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Wine Assessment - Next Steps
Tasting is not only important for finished wines, but also critical during the winemaking process. For consumers, rather than correctly identifying a wine’s varietal character and/or provenance, tasting should be about exploring and expressing your preferences. Experiencing wine with food is really engaging wine in its preferred natural habitat - the fun is in the trying and the most important thing is to have an opinion. The whole point of tasting is that it is a gloriously subjective exercise! A greater understanding of tasting and appreciating wine can certainly enhance your enjoyment of it, but it should never be the sole object of the exercise. Wine, although sometimes elevated to a position of cultural reverence, is above all designed for drinking and for pleasure.
The Big Picture - Sniff, Swirl, Taste, Spit!
The appreciation of wine can be broken down into three different areas: appearance, smell and taste. All three are important aspects of each wine’s character, but taste is considered to be the most critical as it encompasses both flavour and texture and confirms the wine characteristics.
Appearance and First Impressions
The visual assessment of a wine’s appearance begins before the bottle is open, as clarity is often indicative of the character and condition of the wine. Once poured into a clear glass for drinking, an assessment about the wine’s colour, both intensity and hue, can be made. This is best done by slightly tilting the glass over a white surface and looking down through the wine.
If assessing the visual appearance of a wine, note the clarity and colour and any changes in colour between the edge (or rim) of the wine and the centre. Generally a darker colour and a difference in colour from the centre of the glass to the edge can indicate oxidation, which may be a deliberate part of the winemaking, an error, or a part of the natural process of maturation in bottle. Among white wines it can also be indicative of the amount of time spent on lees and/or in wood.
Much is often made of ‘legs’ or ‘tears’ in a glass – the apparent wine imprint left on the inside side of the glass after swirling. While this can be indicative of the amount of glycerol and alcohol present in the wine, more often than not it is also a sign that there is detergent residue left in the glass!
All In The Nose
The next step in wine tasting is to smell the wine with an aim to identify as many flavour compounds as possible. Swirl the wine gently to coat the interior of the glass and release the wine aromas (very gently for sparkling so as not to release all the gas) and start smelling the wine. As you inhale slowly and smoothly through your nose also draw a small amount of air through the mouth.
The way a wine smells can be divided into two sets of characters:
When you smell a wine, don’t get too hung up on trying to identify exact fruits or highly specific characters. Look for identifiers such as freshness, intensity of aroma and sensation.
Most wines have a vast array of smells and change with time in the glass, however it is the smell that allows wine experts to discern complex distinguishing marks of a wine and identify specifics such as variety, vintage and even vineyard from where the wine was produced.
A Matter of Taste
Taste is the next and most important step and your mouth, or palate, should confirm what your nose has already determined.
Take a small mouthful of wine and hold it in your mouth. With the wine still in your mouth carefully and slowly draw air in through your lips, bubbling it softly through the wine. This releases more aromas that are perceived as flavour. Finally, wash the wine around your mouth a little and swallow (or spit into a spittoon if you are tasting many wines).
The texture of a wine can also provide clues as to how the wine is made, so take note of the way the wine feels in the mouth. It may be hard and sharp or round and soft. Tannins in red wine may give a drying, astringent sensation (similar to tea) and may vary from heavy to light, hard to soft.
Take careful note of the flavours of the wine and the progression of flavour from the time you put the wine in your mouth, through the time you aerate the wine and then through the time during and after you swallow (or spit out) the wine. Then note the intensity of the aftertaste. This is referred to as the wine’s ‘finish’, and a long aftertaste is generally a positive indication of quality.
After looking, smelling and tasting, make an overall assessment of the wine. Generally, a lasting impression of harmony and balance is considered more desirable and easiest to enjoy.
(Source: Wine Australia)