If you love your wine, but don’t really know much more than: “I like a dry white”, “I don’t like sweet wines”, then here is a starting point to get you on your way to become an educated wine buff.
Fine wine is a subtle pleasure of the palate. It takes time to understand and appreciate the experience, but learning about it, is time well spent.
Let’s start with information on how wine is analysed and described. There is a real art to “blind wine tasting” and to decipher what wine you have in front of you.
The look, smell and taste of the wine are integral pieces of the whole picture. All will give you a clue as to what is in your glass.
Training your palate by going to “blind wine tastings”, is one of the best ways to form an unprejudiced opinion. The fact that you have no idea what you’re looking at, you have no knowledge of price range, or producer, will give you an unbiased start with nothing to cloud your judgement.
“Blind wine tasting” forces you to concentrate on every aspect of the wine. You want to isolate the style or origin of the drop, identify aromas and flavours.
Take a glass of good wine, close your eyes, totally focus and shut out any distractions. Concentrating on what’s in your glass is half the battle.
Let’s start to assess
There is quite a lot you can tell from the colour, viscosity and pigmentation of a wine. – The colour purple indicates that the wine is less than three years old. – If the colour is ruby, you’re looking at a three to six year old wine. – Once the colour turns mahogany you’re looking at a wine six to ten, years old, or even older.
– Different grape varieties have different and distinct colours. – Riesling’s, for example, tend to be very light, almost white, – while a Chardonnay has a more full golden hue. – The Pinot Noir is a very light coloured red grape, – while a Cabernet has a distinct purple hue and – a Grenache displays inky, black depths.
Crisp, clean whites will run down the side of your glass, – where sweet wines will slither slowly down. Viscosity is also a good way to judge the level of alcohol. When swirling your wine, – high alcohol content is evidenced by the “tears” or “legs” of the wine, which gently run down the side of the glass. – Wines high in alcohol have well-defined legs that skim down slowly.
Wines grown in warmer climates are generally higher in alcohol than wines produced in cooler climates. For example, – a Riesling produced in Germany would, therefore, have a lower alcohol content – than a Riesling made in Australia.
A “ high indicator” is that white wines tend to gain colour as they age, whereas reds lose it. Older wines start to fade towards the edge of the glass. An older Chardonnay will be a deep golden colour whereas an aged Riesling will still be light and golden.
The aroma of a wine is the most important factor in determining what wine you’re tasting. Your palate can distinguish five different tastes. Your nose, however, is much more sophisticated and can identify up to 180 different aromas. A grape variety has a distinctiveness that is common only to that wine made of that particular grape. Swirling agitates the wine and brings out its volatile aromas when in contact with the air. Close your eyes take a good breath and capture the bouquet of your wine. Fine wines change aroma in the glass, therefore, go back to sniffing it again and again. Do you smell fruit, or more earth? Wines from the newer countries, like Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., and South America, are much more fruit forward than wines from the original wine growing countries, e.g. Europe, which are likely to have more complex earthy aromas.
Take a sip of your wine, slosh it around in your mouth, chew it, suck in some air, churn until all parts of your palate is coated. Each part of your tongue identifies a different taste. You can taste sweetness on the tip of your tongue, salty on the front edge, sour on the sides and bitter in the back. You have to hit all your taste buds with your wine. Establish whether the wine is high in acidity or tannins and whether it is simple or complex. Some grapes are high in residual sugar such as a Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewürtstraminer. Others are high in tannins such as the Cabernet Sauvignon.
A wine that has just one flavour or aroma is called simple, while wines with many flavours and aromas are considered to be complex. Complexity is a sign of quality.
These are all clues to the wine’s origin, style and age. Different wines offer different degrees of sensations. Some have it all: loads of aroma, tremendous flavour, a persistent taste and lingering mouth feel. Mouth feel involves perceptions of the wine’s texture and weight. Holding the wine in your mouth allows you to feel the full range of these sensations.
Making a correct assessment of a glass of wine is not easy, but once you have a firm grasp of the building blocks described, the ability to pick out and discern flavours and aromas, you can put them all together and determine what you are tasting and whether the wine has complexity and structure.
In this video, Gordon Ramsey talks to wine writer Matt Skinner challenging him to identify wines in a blind tasting. Watch this funny but educational video