Wine tasting is an area of wines whereconfusion reigns supreme. There is muchmystique and tradition associated with tastingwines, but there is no need. By following a fewsteps, and more importantly understandingwhy you’re following these steps, you’ll enjoytrying different wines more and more.
Look at the colour – Try to look through the wine onto awhite background. A sheet of paper is ideal. You can tell alot about the age of the wine from the colour. White wineswill develop more colour as they age while reds willgenerally lose colour. And if you keep them long enoughthey’ll both turn the same colour, brown. As white winesage they will change through: yellowgreen, straw, pale gold,deep gold, light amber, yellowbrown, brown. As red winesage they will change through: purple-pink, ruby, mid red,dark red, brick red, tawny brown. Swirl the wine in the glass – The aim is to oxygenate thewine. This releases the ‘volatiles’ into the air above the wine.Get as much wine as you can on the side of the glass, thisgives you more wine to air surface area. Decanting a wineserves the same purpose before serving it.
Smell the wine – Straight after swirling the wine, stick your nose right in the glass andtake a few short sharp sniffs. A long sniff will dull your sense of smell. What you’relooking for here can be summarised in three areas: the grape smell, fermentationbouquet and maturation odours. Varietal – the characteristics of the fruit eg: peppery spicy Shiraz, lemony Riesling, blackberry,raspberry, cherry, plum, black currant, chocolate, coffee, tobacco or cedar in Cabernet Sauvignon,raisins and grapes in Muscat, apple, peach, apricot, lemon and other tropical fruit inChardonnays, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry in Pinot Noir. Distinct – you can pick the individual wine aroma but can’t identify a single varietal, usual inblended varieties eg: Cabernet Merlot, rich in blackberry and spice Vinous – you can pick a wine aroma, but nothing definite, usual in neutral grape varieties eg:Sultana, Doradillo Fermentation bouquet – a fresh yeasty smell can be picked up in newly bottled whites, verydistinct in some varieties, difficult to pick up in others Maturation characteristics – are the result of ageing in oak and natural bottle ageing eg: thevanilla cinnamon from oak maturation Some of the more common problems you can pick up onthe nose include: sulphur - too much preservative, vinegar – excessive acetic acid, probablyoxidised, sherry – wine has oxidised, probably a leaky cork, musty – bad cork. And, the question everyone asks, do you sniff the cork? No. The tiny amount of wine you can smell on the cork is not very helpful. Instead you shouldlook at the cork. Has the wine leaked past the cork, it may be oxidised. Are there little crystals,sometimes white wines precipitate tartrates (not a fault, just doesn’t look good).
Taste – Many of the tastes are really smells. Try holding your nosewhile tasting a wine. You’ll find there’s a lot less ‘taste’ in thewine. There are four primary tastes you can identify: Sweet – typically sugars, but alcohol and glycerol (the stuff you seerunning down the side of the glass, also called ‘legs’) can contribute to asweet taste. If there is no sweetness in the wine, it’s referred to as a ‘dry’wine. You’ll taste sweet on the tip of your tongue. Sour/acid – usually the taste of acids, you’ll feel this as a ‘softness’ on yourteeth. Acids give the wine crispness and freshness. Without acids the winewill taste flat and dull. You’ll taste sour on the back inner sides of yourtongue. Bitter – is usually found in oxidised wines. Easily confused with tannins.Tannins you can identify by having ‘squeaky’ teeth. The tannins comefrom the grape skins and seeds. Bitter you can taste across the back of yourtongue. Tannins will soften with age particularly with the help of goodoak. Salt – Not really an important tasting flavour in wines. Usually present asa salt of the acids in wines. You’ll taste saltiness on the front outer sides ofyour tongue.
Finish or persistence of taste – what does thetaste the wine has left in your mouth feel like?A wine can have a short, medium or longaftertaste or palate. As a rough guide: shortmeans the taste is gone in less than 10 seconds,medium is up to around 60 seconds and ifyou’re still tasting the wine after 60 secondsthen it’s a long palate. If there’s an unpleasantacidy aftertaste then you probably won’t likethe wine. If the long aftertaste leaves you witha pleasant taste then it’s probably going to be awine you will buy again.
Think of flavoring a recipe with wine in the same light as you wouldadding a spice. The flavors tend to mellow the longer you cook the winein the dish and it is recommended that a young, strong red wine isallowed to cook for at least 45 minutes. The next question, is typicallyshould I use a red or a white wine? Reds tend to bring color, clarity and adistinctly dry characteristic to the foods they flavor. White wines areknown to bring an acidic quality with a bit of pucker power. Use reds forflavoring red sauces with red meat. For example, a bold red wine wouldbe perfect for a meatball marina or stout stews with lots of heavyvegetables. Steer towards white wines if you are making cream sauces oremphasizing white meats or seafood.