Friday, 28 October 2011

Peeping wine (How to taste wine)

I decided to start a weekly section on generic information on wine. Something that, hopefully, will help the simple consumer and the wine curious to get deeper into this subject without necessarily becoming an expert. My aim is just to give you the tools to better understand and enjoy your glass (or glasses) of wine.

The first thing to do, of course, is to introduce you to the tasting process. It is very important to say that tasting (and let me underline "not drinking") wine is not something restricted to sommeliers or wine geeks (and it is not all about swirling, sniffing and spitting). It is actually fun and interesting to understand what you are drinking and learn why you like it or not, as this will be extremely helpful next time you will be buying a bottle!
Three of your senses will be involved in the process: sight, smell and taste to be used following this order to follow the systematic approach and get the most from your assessment.

The first thing to do, when firstly looking at your glass, will be to trying to spot any faults. If the wine is cloudy or dull, there could be something wrong. In the best case it is going to be just a bad decantation but it could also be the result of a major problem during vinification (even though quite rare nowadays). It could even be normal for some byodinamic not filtered wines. If your wine is bright and clear, you can look at its color. The best way to do it is by tilting you glass against a white surface. It will give you an indication of its age. For a young white wine the color is normally light yellow-greenish and it will slowly turn into deeper yellow, gold and finally almost orange. A red wine starts its life with purple tones and can then develop into ruby, dark red, tawny, garnet and finally brown. The other information you can get just by looking at your glass is the alcohol content. Swirl your glass and then if you look at it you will see little drops falling on the internal surface....more drops more alcohol, the slower they are the more intense texture the wine will have (try it with sherry, port or a sweet wine and you'll see!).
So just by looking at the wine you can have information that you were probably not expecting .

Second step...let's sniff it! Once again on our first approach we should look for faults. The most common fault detectable by your nose is cork taint, a fungus that affects the cork tree and cannot be identified until it has already contaminated the wine. It is quite easy to find. You wine will smell of mould, dirty socks, dump cardboard. In this case, there is nothing you can do except for finding your receipt and taking your bottle back to the shop. But if your wine is not corked you can carry on with your analysis and try to discover the aromas of your wine. Normally these aromas are classified in main groups: fruit, flowers, spices, vegetal, animal and various. Whites and reds have different kind of aromas, and each wine can be different. It is not easy to get them or to identify them, the best thing is to exercise your nose. Put your nose in the glass each time you are tasting a new wine. The more you'll sniff the better you'll become! A good trick is to have a sniff, and the swirl the glass and sniff it again. The oxygen will react with the wine that will release more aromas.

Now if you have been so patient, and you have waited so long to taste your wine....the best step of the process has finally arrived. Have a sip. Have you ever seen how the 'experts' do? Those strange noises with their mouth? It is not difficult. You take a sip of wine and breathe, take some air like your were whistling backwards or sucking a spaghetto like a child. Try to do it without spitting and I'll explain you why you are doing it. Two reasons. First of all by doing that the wine will react with the oxygen. It will breath and it will reward you with its full intense flavours.Second: the wine will spread all over the tongue and this will help to analyse your sensations. There are several things that you should consider.
Flavours: are they the same you got on the nose? How intense are they?
Acidity: is your mouth watering? That's the clue that will show you the level of acidity of a wine...the more your mouth is watering the more intense is its acidity.
Tannins (in red wines): they are present in the grape skins and will be present in a red wine because the vinification happens with skin contact. They are detectable as an astringent sensation although the most elegant wines have soft velvety ones.
Body: can you feel the texture of the wine? Is it watery? Does it have a structure?
Alcohol: you will feel it burning in your throat and warming your mouth. Try to understand how much you can feel it.
Finally after taste....once you have swallowed your wine, for how long can you taste its aromas? How is it finishing? The longer the better of course!

Now you have systematically tasted a glass of wine for the first time; you can carry on with the rest of the bottle. No need analyse each glass. But hopefully this long but simple and maybe even inaccurate post will give the chance from now on to experience your wine more intensely, and possibly it has taught you something useful.

Any questions? Doubts? Email me at