May 15, 2015 | Shannon Hurley
How to Taste Wine Like a Pro
People always ask me how it is that I taste and remember different wines/grape varietals. Aside from trying to taste as many wines as I can the key is to train your palate. Remember, wine tasting, wine drinking, or evaluating wine are related, but they are all different skill sets. Tasting wine is more for education to help you understand the wine and let you know if you do like the wine, or not. Evaluating wine is for a deeper, more critical look at the wine, or wines in question. Drinking wine is for pleasure. Hopefully, you will be spending a lot more time drinking wine than evaluating or tasting wine. The best wines in the world are meant to be enjoyed with friends and family over a lovely meal. The following wine tasting tips are practiced by most sommeliers to refine their palates and sharpen their ability to recall wines. Even though this method is used by professionals. It’s actually pretty simple to understand and can help anyone to improve their overall wine palate.
Through the Looking Glass
Just like food, your initial taste of a wine starts with your eyes. The color of a wine can tell you a lot about the wine itself. One helpful hint is, when looking at a wine, hold out the glass and tilt it a bit. Try to hold the wine over a white surface like a white table cloth, or napkin other blank surface. At this point, you need to notice the depth of color from the rim to the center of the glass. To fully understand the ramifications of the color, in this case, it helps to have a slight understanding of how a wine should look for its grape varietal & age. Color and opacity of the wine can give you hints as to the approximate age, the potential grape varieties, the amount of acidity, alcohol, sugar and even the potential climate (warm vs. cool) where the wine was grown. As wines age they tend to change color towards more yellow and brown colors. Red wines also tend to become more translucent. Throughout the blog we will use the 2010 Faustini Cabernet Sauvignon as an example. This wine is ruby in color with a light pink rim. As with most cabernets as the wine ages the grape will become more of a brick color and the rim will become almost orange.
The size of the tears or legs and the length of time they remain in the glass give a glimpse into the wines potential alcohol level and sweetness, as well as the viscosity of the wine. Thin legs that dissipate quickly are usually found in lighter, less concentrated wines. While fatter, are usually an indicator of more concentrated wine with lots of fruit, sweetness and length. The 2010 cab will have more rounded tears.
It’s said that as much as 85% of taste is derived from your sense of smell. But you cannot smell the wine without first swirling your glass gently. If you’re a beginner, swirl the glass, but keep the stem of the glass firmly planted on the table (your clothes will thank you for this) The action of swirling your glass allows oxygen to enter into the wine, which allows the wine to release its scents into the air while coating the glass at the same time. After swirling your wine, you can use whatever technique that works best for you, when nosing the wines aromatics. However, one little trick that could help is, keep your mouth slightly open when inhaling and exhaling the scents from the wine. That little secret will allow you to decipher more aromatic complexities in your wine. But at the end of the day use what works for you. Generally speaking, if a wine smells good, meaning there are no off odors such as scents of wet dogs, old newspapers, mold, vinegar or generally unclean scents, the wine is considered “clean”. The next step is to note how complex the wine smells and what scents make up its complex, aromatic profile.
Nosing what you smell in a wine can tell you a lot about the wine and its potential character. Primary aromas are from the type of the grape and the climate where it grows. For instance, The 2010 Cab will often smell of ripe jammy stewed fruits like a red bing cherry. This is because of the terrior (see last blog for more information on that word) and winemaking styles of the Napa cabernet grapes. Generally speaking, the fruit flavors in wine are primary aromas. Secondary aromas come from the fermentation process (the yeast). A great example of this is the aroma that you can find in our Velvet & Vinyl sparkling wine that is sometimes described as ‘bready’ or ‘yeasty’. This has to do with this wine undergoing a secondary fermentation inside the bottle. Tertiary aromas (classically referred to as ‘bouquets’) come from aging wine. Aging aromas come from oxidation, aging in oak and aging in the bottle over a period of time. The most common example of this is the ‘vanilla’ aroma associated with wines aged in oak. Our cabernets are typically all aged in new French oak.
Part of being a good wine taster is also being able to recognize flaws in wine, especially in corked wines. which causes a wine to smell like a wet dog, damp basement or old wet newspapers. This can happen when a wine isn’t stored at the correct temperature or if you open it up past its peak.
Taste, Taste, Taste!
With practice you could be able to blind taste a wine down to the style, region and even possible vintage! Tasting a wine involves more than just your sense of taste, which focuses on the primary sensations of sweet, salt, bitter, sour and Umami, which are experienced on the top of your tongue and through your taste buds. Remember, you are going to become a better wine taster the more you taste. You would not be reading this page, (at least not this far into the page) if you were not interested in learning how to taste wine. So go ahead, pour a glass of some 2010 cab (if you’ve already had one feel free to pour another) or any of your other favorite Faustini wines and let’s move on to the final and most fun part of this article! Here are some tips and details on what to pay attention to.
Like I mentioned earlier, wine is for drinking, right? Wine tasting tip number 1, decanting wines. Young full bodied red wines are almost always better with decanting. Decanting in advance allows the wine to breathe, which means the wine is going to soften in texture and develop more complex aromas in the glass. Decanting coupled with correct temperatures will improve your tasting experience with young wines. Wine tasting tip #2 is, taste wines at the right temperature. Temperatures, red wine likes to be served at cooler temperatures. 60 to 65 degrees is about right. When red wines become too warm, they become flabby, lacking freshness and a refreshing quality. White wines should be served 50 to 55 degrees. White wines become much less interesting as they warm up in the glass.
Keep in mind, there is a big difference between tasting a wine and drinking wine. Tasting is more like studying each component of the wine. When tasting wine, you asses the wines balance, structure, level of sweetness, acidity, complexity and length of the finish. Wine tasting tip #3, tasting wine is actually quite easy. Take a small, but reasonable sip of wine into your mouth and next, slightly open your lips and inhale some air. At that point, gently chew and swirl the wine around for a bit (don’t mind my details) Take a small swallow and enjoy. Notice all the sensations taking place in your mouth and on your palate. The best way to sense sweetness is on the front of your tongue in the first moment you taste a wine. Wines can range from bone dry to super sweet. Then you have acidity. Acidity plays a major role in the overall profile of a wine because higher acidity wines tend to taste lighter in body. High Acidity wines are more tart and taste lighter. High Acidity can also indicate a wine from a cooler climate region. Low acidity wines tend to taste smoother and have more body. Extremely low acid wines will often taste flat or flabby. For the 2010 Cab you will find that it is a dry wine with medium to low acidity.
Next we’ll look at the tannins. Tannin is a red wine characteristic and it can tell us the type of grape, if the wine was aged in oak and how long the wine will age. Tannin comes from 2 places: the skins and seeds of grapes or oak aging. Oak Tannins will often taste more smooth and round. It typically hits your palate in the center of your tongue. Grape Tannins Tannin from grape skins and seeds is typically more abrasive and tastes more green. The 2010 cab has had some time to age in the bottle so its tannin levels won’t be overpowering. In this case the tannin you do see will be more smooth and round. Next we have the alcohol level which can sometimes tell us the intensity of a wine and the ripeness of the grapes that went into making the wine. Most wines typically range from 5% – 16% alcohol. The alcohol Level is directly related to the sweetness of the grapes prior to fermenting the wine. Warmer growing regions tend to produce sweeter grapes which have the potential to make higher alcohol wines. The 2010 cab is around 14.5 % because the grapes are from a warmer growing region. Lastly we have the body and conclusion of the wine. Body can give us clues to the type of wine, the region it was grown in and the possible use of oak aging. Body is the summary of all of the wines characteristics as well as the profile of the taste from start to finish. It is here that we also asses the beautiful fruit flavors we get on the wine. For the 2010 you’ll get that ripe jammy fruit as well as that vanilla and baking spice note from the French oak aging.
Lastly, we have the length of the finish. The longer the good, enjoyable flavors remain in your mouth, typically the better the wine. Did the wine taste and feel good from the start, (the attack) to the finish? Was the wine complex? Complex means that there were multiple flavors at once. The average wine delivers a finish that is often not longer than 5 to 10 seconds. Very good wines last in your mouth for at least 20 to 30 seconds. Hello 2010 cab!
Now that you have thoroughly tasted the wine, ask yourself, do you want to drink it? Does each sip make you want another taste? Do you want to buy the wine? Do you want your friends to buy the wine? With the 2010 cab we know the answer is obviously yes yes a million times yes!!! But generally speaking if you answered “yes” to all of these questions then you have found a wine you truly enjoy. Tasting wine and drinking wine are passions many people all over the world enjoy. Using these tips and guidelines will help you better understand what is in your glass and why you liked a wine ultimately making you become a better wine taster.
Till next time oneophiles....