Likely the most frequently asked question: " What makes a wine 'good' ". Like most great questions, the answer can be slightly subjective, but overall everyone will agree that there are 5 cornerstones in which newcomers and critics alike look for, even if they don’t realize it.
The 5 cornerstones of wine tasting
What we’re going for is balance. When all five cornerstones are present and not overpowering each other or your taste buds, balance has been achieved and thus, making it a great wine. It’s important to realize that just because a wine is balanced, it doesn’t mean you’ll like it, but odds makers will say it stands a greater chance.
Based on our previous article “How to Smell Wine”, we all know how important your sense of smell is when judging wine. However, there are still some very important aspects of wine that you can only assess by tasting it. So, lets continue to find out what your mouth can tell you, but your nose cannot.
The Basic Maneuver:
- After swirling the wine, take a small sip and let it roll around your entire mouth to make contact with all your taste buds.
- Try: Bouncing the wine up and down with your tongue
- Try: Chewing the wine
- Try: Inhaling air through a puckered mouth while looking slightly down
The main goal here is to force the aromas into your nasal passage. Mouths will Mouth-off about:
- Derived from tannins, which produce a drying sensation that you can only feel in your mouth (particularly on your teeth and gums).
- Can be simulated with a mouthful of very strong black tea
- Not to be confused with bitterness, which is a taste. Tannins have no flavour.
- A feeling of weight and richness in your mouth
- Think: full body, thin, watery, etc...
- Produces a hot sensation on your tongue
- Serving a wine too warm will emphasize the alcohol sensation
- How long the flavour persists after swallowing
Once more traveled, you may be able to tell the following aspects of the wine from tasting it:
- Grape Variety
- Country of Origin
- Fermentation Techniques Employed
Notes/Tips: · Sweetness is our weakest sense of all the tastes. · Bitterness is the highest. · Use taste to confirm the aromas you smell. · Remember to give your taste buds a rest between sampling, as they get tired.
Your sense of smell is by far your biggest asset when assessing wine. Food scientists have identified over 200 aromas in wine; your tongue can identify 4 main flavour groups (sweet, salty, bitter and sour) while your nose is able to comprehend well over 10,000 aromas.
What to do:
- Pickup the glass by the stem
- Swirl it 3 times (increases the surface area and removes any old evaporating vapors from the glass' bowl)
- Put your nose deep into the glass and inhale gently for 2-3 seconds (for some, 3 one-second bursts works nicely)
- Identify and take note of some aromas (these may change as the wine opens [or warms] up)
What we're Smelling for:
- Cork Taint
Aroma vs Bouquet
The terms Aroma and Bouquet are often used interchangeably but there's a distinction between the two: · Aroma is used to describe the one-dimensional smells that make themselves very apparent on the first few sniffs. · Bouquet is used to describe layers of aromas perceived in the wine. The wine's bouquet does not develop until after fermentation.
Practice makes perfect
A professional taster is continually adding to his or her smell vocabulary. Remember, you can't identify a smell if you've never experienced that smell before. Use our About Grapes page for help on identifying some of the aromatic characteristics of the varietal you're accessing.
Give your nose a break when smelling a variety of wines or the same wine over and over. Your sense of smell can become 'tired' just like a muscle. · If the bottle's label indicates an aroma but you just can't pinpoint it, the aroma may no longer be present. If the wine is a few years old, so is the label. The wine matured, the label did not. · Don't try and smell a wine while in a kitchen full of other aromas. Try to be in a neutral place. · Avoid wearing perfume or cologne
The first step in enjoying a glass of wine is examining it visually. Knowing how to read a wine using visual keys can tell you many things about it’s past, present and future. What does the color tell me? What are ‘legs’ I hear everyone talking about? Read on…
What to do:
- Pickup the glass by the stem (fingerprints are ugly and the heat from your hand will warm up the wine)
- Give it a few swirls (2 or 3) (looking for viscosity)
- Tilt it sideways against a white napkin or piece of paper (lets us see the gradient)
- Stand it back up (check out those legs)
Taking a Closer Look:
As you look at the wine on step 2 and 3, note the following: The color can indicate the grape type, check the About Grapes page for help on matching the color to the grape. If the wine is dark, chances are it was a warm growing season. This is a result of a high grape skin to juice ratio. Cooler temperatures produce wines with lighter hues due to unripe or diluted grapes. Red wines get their color from the grape skins steeping in the fermentation tanks with the juice (remember, red grapes can make white wines too) therefore, if the wine is extremely dark, you may say the winemaker chose a longer steeping time, which can also increase flavor. As reds bottle age, their colors lighten and become more ‘brick’ or ‘amber’ like. Also with bottle age may come sediment, it’s harmless. Once you get to step 4, you’ll notice the film on the glass where the wine swirled up to is breaking apart and streaming down the glass. The streams are called ‘Legs’ or ‘Tears’. Legs indicate the alcohol content in the wine. The more legs...the higher the alcohol content.
Talking about wine Ice-Breaker:
Did you know that with age, red wines become lighter while white wines typically become darker?