Now that you know the difference between drinking and tasting, it is time outline precisely why and how you should taste wine.
Wine happens to be a beverage reflecting its environment. The same grape variety planted on two vineyards looks, smells, and tastes different due to soil variation and climatic conditions.
In fact, the following four important aspects contribute to the taste and texture of a wine:
• Grape variety
The above compel both professionals and amateurs to taste wine in an attempt to determine its intrinsic qualities.
Professional wine tastings are serious affairs, and generally conducted before noon when the palate is most acute and in odour-free, well-lit, and quiet rooms.
It is best to taste a maximum of ten wines per sitting; all from the same region and of the same color in an attempt to focus on specific flavours.
Some people taste the same grape variety from a number of countries i.e shiraz from Cotes du Rhone, (France), South Africa, Australia, California and Campania (Italy).
In all cases it is crucial that appropriate glasses are used. You can employ standard tasting glasses, but specifically designed stemware will help showcase the wine much better than standard tasting glasses. All glasses must be free of detergent residue.
Red wine benefit from decanting. One reason to decant is to prevent sediment from finding its way into the glass thus rendering the wine cloudy; the other is to aerate which helps aromatics to develop.
If very old wines are being tasted, it is crucial to decant then immediately pour the wine to minimize oxidation between decanting and tasting.
For serious wine tastings, only plain cubed baguette or neutral tasting biscuits must be served to cleanse the palate.
For evaluation, adhere to the following steps;
• Evaluate colour and clarity
• Record your impressions.
All professional tasters spit the wine in an attempt to prevent inebriation.
All of the above steps are important and should be followed.
The colour of a wine provides important information about its place of origin.
Hot climate wines tend to be dark and viscous. Cool climate wines are lighter in colour, less alcoholic, and more aromatic.
Clarity is also important, but today most wines are filtered and clear.
A dull colour indicates oxidation. Air (oxygen) the liberator and death of the wine. Too much of it is detrimental, and too little is insufficient for aromas to develop.
Smell – the nose is a very sensitive organ and a well developed smell treasury will help tasters to pinpoint faults (cork, excessive sulphur, volatile acidity like vinegar, nail polish remover, geranium) and identify fruit aromas like berries, apples, pears, apricots, peaches, just to name a few.
Of course, these terms also change with the location. Tasters from tropical countries will liken smells to fruits with which northern hemisphere tasters are not.
A wine must smell appealing, and be free of faults.
Taste – before tasting, swirl the wine to volatilize aromatics, then smell and take a sip. Suck air into your mouth to help the wine give off its aromas.
Evaluate the texture (light, medium-body, full-body), and then swirl the wine in your mouth to expose it to all parts of your tongue.
The tongue has four flavour-sensitive areas; the tip determines sweetness or lack of it, the sides’ acidity, the middle “weight”, and the back bitterness.
Once all parts of your tongue are exposed to the wine and obtain the information, the brain comes in. Here the information is recorded and stored for future reference. Some people have excellent smell and taste memories that others do not possess.
Researchers determined that 25 per cent of the population excels in tasting, 25 per cent is very poor and the remaining 50 per cent are average.
All your first impressions must be recorded on specially designed forms. (There are many. Some scale 20, others 100, yet others do not score but insist that you describe the wine in your own words).
Always restate wines 10 minutes after the first evaluation to confirm your first impressions. Often the first impression is more favorable than the second. In rare cases the second impression will be better. This applies only to very fine, fully mature and pedigreed wines.
Also important to remember is that upbringing, education, age, experience, and nationality influences your taste perceptions; for example North Americans like fruity, young, smooth, alcoholic wines, whereas Italians show a higher tolerance to bitterness.
English like well-aged red wines, while Germans prefer off-dry or sweet and old white wines.
The French prefer regional wines with which they are most familiar, but by and large like red, light to medium bodied fruity, acid-driven wines that complement food better than fruit-driven low acid, high alcohol wines that are appealing at first sip and then start to fade rapidly.
Tasting requires, discipline, a well organized mind, good vocabulary and a lot of practice!