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Guide to Tasting
There is no doubt that you can drink wine purely for the enjoyment, and not give it to much more thought. Pleasant taste, warm fuzzy feelings, good company, what’s not to like? And there are certainly some times where we here at wine refined drink wine exactly in that manner.
However, we also believe that more understanding leads to greater enjoyment. So most of the time, we take a little time to analyse what we’re drinking. This can be a little daunting at first, but it doesn’t need to be complex, or too serious.
When tasting at home, a decent decanter goes a long way..
Photograph by Winerefined
Firstly, when you’ve poured yourself a glass of wine, use your sense of sight. Tip the glass over a little, and look at the colour of the wine against a white background. Both the colour, and the depth of colour, will start to give you some clues as to what type of wine it might be. Now check out the way the wine clings to the side of the glass, sometimes referred to as “legs” or “tears”. This will give you some clues as to alcohol or residual sugar content.

At this point, give your wine glass a (careful) swirl, to expose the wine to a little more oxygen, and get the aromas coming out of the wine.

“You don’t need to analyse every wine you drink, but giving it some thought can help you appreciate more of the nuance and detail”

At this point, give your wine glass a (careful) swirl, to expose the wine to a little more oxygen, and get the aromas coming out of the wine.

Secondly, before you taste, get your nose close to the wine and inhale deeply. Inhaling with your mouth slightly open tends to amplify the different smells you’ll pick up.  Try to identify as many different smells in the wine as you can, and don’t feel like you have to use fancy terms.  Just use your own vocabulary and experience.  Very broadly speaking, the fruit itself will impart fruit-like characteristics, if the wine has been aged in oak, the oak will impart wood-like characteristics, and the site where the grapes have been grown will impart characteristics from the surrounding earth and air.  Try to identify a few different identifiable notes (we aim for the four that first spring to mind).

Thirdly, you finally get to taste.  This is an extension of the smelling phase, but you’re also getting a sense of mouthfeel (tannin, structure), where the taste is strongest (front, middle, back of your palate) and how long the taste lasts.  This should give you a couple more adjectives to describe the wine; these might be additional flavour descriptors, they might be relating to mouthfeel or length, or they might just be about the ‘personality’ of the wine.

If you’re looking for cues as you start this process, try the Essential Wine Tasting Guide (add link to store) or the Infographics in the excellent Wine Folly book (add affiliate link).  These will give you a range of flavours usually seen in different grape types, so that you have a reference point.

Sometimes the only way to learn is taste a heap of stuff side by side
Photograph by Winerefined
And now you’ve just composed a tasting note.  The first time you do it, you’ll likely feel that you have no point of reference.  Then you’ll do it a few more times, and have a few more experiences to compare to.  It’s easiest (if you can) to taste a few wines side-by-side, so that you can get an immediate feel for the difference between different sites, grapes or vintages.  And before you know it, you’ll start to understand the differences between grape types, sites, oak maturation, bottle age, which for most people, only enhances their love of wine.

The temperature at which you drink wine makes a huge difference to the experience.  Colder wines will tend to see aromatics muted, and likewise warmer wines will tend to amplify most aromas and flavours.  Alcohol will be more apparent as the wine warms.  Aim to serve whites and sparkling at 7-13 degrees, and reds at 13-18 degrees.  If the wine you’re tasting isn’t giving you much love, let it warm a couple of degrees, or cup your hands around the glass.  If it’s blowing your head off with too much flavour and alcohol, chill it for a while.

To help identify flavours, here at wine(refined) we sometimes do what we like to call palate calibration (because it sounds fancy and scientific).  We’ll choose a wine type (let’s say young Australian Riesling), identify some of the typical flavours you’ll see in that wine type (in this case lemon, lime, grapefruit, lemon zest, lime zest, grapefruit zest), purchase a lemon, lime and grapefruit from the local greengrocer, and then have a bowl of each of those foods handy when we’re tasting the wine.  This allows us to cross-reference the wine we’re drinking with the descriptor, to make sure that what we’re tasting as “lemon zest” in the wine actually does taste like lemon zest.  It’s a fun experiment, and really helps with assigning different descriptors to different wines.  To get an idea of the different flavours you’ll find in a specific wine type, we use The Essential Wine Tasting Guide or Wine Folly.

  • You don’t need to analyse every wine you drink, but giving it some thought can help you appreciate more of the nuance and detail
  • First, use your eyes to check out the colour, clarity and viscosity of the wine in the glassThen, inhale as much of the smell of the wine as possible, and try to identify aromas arising from the fruit itself, from the oak in which it might have been aged, and from the environment in which the grapes were grown
  • Continue this experiment into the tasting, and try to identify a few more flavours, as well as how the wine feels in your mouth
  • Try to go through this process while drinking a few different wines side-by-side, so that you can identify differences.
Nick Ireland, Adelaide, Australia
22 June 2016
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