Wine tasting is properly known as ‘Wine Degustation’. It is the art of being able to note the various differences between difference types of wine, and even the various differences between the vintages of the same type of wine.
There are basically two parts to Wine Tasting, first is ‘What are we looking for’ the second is ‘How are we looking’. We’ll start with the How, and move on to the What.
Traditionally the seven steps to sampling wine are: see, sniff, swirl, smell sip, swish, and spit. This is the process we see tasters going through at the table and in wineries.
The first thing we want to do is see that the color of the wine is good. Put some light behind the glass and look for clarity. Fogginess is a sign we probably want to be careful with. Rusty colors in a white wine are another sign that we probably don’t want to put it in our mouths.
That might seem a bit crass but let’s keep in mind what we are looking at here. The act of Wine Degustation didn’t get its start at high society dinner tables as a way to see what was good with lamb, and what is better with beef. Wine Degustation came into being as a method of deciding what was safe to drink and what might be poisonous due to bad storage or aging processes. While today these tasting methods are less defensive, since modern methods of wine making produce safer wines, some wines you may get to embrace were bottled 100 years ago, or even 200.
Some red wines are so dark you will be lucky to see anything through them, but we still want to take a look. Some of the more obvious signs we want to look for are brown, muddy, orange or other non-winelike colors. It is not uncommon to see bits of cork floating in a glass of wine, just try to make sure that it is cork.
After our eyes are satisfied, we try our nose. Recall that taste is more or less an olfactory sense. With practice we can tell a great deal about a wine from its perfume. A good whiff at the very least will give you an impression, or preview of what to expect from the wine when we taste it. The obvious impressions to look out for are: does it smell like wine? Is the overall fragrance fresh or foul? Anything strange about it?
Our next step, the swirl, enhances our ability to evaluate the first two steps once more. The swirl is to get some of the wine onto the surface of the inside of the glass. Wines are generally not oily or syrupy. The liquid should slide off the side in an expected manner. Also with the wine spread out on the surface, it should be easier to get a better sample of the fragrance it presents. Which is what we do now, but this time we inhale it slowly. No quick sniffs. We bring the fragrance into our nose with a smooth steady inhale, letting our mind go through the stages of the bouquet with a more examining course.
If our nose is still interested then we move on to taking a small sip. Just enough to get a taste on our tongue. You will notice here a bit more of the cautionary tactics in the wine tasting steps, but there is a bit more benefit really than just making sure that we didn’t miss something painful in the previous steps before we commit to a good mouthful. Taking in just a taste allows our mouth to get a quick preview and some expectations. There is also the fact that many concoctions, not just wine, taste a bit different when taken in small sips rather than mouthfuls.
So we are still interested, and by this time we are sure whether or not we want to commit to a real taste, so we take in a mouthful. Not only do we take it in, we swish it around like it was mouthwash, letting the liquid coat every part of our mouths and gums. Allowing the wine to be heated up by our body temperature. Some tasters even gargle a bit with the wine, because our taste buds are everywhere in our mouths.
The last step is spit or swallow. Not much to say about that, but it is a choice to be sure. If this is the only wine or one of two or three you are going to be tasting tonight, swallowing might be an appropriate option. But if you are at a winery and going through 6 or 7 wines, spitting is probably your best option. Otherwise every wine is going to start tasting “swell” and you might as well just have a few glasses rather than try to go through the steps.
What are we really looking for through all of this? There are many aspects of wine, and each vintage and type has its nuances. There are some over all basics though we can start out with.
Oakiness – Some wines have a ‘oak’ flavor. There really isn’t another way to describe it. You have to taste it, but once you do you can pick it out. The flavor is generlly from either from the Aging barrel or oak chips
Sweetness – The process of some wines allows a greater amount of the natural sugars from the grapes (Or fruit) to remain without being processes into alcohol. So a sweetness, and sometimes a fruity taste remains from the amount of residual sugar
Tannin – A wine stressing tannins would be described most of the time as dry. Tannin is the bitterness from seed and skin of the grape and is effected by carbonic maceration and Maceration
Above all, the real test is Did you like it. Your tastes are just as valid as anyone else’s and life is too short for wine you don’t like. Enjoy.