Trying new wine can be a wondrous experience. It can also be a disaster. You go to your local wine shop and immediately become overwhelmed with the choices. So how do you try a new wine without wasting money and running afoul of your taste buds?
The best solution is to go to a wine tasting event! Sounds simple right? But then who knows how to taste wine anyways? Are you supposed spit it out? Swallow? What’s this whole sniffing and swirling the wine in your glass about? Don’t worry; we’re going to break it down for you.
Mind Over Palate
Before you even get started, you have to be in the right frame of mind to really appreciate a wine. You can’t drink it like you would a cocktail or when you’re boozing with your friends. You have to take your time to actually taste it. This is a conscious decision you have to make. Open your mind to the experience and the flavors and you will enjoy it much more.
For you to properly taste a wine you can’t have any other flavors left in your mouth. Try not to smoke, chew gum or have any other sweetness or sourness in your mouth before you begin. Eat a cracker or a piece of bread to cleanse your palate before you get started. You could also rinse your mouth with water. No mints or mouthwash either.
OK! Now that we’ve got that out the way, let’s get to the drinking part.
5 Guidelines to Tasting Wine
If you look hard enough, you can see the flavors in your glass. Hold your glass up to the light and… Ok. You can’t see the flavors, but you can tell a few things by looking at your wine. If you tilt your glass against a white or light background you can tell how old your wine is. Also you can tell if it’s going bad, characterized by haziness in the liquid.
Older, mature wines will differ in hue from young ones. With red wines, if you see a bright ruby or purplish color, then you are looking at a young wine. If you see pale orange, garnet or brown, then you have a good indication that the wine is old. The older the red wine, the lighter it gets.
White wines are just the opposite. A hue of light yellow or green is the mark of a young wine. If you see more orange, brown or dark gold, then you have an older wine. The older the white wine, the darker it gets. For rose wines a bright pink or salmon color indicates a younger wine; whereas a dark orange or brown indicates age. The same concept for red wines applies here (darker = older).
2. Swirl The Glass
This is really simple. 1. Pick up the glass. 2. Lightly swirl the glass. 3. That’s it.
Be easy here. Too many people do this part either wrong or excessively. Last thing you want to do is spill perfectly good vino on your perfectly tailored suit, her dress, the table or the floor. Spin the wine in your glass by rotating your wrist. It aerates the wine and releases the aromas present in the wine.
3. Take A Sniff
Ok. Now remember, this is a sensory process. You have to get your nose as close to the wine without actually touching the wine as possible. You can take several quick sniffs or take a deep breath. It’s really a matter of personal preference.
The whole point to smelling a wine is to understand its aromas. They can be light or intense, fruity or mineral. Do you notice any flaws such as oxidation? Does your wine smell like flowers and/or fruits or more like butter and/or vanilla? This can give you a good indication of the grape varietal; if it is been aged in oak; if it went through malolactic fermentation, etc.
Take a small amount of wine into your mouth. Make sure you work with the wine for several seconds in your mouth before you swallow or spit it. Drawing air into your mouth is a good technique to intensify the flavors present in a wine, because they are in fact aromas that you taste through your retro nasal passage. Similar to when you smell something and then there’s a hint of that flavor on your tongue.
What you are able to feel in your mouth is actually the structural components present in a wine. The alcohol, sugar, acid, and tannins will give you different impressions.
You will also be able to tell the weight of the wine (whether it’s light or heavy), its texture, and its relative sweetness. Also you have to remember that different parts of the mouth represent the various senses of taste. For example, on the sides of your tongue are the areas most sensitive to sourness and acidity, while the tip of your tongue is registers sweetness, and tannins will be felt at the back of your tongue. This is why it is important to swirl the wine around in your mouth.
5. Spit or Swallow
After you are done with your taste you have two options. You can either swallow the wine or you can spit it (provided that the circumstances are appropriate for that). After you swallow (or spit) the wine, you will notice that you can still feel the flavors lingering in your mouth. The flavors of high quality wines will linger for several seconds, while in inferior wines, the flavors almost instantly fade away.
Before you move on to the next wine, you should take a sip of water to cleanse your palate. If none is available, then you can swish saliva around in your mouth a bit to remove the flavor from your tongue.
At this point (although it may take you several sips) you should be able to make a mental description of the wine. How complex were its flavors? How intense was it? Does the wine express the grape variety that it is made of? Are you able to tell where it comes from? And most important: was the wine balanced? An unbalanced wine is one that gives you the impression that it had too much (or too little) of something. Balance comes from any of the structural components of the wine (sugar, acid, alcohol, and tannin) and the excess (or lack) of any of them will result in an unpleasant experience.
So now you’re ready to try some new wines, analyze them and get a better understanding of why you like some wines versus others. Good luck and happy drinking!
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