Wine tasting techniques – learn how to taste wine like an expert
Are you a wine lover and would like to learn how to taste and evaluate wine like an expert? Most people may not be able to differentiate between different wines. I have met many people who enjoy a wine provided it is red or white wine, is neither too sweet nor too dry. However, there are significant differences between different types of wines, and they are not all the same. Some wines are full-bodied, while others are medium-bodied or light-bodied.
The wine differences are what give specific wines their general characteristics and personalities. Picking the different characteristics in a given wine makes wine tasting an awesome experience that exposes your mind to new flavors and aromas. Wine tasting is an enlightening process, which enables us to critically analyze a wine making it fun and a lot fulfilling process. Let's look at what is wine tasting.
What is wine tasting?
Wine tasting is the process of sensory examination, evaluation, and analysis of wine using the senses of sight, smell, and taste. As wine production is an ancient practice, so is wine tasting. However, over time wine quality has improved exponentially as wine producers discover advanced grape growing and winemaking techniques. The new farming and winemaking techniques have tremendously improved the wine taste.
The main goal of wine tasting is to examine the wine’s quality, understand the region it comes from, and distinguish its aroma, flavors, textures, and appearance. When tasting the wine, it is essential to have a way to judge the best quality from poor quality, good or bad, outstanding, and acceptable. To give a wine a fair and impartial judgment, tasted it blind (without the taster having seen its label). If the taster knows the wine before tasting it, his/her judgment can be somehow prejudiced.
Wine price and wine quality
Do expensive wines taste better than inexpensive wines? Does it mean they are of superior quality over less expensive wines? Price can be deceitful. It is not necessarily that expensive wines are of superior quality or taste better. There are a lot of factors that affect the final price of a specific wine brand. Most people cannot distinguish expensive wines from inexpensive wines. Generally, you expect more expensive wine to have more desirable characteristics or taste better than less expensive wine. But, the best wine is one you like the most according to your taste, and not necessarily the most expensive.
The best wine-tasting conditions.
Before we dive into wine-tasting techniques, we need a conducive and right-tasting environment. The circumstances surrounding the wine-tasting experience may affect your impressions of the wine. Neutralize the tasting environment as much as possible to give the wine a fair chance to stand on its own. To get the best result, here are a few things to consider to create a distraction-free environment;
- Make sure the air is neutral with no foreign aromas such as baked cakes or perfume. Foreign aromas may affect the wine aromas leading to wrong judgment.
- Ensure no pungent flavors are clinging to the taste buds on your tongue. Brush your teeth or use mouthwash to ensure your mouth is clear of clingy flavors unrelated to the wine.
- Use natural light. It is advisable to use a white background for good visual observation.
- Use the right and clean wine glasses and ensure no water residual. Too small or wrong-shaped glass may affect how you detect some aromas.
- The wine's condition, temperature, and age may have an impact on its scent, flavor, and overall impression. Older wines will exhibit different aromas and flavors compared to younger wines, even if they are made from the same grapes. Flavor nuances and aromas of chilled wine can appear muted.
How to taste and evaluate the wine
- Take short breaths through your nose and breathe out through your mouth to capture the most aroma.
- The first sip gives the most information, so pay attention to it and take note of how it impacts your senses.
- Look and examine the wine in the glass. How does it look? How does light filter through it? Does it cling to the glass edge? What colors do you notice?
- Smell the wine. How does it smell? Note the dominant aromas. Is it fruity, floral, grassy, or earthy? Swirl the glass to aerate the wine and release new aromas. Sniff again and notice any changes after swirling.
- Taste the wine. Take a sip and evaluate how the wine feels and tastes. What is its texture in your mouth? Does it seem rich, light, or crisp?
- Swallow the wine. After swallowing, consider the aftertaste. Does the flavor linger? How does it change over time?
- Make a profile of the wine. Did the wine taste balanced, too acidic, or too tannic? Did you pick any outstanding characteristics that shined through and were impressive? What is your overall impression? Did you like the wine? If you like it, pour a full glass and enjoy!
Wine tasting steps
Wine tasting involves your sense of visual, smell, and taste.
1. Look (visual)
Check out the color, opacity, and viscosity (wine legs or tears running down the sides of the glass). Pick the glass and swirl it. Look from above straight down into the glass to get a sense of the depth of color, density, and saturation, then look from the side glass held in light to show you how clear it is, and then tilt it against the light so the wine rolls toward its rim to see the complete color range. Now depending on the color range you observed from light, deep ruby, and other colors, try to determine the grape variety, wine age, alcohol content, and type of the wine.
- A wine that looks clear and brilliant with some sparkle is an indication of good wine.
- If you notice sediment, it may be an indication the wine is older. Amber or orange colors along the rim of red wine may indicate its age, while purple hues indicate youngness.
- Usually, red wines are darker when they are young, as they age, they lose color.
- White wines start lighter in color, but as they age, they become more gold or brownish.
- Notice if the wine forms legs or tears (viscosity). High viscosity, usually indicated by thicker legs or tears, is an indication the wine has high alcohol or high sugar content.
Using your sense of smell, you can tell if the wine is sound or flawed. Notice the aroma's intensity. Some wines smell shy, while others seem to jump out of the glass. Choose a glass that allows you to take a good sniff. Give the glass a swirl, and take a series of quick, short sniffs. Do not bury your nose inside. After taking a quick sniff, step aside and let the scent filter through to your brain and try to pick the dominant aromas. The aromas you pick can help to know the wine’s characteristics, its age and identify the terroir growing conditions, and dominant grapefruits. Wines with high alcohol content will make you feel some heat in your nostrils. The best wine aromas are complex, balanced, and harmonious. The nose of a wine can be classified into three categories:
Primary Aromas are grape-derivative since wines are made from grapes. These aromas include fruits, herbs, and floral notes unless it is very old. Check for dominant aromas of tropical and citrus fruits in white wines and red, blue, and black fruit in red wines.
Secondary Aromas are a result of winemaking techniques and are mostly yeast-derivative. The aromas include; herbal, grassy, and earthy scents, hints of flowers, spice, and other herbaceous characteristics.
Tertiary Aromas are derived from oak barrel aging. The aromas you may pick due to aging include roasted nuts, baked spices, chocolate, espresso, vanilla, caramel, cured leather, cinnamon, nutmeg, cedar, and toast. These aromas differ depending on the aging process and type of oak used.
The taste buds detect sour, sweet, and bitter in wine. We use our tongues to examine the wine taste and try to reaffirm what we saw and smelled. Take a sip, and suck on it to circulate it throughout the mouth. You will encounter a wide range of flavors, from fruity, earthy, and oaky to herbal and other flavors. Try to assess the wine's structural elements (alcoholic, tannic, and acidity). Wine’s flavors and aromas are linked, so after swallowing the wine, check for similar and different aromas derived from breathing with the back of your nose. These aromas may change since you are receiving them retro-nasally.
The tongue can “touch” the wine and perceive its texture and body (light, medium or full-bodied). Wines with high alcohol content and riper wines tend to have increased texture as ethanol is perceived to be richer than water. If you taste a good wine, do not be quick to take another sip, hold on, and let the wine finish its dance to determine the finish. As you swallow it, does the flavor dissipate immediately, or aftertaste lingers? How long the flavors last in your mouth (finish) can help to determine the wine quality.
How to Evaluate Wine Based on Taste
Alcohol: wines with elevated alcohol make you feel a heat or warming sensation in the back of your throat or chest. High alcohol can indicate a warm climate.
Tannin: tannic is relevant to red wines. Some wines have high tannin, while others have low tannin. This astringent quality makes your taste buds stand on end, tongue-depressor drying sensation, or feel gritty at the side of your mouth.
Acidity: High-acidic wines make your feel tart, sour flavors and make your mouth have a watery sensation. Wines with lower acidity give a rounder feel.
Apart from identifying flavors, we also use our taste buds to determine if the wine is balanced, harmonious, complex, and complete. Older wines tend to be more complex, but have less fruity aromas.
- A balanced wine has its flavors components in good proportion, balancing the sweet and dry flavors, sour, sugary, alcoholic, bitter, tannin, and acidity.
- A harmonious wine has its flavors seamlessly integrated. Most young wines have all the components present in good proportion and stick out. You can identify them and feel all the edges. This is a good winemaking sign, where young wines come together and present their flavors harmoniously.
- Complex wines have multiple layers of flavors and aromas and seem to dance in the mouth. They change even as you taste them. Sometimes, the complexities of older and high-quality wines evolve into the realm of the sublime. The time the flavors linger after you swallow is a good indication of the wine's complexity. How complex is the wine? Is it loaded with different fruit, earth, and tertiary flavors styles? The complexity of a given wine can also help to determine its age and quality level. Old and higher-quality wines tend to have more layers of flavor.
- If a wine is balanced, harmonious, and complex, with lingering, satisfying finish, is said to be complete. Such wines deserve extra attention because they have more to offer. Tasting complete wine is a pure pleasure! They are more exceptional wines than any others you taste.
Want to taste wine like professional tasters such as sommeliers? Get yourself a bottle of wine, apply the above guideline, and start the wine-tasting journey. Wine tasting is an excellent avenue to know what is in your glass and find wines you truly enjoy. The top online wine shops allow us to enjoy wines from all corners of the world and share our experiences, making wine tasting adventure more fun and interesting.
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