On special occasions, many people decide to go to a classy and elegant restaurant for a nice meal. As you sit down at the table, the waiter presents you with the wine list. Being surrounded by wine connoisseurs at other tables, you may feel intimidated and inclined to take on board what the waiter recommended in order to fit the crowd. Before you have time to think, the waiter enthusiastically pours you a little taster of the wine. Just like the rest of us who are not wine experts, you do a slight swirl, give a little sip and half-heartedly agree that the wine was a perfect match.
People often think wine tasting is a complicated and daunting exercise. As long as you understand the basic principles of wine tasting, you can convince any waiter you are a wine connoisseur. It may be your first wine tasting event, and you want to make it seem like you have experience appreciating fine wine. If you would like to become a wine connoisseur, continue reading this guide, and we will teach you the fundamental steps of how to taste wine.
Look at it
All your senses are involved with wine tasting. Our vision gives us the first impression of the wine. You need to hold the glass in front of your face and examine the colour. Tilt the glass and let the wine thin out to determine whether it is young or old. If the white wine appears to be more golden, or the red wine appears deeper and intense in colour, the older and more complex the flavour is. Also, pay attention to the clarity of the wine as a cloudy wine indicates it is unfiltered or faulty.
Begin swirling your glass by rotating your wrist and keep an eye out on how fast the wine travels in your glass. You will see droplets, referred to as “legs”, running down the side of the wine glass after swirling. The term legs are used to identify a white or red wine’s body. Thin legs are where a wine that moves like water is equivalent to a lighter body. A lighter body suggests the wines are more fresh, delicate and refined. Thick legs are where wine resembles syrup and has more droplets on the side of the glass, which is equivalent to a fuller body. A thick body implies the wine is extremely rich and mostly has a higher alcohol content.
Your sense of smell contributes to 50% of what you taste. It is essential that a good swirl is required to release the aromas of the wine and increase its interaction with oxygen to give you a better tasting experience. Move your nose close to the edge of the wine glass, taking a deep sniff and identify any smell you find familiar. Swirl again and repeat the process several times to get a clearer understanding of your wine.
The aromas of the wine are broken down into 3 main categories:
The grape naturally has fruity, herbal and floral aromas – which are smells to distinguish the grape type and the terroir.
These are the smell from the process of making wine. The aromas such as oak, sourdough, yoghurt and butter that are present depend on the type of condition and fermentation of the wine production.
Tertiary aromas are from the wine’s ageing process. Aromas of coffee, chocolate and toffee are prominent if the wine has been oxidised in oak barrels for a long time. Earthly flavours such as mushroom and vegetables are bold if the ageing process is reductive – which is when the wine is protected in a bottle, avoiding contact with oxygen.
From the wine’s aroma, you can also distinguish the wine’s condition and its faults. For example, if you smell rotten eggs, it is associated with high levels of reduction during wine production. Aromas of toffee, caramel and honey are present due to high oxidation levels, which decreases the wine’s fruity flavour. If there is an aroma of damp cardboard, there may be problems with the cork. The wine can be contaminated with Trichloroanisole (TCA) – a harmless airborne fungus that reduces the freshness and fruity flavour.
Finally, you can take your first sip along with some air to release more of the wine’s aromas. Roll the wine over your tongue, and as you swallow the wine, you need to breathe out through your nose and “chew” the wine by coating your mouth like how you would do with mouthwash.
The wine’s sugar, body, tannin and acid components are the most important factors to consider when you taste wine as this changes how you pair it with food.
After the fermentation process, the sugar that is left over determines the overall sweetness of the wine. The fruity flavours of the wine can give off an impression that the wine is sweeter. Red wines are generally dry, but some have a hint of sweetness, which is known as “off-dry”.
The body is the general feeling of the wine. Does it feel heavy or light? Does your throat feel fiery after swallowing? With a higher alcohol content, the wine will taste stronger and suggests it has a thicker body.
The skin and stem from grapes, mostly red and a few white, cause your lips to stick to your teeth, have a bitter flavour and a dry mouth. Generally, tannins are found in red wine, but a few white wines will taste bitter as they have been heavily oaked during wine production.
The acidity of the wine creates a sensation of how fresh and crisp it is. The wine will tastes like a citrus fruit if the acidity is high, and tastes like milk if the acidity is lower. All red, rose and white wines are acidic, but white wines have the highest acidity levels.
Draw your thoughts and sensations after experiencing the wine. There needs to be a balance between the sugar levels, body, tannin and acidity. These components can help you choose which wine you prefer or experiment more with other wines before you find the best wine to suit your palate. You will soon become a wine fanatic after some practice! Eventually, you might want to own a wine collection – you can start off with buying a wine rack for your household.