Do you simply drink wine, or do you taste wine? Anyone can drink wine, but it takes practice to be able to recognize and distinguish a wine's characteristics. The following guidelines will help you get the most out of your next tasting experience.
It is worth taking a good look at the wine, as its appearance is very important. It's best to view the wine against a white background, in order to best see its true color. A white plate or tablecloth will do. For the same reason, use only clear, clean wine glasses- the bigger the better.
The color of a red wine will give a clue as to the age of the wine. Many red wines start life as a deep purple color, sometimes almost opaque. With time, however, the wines lose this youthful intensity, and begin to take on a paler, tawny, brick red hue. Initially this appears at the rim of the wine, but as the years go by the whole wine will take on this color, fading to a brick red or brown.
The color of a red wine may give a clue not only to the age of the wine, however, but also to the grapes which have been used. This is because different grapes produce wines of differing intensities of color. Marechal Foch will almost always be the lightest red on the table, whereas many other red grapes, like Syrah or Merlot would be expected to be an inky purple-black.
Similar information may be gathered from inspecting a white wine. Chardonnays for example, become more golden as they age. As with red wines, the color of a white wine will also give some clue as to the grapes used, and also from where the wine originates. Cool climate white wines tend to be lighter in color. Moreover, certain grapes have an almost characteristic hue, such as the green tinge of Riesling.
This little used tasting term refers to the oily droplets of wine that run down the inside of the glass after the wine has been swirled. While some people believe this is a quality marker, it's really just a reflection of the alcohol or sugar level in the wine. The more alcohol and residual sugar, the thicker and more persistent the legs will be. This is why the "legs" on the inside of a glass of port are thicker than on a low alcohol glass of Riesling.
Smelling the Wine
Swirl the glass to throw the wine up onto the side of the glass, thus increasing the surface area of wine in contact with the air. It is during this swirling between wine and air that aromas are released. Therefore, increasing the surface area helps to make the aromas more apparent. The agitation of the wine, of course, also helps. To swirl effectively, don't fill the glass too full - in fact less than half full is recommended. Be gentle, in order to bring the wine up onto the side of the glass without spilling it altogether. If you find you are spilling wine, and haven't overfilled the glass, place the base of the glass on the table and using a few good circular motions on the table top to get the aromas going.
Once done, stick your nose in the glass a take a good sniff. Think about what aromas are coming up from the glass as you do so. Young wines will have primary aromas, relating to the grape variety. Such smells are often fruit related, and hence wines are described as smelling of blackcurrants, raspberries, and so on, or maybe simply as 'fruity'.
As wines age, more secondary aromas develop which may be more earthy or complex. Many people feel that the bouquet of a wine is one of the most enjoyable parts of the experience. Many aromas can be generated by a glass of fine wine, in a most intimate and complex manner.
Tasting the Wine!
There is a lot more to describe when tasting the wine than simple flavor. Flavors often are a reflection of what you have already smelled in the glass. Once tasted however, other elements come into play. Detecting the presence and relative quantities of these substances tells you about quality, ageing potential, how well the wine will drink with food, and so on. This empowers you to select your favorite wines as you analyze the wine and understand what it is you like about them.
The finish describes the sensations after you've swallowed the wine. It will often be different to how the wine came across on the palate, so take note. The flavors may linger for a while on the palate after the wine has been swallowed, and this is referred to as the length. The more length a wine has, the more time you have to enjoy it.
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