling the wine can give a good taster an idea of what flavors to be looking for upon reaching the tasting step. It's kinda like watching a preview before going to the show, it makes you better anticipate the movie.
It is during the swirl step that a lot of wine tasters go looking for wine "legs" or "tears". This is when after swirling, some wine remains around the top of the glass as it slowly drips back down. Wine Myth suggested that the more legs the better the wine. This is not true as demonstrated by the Marangoni effect. To simply, the legs are formed from the surface tension difference as the alcohol evaporate near the surface of the liquid. So in a sense it does not tell you about the wines quality, but it will gives hints as to it's alcohol content. The more legs, the more alcohol.
Smell is the step that nobody seems to spend enough time on. Smell can tell you so much about wine that your four taste sensations have more trouble with. For instance, if a wine smells corky (wet-moldy) then it has absorbed the taste of a defective cork and is bad wine. If it smells burnt, then the wine maker has used too much sulfur dioxide when making the wine (preservative). You should buy and compare different wine smells, get wines composed of just a single grape type and practice smelling them and memorizing what they smell like until you can tell them apart. After you get a good handle on what each type smells like you will begin linking tastes to smells and notice subtle hints in different wines that you will begin to appreciate. Don't worry about trying to describe the smells in fancy words. While this can be fun, it has more to do with poetry than with wine tasting.
Tasting is usually the most satisfying part of the wine tasting. The four taste sensations that the mouth can recognize are sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. There is no salt in wine, so promptly forget that taste altogether.
Sweetness is most noticeable on the tip of the tongue. A wine will be sweet when some of the grapes sugar is left over from the fermentation process. Sweet wines are usually used as desert wines and are usually white in variety. For a good sweet wine, try a Sauternes, which is a french wine from a region in Bordeaux. French wine law requires these to be sweet and never dry.
Sourness is a measure of the wines acidity. The tongue is most sensitive on the sour sensation on the sides of the tongue. White wines usually have a higher amount of acidity.
Bitterness is associated with a higher amount of alcohol and tannins and can be felt mostly on the back of your tongue and throat. Tannins come from aging in wood and from the grapes stems and skins. Red wines typically have more tannins because they're left to soak with their skins (which is what makes them red to begin with). More tannins usually make the wine darker and more dry.
The taste and balance that lingers in your mouth after you swallow. A high quality wine has a longer aftertaste with all tastes acting in harmony with each other. Cheap wines have almost no aftertaste at all, but don't take my word for it. Buy some cheap wine and try it! You've got nothing to lose.
After you've swallowed the wine, sit back for a few minutes and consider your impressions of the wine. Ask yourself questions about the wine, was it light or full bodied? Did the tannins overpower the taste? Is the wine ready to drink? Is it worth the price? And finally, do you like it? This is an important step as it will help commit this wine to memory. Studying the taste of a wine helps you to discern the differences in wine tastes, and will influence your buying decisions in the future. Sometimes when I'm trying new ones, I write down my impressions so that I can look over them later when I'm taking similar wine varieties and vintages. This step is the true key to refining your palette.
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