Taste the Wine? - Why Not!
All wines should be tasted; some sipped; others swallowed.
Discussions with Bill WilliamsonDifferent parts of our brain receives input from our senses in the forms of color, smell, taste and texture. Our brain then categorizes this information and allows us to determine what we know as flavor.
Understanding this we can then understand why tasting wine is more than just "tasting" wine. We need to gather as much sensory input from a wine as possible to confidently predict if a wine "tastes" good or not
. . . the first thing we need is a glass.
Color . . . SeeThe first stage of tasting wine is observing the color which will tell you a lot about the wine. It is important that you don’t fill the wine glass too much as the smaller the pour the better the color is revealed.
The best way to judge color is to hold the glass over a white background to more easily see the hue of the wine. Look down on the glass and tilt it slightly forward against the white background as this will allow the light to pass through the wine and reveal its center hue with more precision as well as the graduation of color towards the rim.
Typically Pinot Noir or Grenache should show a pale ruby color and a degree of translucency. Merlot should show a deep ruby while Cabernet should be deep ruby to garnet. Shiraz should be violet to deep purple. Each of these should be bright, intense colors, becoming less translucent, tending toward opaque as you move from Pinot to Cabernet to Shiraz.
The level of color and flavor extraction during winemaking influences the depth of color in red wine. As the hue of the red wine gets darker, nearing the colors of maroon and purple, the wine will taste bolder and richer, while red wines made with higher sulfite content will show a reduced color intensity.
As red wines age, the rim takes on a tawny hue, then the wine evolves to a brick brown color, usually an indication that the wine is approaching the end of its viable cellaring life. What you are really looking for is attractiveness and consistency. Does the color look inviting to you? Is it the same throughout the glass from bottom to top? If it looks like something you might put into your mouth then move on to Swirl.
Weight . . . SwirlStart by swirling the wine around in the glass. Swirling the wine will coat the inside of the glass bowl with a thin layer of wine, allowing any off-odors to rapidly disperse.
The alcohol will also start to evaporate leaving streaks (called legs or tears) down the inside of the glass when swirled. Sweeter wines will leave thick streaks but we suggest you ignore advice about what "legs" mean about the "viscosity" of our wine because our wines are always "dry" and never sweet.
Aroma . . . SniffContinue swirling the wine around in the glass to open up the aromas of the wine. The wide variety of floral, fruity, herbal, mineral, earthy and woodsy flavors in wine are derived from aroma notes detected by your nose.
This is the "swirl and sniff" stage where we use the fruit's aroma together with added characteristics derived from the winemaking techniques and barrels to assess the wine's bouquet.
The bouquet is the total aromatic experience of the wine. Assessing a wine’s bouquet can also reveal faults such as cork taint, oxidation or contamination. Pausing to experience a wine’s aroma aids the anticipation of the wine’s flavors. The “nose” of a wine – its aroma– is a major determinate of perceived flavor in the mouth.
Just stick your nose into the glass and take three short sniffs. Close your eyes and consider if it smells good or not. Consider what you are smelling. What does the aroma remind you of, fruits, vegetables, herbs or spices?
Forget about trying to decide if that is blackberry or licorice or chocolate. Let the smell take you to a time and experience. Through its bouquet the wine is conversing with our emotions. Does it smell like something we might want to taste? If so - move to Sip.
Taste . . . SipNow we get technical. The taste buds in our mouth can only distinguish sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory so we need a more complex solution to finding the flavor of a wine.
In bringing the glass to your mouth don't purse your lips as if you are kissing your cousin. Slightly depress your tongue with the outside rim of the glass and ever so slowly pour the wine across the center of your tongue allowing it to run into the sides and back of your mouth while simultaneously breathing in through your nose and mouth.
Please be very careful here, your tongue is depressed, you are breathing in and pouring wine into your mouth so take great care to avoid choking.
Make this a slightly larger sip than usual and when the back of your mouth has some wine, detach the glass and close your mouth holding the wine there for about three seconds allowing it coat every surface. The wine's aromatics are now further liberated by your body heat and this combination of traditional smell and taste results in a more complex taste experience.
While still holding the wine in your mouth exhale through your nose then inhale again slowly through your nose and mouth while pursing your lips. You want to mix the wine in your mouth with some air to release more esters from the wine. Do try not to make gargling sounds, that is the work of sommeliers.
Slowly swallow the wine. If the exercise has been performed correctly you will notice a slight aerosol feeling in the back of your nose and mouth and the flavor of the wine will linger on your senses. The wine's taste and aromas have been transferred retro-nasally and will have left distinct impressions of its flavor.
Harmony. . . The Finish . . . SavorFollowing all this you should be left with a feeling about the "harmony" of the wine. The term harmony means "to fit together, to join" so how does this wine fit together with you?
The length of time the wine taste stays with you is called the "finish" and exceptional wines can be remembered by the pallet for considerable time afterwards. It is this length of a flavor profile that makes certain wines stand out from others.
Taste is such a personal thing that no one should presume to tell you what you will find in a wine. Nor does it matter that you find the essence of blackberry while someone else says its cherry, who cares? All taste is learned, it's more important to know how does this wine make you feel?
Bill's Three TestsThere are three tests to determine if a wine works for you, simple and effective:
- One: When you have the wine in your mouth do you have the urge to swallow it and add more of the same? This is a clue that it tastes good!
- Two: When you have food in your mouth and you take the wine as well, does the food taste better? This is a clue that the wine will work with food to reveal its hidden flavors.
- Three: Does this wine make you feel like you want to share it with someone else you care about? This is a indication that you have identified with the wine and feel it represents a good lifestyle choice for you.
NOTE: Just occasionally you find a wine that soooo goood that you think, "I am not sharing this wine with anyone" We have over forty of those wines.
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