Wine tasting has a process, a set of 5 simple procedures that will add to your enjoyment of wine. Some of these may seem odd (to a novice), but they are the best ways to gather sensory data from wines.
1. Observe the Wine
Fill the glass one-third, never more than half. Gently but firmly hold it up by the stem. Do not hold it by the bowl, your hand may warm the wine and hide de view. How you hold your wine glass is a tell-tale sign of expertise.
Observe the color, intensity and clarity of the wine. The true color of the wine is best determined by tilting the glass and looking at the wine through the rim, keying on the variation from the deepest part of the liquid to its edges. Intensity, the depth of color, is best judged by looking straight down through the glass from above. Clarity, degree to which sediment or particles are visible, is most visible when a light shines through the side of the glass.
2. Color Coding
A wine’s color can provide great insight to its character. Different varietals (grape varieties) possess differing color attributes. Compare two common red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Cabernet fruits are usually small, with thickish, deep indigo skin. Pinot Noir grapes are more delicate, redder and slightly fuller. Wines from Cabernet would usually be a deeper, more intense purple, rather than the ruby or garnet tones of Pinot Noir.
Growing conditions also influences color. Summer warmth and a dry autumn produce fully ripened grapes with a high skin-to-juice ratio. Wines from these grapes will have deeper colors. Cooler summers or a wet harvest yields unripe and diluted grapes, lessen color and intensity. Winemaking (vinification) techniques also affect color. Color is derived from the skin, not the juice. In fact, most grape juice, even from dark purple grapes, is relatively colorless. Fermenting wine in contact with the skins leeches pigment from the skins themselves. Longer skin contact means darker wine.
The winemaker has great control in determining a wine’s clarity. After fermentation and the skins are discarded, many minute particles remain suspended in the wine. Some winemakers remove this material through fining or filtering. Most modern wines are filtered. Others believe wine benefits a small amount of residual deposit. Look at an old bottle of wine and you will often see it settled on the bottom.
Also, bottle-aging itself affects both color and intensity. Aged red wines lighten, developing a brick or amber tinge. Aged white wines deepen in color, becoming more amber.
3. Final Observations
Lastly, just before smelling the wine, rotate your glass to swirl the wine. Be gentle, or you may end up wearing some of the wine. Swirling is primarily designed to release the hidden aromas, but it also coats the walls of the glass with wine. Watch as the wine drips downward. If you see long lines of wine remaining on the glass, these are the “legs” or “tears.” Legs are a sign of the combination of sugar/alcohol/glycerin. There is much debate over whether these are predictors of wine quality.
Learn to observe these visual characteristics in reference to each other and to other wines. You will quickly develop the ability to identify wines from these visual cues and to make judgments about a wine, as you taste. This is very useful while tasting at wineries.
4. Smelling the Wine
After your visual observations, the next step is to smell the wine.You should begin by swirling the glass for about 10 to 12 seconds, which will help in releasing the wine’s natural aromas. Take a brief sniff for an initial impression. Next, you want to take a longer inhalation. This simply means sticking your nose right down into the glass, so that you can pick up on the quality and unique characteristics of the wine. Younger wines will smell of fruit, as they age the more complex aromas will surface. You can always swirl the glass again and take another sniff, which offers you a chance to let the aromas mix.
5. Tasting the Wine
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for…tasting the wine. Your first sip should be small. Let it roll around in your mouth and pay attention to how it changes from the fore palate to the mid and end palate. This all leads up to the finish, which means the sensations you experience as you swallow the wine. The length of the wine, which simply means how long the flavor lingers on your palate, will determine its quality.