Stimulating Your Five Senses
Wine is truly a mystic liquid. It generates an air that can
be both inviting and intimidating. Knowledge of wines, their
varietal nature and learning how to taste are the first steps
in creating a better understanding and appreciation for what
is in your glass.
Begin by setting the atmosphere - The room should have reasonably good lighting. The tablecloth should be a plain pale colour or use white paper. Appropriate stemware should be selected - this will play an important role in your analysis. If you are in the market to purchase new stemware, I highly recommend Riedel Crystal, varietal stemware. Alternatively, a plain crystal tasting glass (ISO) which has a thin narrow rim and wider base "tulip-shaped" will be sufficient. When pouring, don't fill the glass to full; 1-2 oz is sufficient, otherwise swirling can get rather messy! Hold your glass by the stem or base and tilt to a 45-degree angle...
Seeing: Visually the wine can tell a few tales. Hold the glass up slightly so you are still looking down into the wine, and tilt to a 45-degree angle in front of a white background. You should be able to benefit visually. Wine colours will vary due to the grape variety used, the style in which it's produced, the region in where it's grown and the age of the wine. White wines gain colour with age (deeper, yellow, gold), red wines get lighter (brick, garnet). The wine should always be clear and bright, never cloudy or hazy. Generally, wines, both red and white, of lighter colour tend to be lighter in style, have not been aged in oak barrels and may have come from a cooler climate. Wines with deep intense colours are usually fuller-bodied, come from a warmer climate, have undergone oak ageing or are speciality dessert wines.
Swirling: Is an art in itself, a little tricky to master, but a necessary function. This aerates the wine allowing the release of it's aromas (nature's influence) and bouquet (winemakers influence). The wine will evaporate off the sides of the glass, creating a more intense smell. Take a good look at the wine before you plunge your nose into the glass. Wine will cling to the sides and stream down; these are called legs or tears and simply imply the viscosity of the wine. Thick usually indicates higher alcohol or sugar, and thin, the wine is usually light and dry.
Sniffing: 75% of taste is smell making this sense the most important when evaluating a wine. Put your nose to the glass and sniff, swirl again and sniff more deeply a second time. We can distinguish between 5000 and 10000 different smells and smell is very closely linked to memory. You will hear people use descriptive terms such as, nutty, buttery, leather, chocolate, tabacco, eucalyptus, flint, mineral, gasoline and so on……Do not feel intimidated by this, whatever you smell, or how you perceive the wine to be is personal and will assist in your analysis.
Sipping: When you release the wine to your mouth, you actually taste and smell at the same time. An example of its importance is when you have a bad cold you are unable to taste your food properly or sometimes not at all! We can only distinguish tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salt (not reflective of wine). Sweet on the tip of your tongue, salty and sour on the sides, and bitter in the middle and back palate. You have over 3000 taste buds so be sure to reach them all. Flow the wine evenly around in your mouth, and take in a small amount of oxygen, this will certainly intensify your experience. The finish on your palate is important. You should be left with a lasting, pleasant and memorable feeling.
Spitting: If you are a serious taster or work in the trade, chances are, you could be tasting over 50 wines a day so spitting is a necessity. Your senses will dull after tasting 8-10 wines without spitting, however, if your tasting is of a social nature you should relax, enjoy, and savour each sip.
In closing, my only advice to you is the more you taste the better you get, so…Practice, practice, practice!
Written By Maria Moessner, Inniskillin Wines Estate Sommelier