Dec 3, 2012

Wine Tasting Basics / Do It!

What is the difference is between drinking and tasting? Why do people swirl, sniff, and sip and some wankers even spit? What are those bloody ponces looking for? Don’t worry; when it comes to learning about wine tasting, you’ve come to the right place. Well at least this place.
The main difference between tasting and drinking wine is that tasting is active and engaging, while drinking is more passive. This doesn’t mean, however, that tasting needs to be stiff or formal. The only reason you’re doing it actively is for your sensory memory, which is actually something you regularly do. For example, think of a food you really love and one you don’t. The reason you can instantaneously think of those two things without them in front of you is because of sensory memory. With wine, you are doing the same thing. By using the following process you are tasting to build a mental database of what you like, what you don’t like, and why.

Tasting wine is more than simply taking a big swig and gulping it down. That’s drinking. You can read all the magazines you want and look at hundreds of web site tasting notes to get a better idea of the subject, but at some point you’re going to have to step up and start tasting wine for yourself to find the wine’s you like to drink.
There are basically four steps to wine tasting: sight/color, spin/smell, taste/finish and savor/assessment.

Take a look
The best way to observe the color of wine is to hold the glass of wine in front of a white background. The range of colors you may see depends, of course, on whether you are tasting a white or a red wine. Why is color important? Because as white wines age, they gain color, while as red wines age they lose color or brilliance. However, as with taste, there are personal preferences and observations. What is pale yellow-green to one person may be gold to another. Hold up your wine glass and inspect the color. The best way to see the color of your wine is to look to the top edge of the wine. Beyond just being red or white, look to see what the depth of color and how opaque the wine may be. Reds can be purple, maroon, and many shades of red. Whites can be pale yellow, golden, and even amber. A darker or richer color can usually lend itself to a richer flavor. Lastly, tilt your wine glass and let the wine trickle back down. Observe the “legs” of the wine to see how fast it falls back down.
Give it a spin and have a good sniff

Why do we swirl the wine? When we swirl our glass of wine we are vastly expanding its surface area and volatilizing some of its aromatic particles (we are stirring up the smells). This allows oxygen to mix with the wine, releasing the esters and aldehydes (we know, poncy word alert), which yield all the smells and bouquet. In other words, swirling aerates the wine and gives you a better smell. Another reason why one should swirl the wine is to give an additional look at the overall appearance. Look at the color and especially the "legs" that trickle down the inside of the glass once the swirling has stopped. It is sometimes felt that the more noticeable the legs, the fuller the body of the wine. Few legs or no legs at all, probably indicates a "thin" tasting wine. A slower trickle relates to the thickness or viscosity of the wine which is connected to the alcohol content. The spin and smell is the most important part of wine tasting. The average person can smell over 2,000 different scents, and wine has over 200 of its own. Now that you have swirled the wine and released the bouquet, you should smell the wine a number of times. The third smell usually gives you more information than the first smell did. What does the wine smell like? What kind of nose does it have? Ponce word alert! The "nose" is a word that wine tasters use to describe the bouquet and aroma of the wine. Pinpointing the nose of the wine helps you identify its characteristics. The problem here is, many people want someone else to tell them what they smell. Do I smell citrus, apricot or straw? What about black cherry, leather or tar? No one knows what you smell, only what they are smelling in their own glass. It can be different and the more you do it the more smell memories you will have. This is where the correct stemware comes into play. And you need to not be afraid to get your nose right in there. Cyrano, it should fit in a decent glass.

Taste it (finally)!
Finally you get to taste the wine! For many people, tasting means, taking a gulp and swallowing immediately. This isn't tasting Koala! Watch Kiwi, he has the finesse in the duo. According to Kiwi. Tasting is something you do with your taste buds. Remember, you have taste buds all over your mouth. If you simply knock it back and throw it down your throat, you bypass all those important taste buds.
As we mentioned in an earlier blog, you can only perceive four tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salt (but there is no salt in wine, so we are down to three). There is an accepted fifth taste and although there is no direct English translation, umami is essentially the fifth taste. "It's the taste of savoriness or meatiness," It is important to determine these sensations of taste. Bitterness in wine is usually created by and high tannin. Sweetness usually only occurs in wines that have some residual sugar left over after fermentation. Sour (sometimes called "tart") generally indicates the acidity in wine. The first impression that your taste buds will receive are the alcohol, tannins, acidity, and sugar. Ideally, these four components will be well balanced so that one does not over power the other, but instead come together. Soon after, your taste buds may note more flavors of the wine, this is called the mid-palate. Again, fruits, herbs or earthiness may arise here when you can really get a feel for the actual taste of the wine. One thing you can also do as part of your tasting is take a sip of wine and draw a bit of air into your mouth along with it. This further aerates the wine and helps bring out the flavors in your mouth. After swallowing you now have the finish. This is the impression the wine leaves you with after it has left your mouth? How long does the taste last? Or sometimes stated as what is the length of the finish of the wine. Usually the sign of a high-quality wine is a long, pleasing aftertaste. The taste of many of the great wines last anywhere up to a minute or more, with all of those components in harmony.

So what do you recon?

After you have had a chance to look at, swirl, sniff, and taste the wine, sit back for a few moments and savor it. Think about what you just experienced and review your impressions. Kiwi likes to hold it in his mouth and let it “soak in” for a while.
How do you know if a wine is a good one or not? That’s a long story but if you enjoy it, it is a good one for you. Don't let others dictate your taste to you. Do you like it? Why? Why not?
The tasting of wine should be fun, not intimidating or formal. Nobody has the right answer and nobody can tell you what tastes good to you except you!
So without further adeu,
Get on it!
Happy Tasting Adventures,

Kiwi & Koala

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