5 Minute Guide To Wine Tasting
If you love wine and are keen to learn the basics of wine tasting, stay tuned: here are a series of quick tips that will have you tasting wine without fear and will help you understand and identify the smells and tastes in your glass.
While it may seem tricky to pick out the nuances in a wine, with this simple advice much of the mystery will melt away.
General Wine Guidelines
When you first open a wine, give it a moment to open up by allowing it to have contact with the air. You don't necessarily need to decant it, but allow it to sit in your glass for a moment and give it a gentle swirl or two to allow the aromas in the wine to be released in the glass.
Once aired, take a quick sniff of your wine to make sure it's free of flaws. Cork taint is one of the most common wine faults and is easy to notice. If your glass of wine smells musty or like wet cardboard and completely lacks fruit and floral aromas, it's probably corked.
Oxidation is another common flaw and results in a wine losing both colour and flavour, going from fab to flab way too soon. How do you know if your wine is oxidised? If that glass of wine smells like Sherry or vinegar, then alas, you have an oxidised wine on your hands. White wines will become brownish while reds will take on a dull brick colour.
Now It's Time to Taste!
The next step is to inhale the aromas of the wine, then take a sip and allow the wine to evolve in your mouth for the ultimate palate-pleasing experience. You'll want to pay attention to the following:
- Aromas and Flavours – what delicious fruits, spices, foods, or other wines are you reminded of?
- Acid – does the wine make your mouth water on the sides of your tongue?
- Sweetness – is the wine sweet or completely dry? Somewhere in between? Be careful! The aroma and taste of really ripe fruit can often be confused with sweetness in wine.
- Alcohol – how high is the wine's alcohol? Does it have a warm tingle when you swallow it? A wine tip: the fuller and bigger a wine tastes usually indicates a higher alcohol level. However, there are exceptions as shown by aged Rieslings.
- Depth of Aroma and Body of the Wine – how far into the opening of the glass do you have to put your nose to experience the aromas? How does the wine feel on your palate? Is it light, medium, or full-bodied?
Each of these characteristics will help you to determine if the wine is in balance for its style (which it should be). A balanced wine will have all its parts working in harmony. Acid, alcohol, body, tannins, and sweetness will work together to create something absolutely delicious. When applied to the wine’s flavour profile and tannins (in the case of red wine), you can get the full picture of a wine.
‘Cheat Sheet’ Rules To Remember
Red or white, a wine's age will show up in its colour. As red wine ages, it tends to fade into a brick or orange-red colour. White wines will get darker and take on a gold to brownish colour if they're especially old.
2) White Wines = Citrus, Apples, & Stone Fruit
Most white wines have some type of citrus flavour to them. Cool climate or slightly under-ripe whites will often taste of tart lime, white grapefruit or lemon. As we move up the ripeness spectrum, the wines will show more ruby grapefruit, mandarin, and tangerine. The other major fruit flavours in white wines are tree fruits. This includes apples and pears as well as peaches, nectarines and apricots.
3) Red Wines = Berries, Berries, Berries
Virtually every red wine on the planet will have some type of berry aroma and flavour. This can include red berries: raspberry, strawberry, red cherries, etc. as well as black ones: blackberries, cassis/blackcurrant, black cherry. Blueberries are less common, but you'll find them in ripe reds like Shiraz.
4) Red Wine = Tannins
Tannins are a compound found in grape skins, seeds, and stems that help provide structure to a wine and enable it to age. In your mouth, they have a mouth-drying effect, particularly between your upper lip and upper teeth. You'll encounter them more in red wines than white because red wines spend time in contact with the skin once the juice is pressed from the grapes. Not all reds are created equal in the tannin department. You can have low to screamingly high tannins depending on the grape variety, and the way the wine was made. Inversely, white wine has virtually no tannin from the grape as it has not spent time with the grape skins. Although it can extract tannin from spending time in oak barrels.
5) Other Key Aromas & Flavours to Know
Oak aged wine imparts many aromas and flavours to a wine. Vanilla, cedar, smoke, and baking spice are all common in wines that have seen time in oak barrels. Other aromas like tobacco, leather, and mushroom are often encountered as a wine ages, particularly in red wines.
Remember these handy guidelines and you'll be able to talk about any wine in your glass with reasonable authority and plenty of confidence. You will also be able to better identify what it is about a wine that you particularly like or dislike, making it easier to discover new wines or varietals that will appeal to your palate. Drinking wine is ultimately about having fun and enjoying yourself, so make sure not to take any tasting too seriously!