Wine Tasting 101
Welcome to Wine Wednesday! In case you didn't happen to catch last weeks post, I will be devoting all future Wednesdays to helping you expand your wine knowledge in the hopes that you will become more comfortable tasting and talking about wine. Wine can be quite an intimidating thing, but it certainly doesn't have to be. I'm sure you all have someone in your life that you consider to be a 'wine snob.' Let me start this series by letting you know that is not me. Sure, I would prefer to be drinking Caymus and Chateau Musar on the reg...I am human, of course :) My point, however, is that wine should be approachable and, most importantly, should be shared. I think there are some fantastic and interesting wines out there that are very reasonably priced and with a little knowledge of what you like and dislike, I can help you find them. Don't worry, we'll talk about the fancy stuff too. Now, onward!
Let's talk about wine tasting. When you're tasting wine, particularly at a restaurant, you're analyzing the taste but you're also checking to make sure the wine has not gone off or become corked. Corked wine is the most common fault in wine. It's caused from the wine reacting with a cork that contains trichloroanisole (TCA). The result is a very damp, musty cardboard smell. If you ever get a chance to smell or taste a wine that is corked I highly suggest doing this. It will help you spot these in the future. While it's not considered kosher to send back a bottle of wine because you dislike it, it's very important to notify your server or sommelier if you think the wine is corked. So back to analyzing the taste of the wine- what exactly should you be looking for? The simple answer is threefold:
1. Appearance- the appearance of the wine can tell you much more than you might think. The first thing you're looking for is clarity. Is the wine cloudy? If so, this could be an indicator that you're about to try a faulty wine. The second thing you're looking at is color. If it's available to you, it's best to look at the color of your wine against a sheet of white paper. One of the key things color can indicate is the age of the wine. It can also be an indicator of climate. Lastly, when you swirl the wine, you might notice the wine holds a tear on the side of the glass. This is also knows as legs and is usually an indicator of alcohol level. The more present the legs, the more alcohol in the wine.
2. Smell- when smelling a wine, make sure to first swirl the wine to release the aromas then sniff deeply- don't be shy! The smell of the wine can tell you a lot about what you're about to taste and can also be an indicator of a faulty wine. Again, you're looking for that dank, cardboard smell in a faulty wine. You're also taking note of any flavor hints that the smell might give, for example, oak, minerality, spice, fresh fruit, dried fruit, vegetation.
3. Taste- when you taste, take a small sip of the wine and swirl it around your entire mouth so that it hits all of the senses. Some important things to take note of are sweetness, acidity, tannin, body and length. Sweetness is often misunderstood in wine. Although some wines, such as Riesling or Gruner Veltliner may taste sweeter than other white wines, most of these are considered to by 'dry' or 'off dry' styles. Point being, if a wine tastes slightly sweet, it's not necessarily characterized as a sweet wine. Knowing this will help you a lot when you're ordering or choosing a wine in a store. Acidity is tasted on the front and sides of your tongue. This is a measure of the amount of acid in the wine and can also be a good indicator of whether the wine has good balance. Tannin comes from the stems, skins and pips of the grape and adds bitterness to the wine. A wine with high tannin will leave a dry feeling on your tongue, similar to that of tea. This is also a key indicator of balance. Body refers to how light or heavy the wine is. The level of alcohol often determines the body of the wine. A wine with a higher ABV% will most likely be higher in body. Lastly- length. I find length to be a great judge of character and complexity in the wine. Length is determined by the amount of time the taste of the wine lingers in your mouth once you swallow it. The flavor can continue to develop and become more interesting. I have found length to be a great indicator of quality.
This concludes your first Wine Wednesday! I hope you use the upcoming weekend to test out your new skills. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know! Also, if there is anything in particular you would like me to focus on in future Wine Wednesday posts, I'm very open to suggestions. Happy tasting!