Your palate is highly sensitive and is capable of detecting very subtle and intense differences. Learning how to taste wine will help develop and refine your palate, as well as sharpen your ability to recall wines. Anyone can learn to taste wine astutely – all that’s needed is a glass of wine and some thought. It all comes down to: look, smell, taste, and conclude.
A wine’s appearance can tell you a lot. When analysing the look of the wine, note its colour, opacity and legs. These observations will help you to determine a rough age, the probable grape varieties, and the amount of acidity, alcohol, and sugar. The best way to appreciate the colour of the wine is to hold the glass up to a light or a white background, such as a white/light wall. Once viewing with the light background behind the glass, look to the outer reaches of the wine in the glass, this will allow you to see the colour more clearly.
As white wines age they tend to change colour, becoming more darker shades of yellow. Red wines tend to lose colour, becoming more transparent as time passes, and sometimes a tinge of red-brown. Meanwhile, a wine’s legs[PL1] will be able to tell you about its alcohol and sugar content. The thicker and more viscous the legs, the more alcohol or residual sugar present. Compare the ‘richness’ of our Chateau La Croix Moulinet - 2012 Aoc Bordeaux Superieur with a lighter wine, such as the Vasse Felix Classic Dry Red.
As you learn more about wine, regions, varieties, and vintages, you’ll also be able to infer a considerable amount from a wine’s look.
A single glass can contain hundreds of compounds, which is why people smell so many different things. Swirling your wine in the glass will increase the number of aroma compounds that are released into the air and can help develop your sense of smell. At first it can be hard to smell anything other than ‘wine’. A good technique is to alternate between small, short sniffs and slow, long sniffs.
The best way to tackle smell is to initially think broadly and then aim towards the more specific. If you smell fruits, then start by categorizing along the lines of citrus, orchard , or tropical fruits in white wine; or, red fruits, blue fruits, or black fruits when tasting red wine. Don’t fret about conforming to particular descriptive language – we all interpret individual aromas in related, but slightly different ways.
With more practice, you’ll be able to distinguish between primary, secondary and tertiary aromas:
-Primary aromas are derived from the grapes themselves and produce fruity, herbal, and floral notes.
-Secondary aromas stem from the winemaking process and are yeasty in nature. Some people will find these smell of cheese rind, nuts, or stale beer. It’s easiest to pinpoint these in white wine.
-Tertiary aromas come from the aging process. Sometimes referred to as ‘bouquets’ these will smell akin to roasted nuts, baking spices, vanilla, autumn leaves, old tobacco, cured leather, or mushroom. The most common of these is the ‘vanilla’ aroma associated with wines aged in oak. Tertiary aromas can modify primary aromas, turning the fresh fruit of a young wine into a more dried and pronounced aroma as it ages.
Test out your scent capacity with a bottle of our Vasse Felix - 2016 Classic Dry White or our Chateau Malfard - 2014 Cuvee Prestige Aoc Bordeaux .
When we drink wine we taste it with our tongues as well as ‘retro-nasally’ once we’ve swallowed. When starting out on your wine-tasting journey, try coating your mouth with a larger sip of wine, followed by several smaller sips, to help isolate key flavours. Much like with smell, focus on one flavour at a time, and move from broader flavours to more specific ones.
While it may seem strange, your tongue can also perceive ‘texture’- ethanol is perceived as richer than water, so wines with a higher alcohol content will feel richer in your mouth. Tannins will also manifest themselves with a stronger ‘tongue drying’ sensation.
Analysing the taste of wine, also involves noting the journey of taste as the wine changes in your mouth from beginning (initial taste), to the middle (mid-palate) and finally finish or length (when the taste is no longer with you).
Remember that in much the same way as with food, if you expose your palate to a strong and heavy experience first, it will be difficult to notice the subtleties of a softer and more delicate flavour. For this reason, order your tasting from light white to heavier white, FOR EXAMPLE Sauvignon Blanc to start with, followed by Charddonay. Then move to lighter red wines, such as a Pinot Noir and then try mid and heavier red wines such as Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. If you like sweet or dessert wines, drink these last due to the rich flavours in those wines.
Taking and keeping tasting notes is a truly valuable exercise in learning more about wine, and your personal preferences, and in developing your palate.
Comparing different wines in the same setting will help you improve your palate faster, and it also makes wine aromas more obvious. Why not join a local tasting group, or gather your family and friends to start your own tasting group. Work your way through your favourite Dawine wines and watch your palate develop.
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