It’s something about the spring time that always gets people interested in wine. Maybe it's because we know the long summer days are just around the corner and that means BBQ’s and beach parties with cold white wines, and hamburgers and steaks that compliment big flavorful red wines so perfectly. Whatever it is about the spring time, nothing is more fun than attending a wine tasting.
More and more, you see wines from around the world; There seems to be more wine labels now than ever. But how is it that you are supposed to navigate the isles of a wine shop with so many varieties to consider? One of the best ways to learn about wines is to attend a wine tasting, but even by attending, how does one differentiate between all the different wines? The best way is to bring yourself and an open mind and get ready to taste!
When we say “taste,” it’s important to distinguish that people can only distinguish between sweet, salt, bitter, and acid. Wine does not have any salt in it, so we are down to three tastes. Evaluating a wine does not only come down to distinguishing between the different tastes, but there are many other factors involved. Thankfully the process is simple, and you don’t need to study for years in a dark, damp cellar to be a good judge of wine.
Here is a list of simple guidelines to help you evaluate a wine:
- Color and Appearance
- Aroma and Bouquet: intensity and character
- Fruit: Flavors and taste characteristics.
- Balance: Fruit, Sugar, Acid and Tannin
- Finish: Length of time the taste lasts in your mouth.
When tasting a wine for the first time, pour yourself a small amount - 2 ounces is plenty to taste. You are doing this because you want to swirl the wine around the glass without it spilling over.
Color and Appearance:
Before you start to swirl, look at the wine against a white table cloth or piece of blank paper. What color is the wine? Red wine can range in shade from a brilliant ruby to a red-brown. For white wine the range is a pale yellow-green to a brown. Young red wines are going to have more color to them, those will be the brilliant ruby or deep purple shades, while older reds will have noticeably less color, red-brown to brown for very old wines. For young whites, a pale yellow-green to straw yellow color indicates youth, whereas, a light brown to dark brown color hints that the wine is older and more mature. Next, try to look through the wine, can you see through it or not? The color and clarity of a wine give you an idea of a wines age and drinkability.
Aroma & Bouquet:
Okay, so you’ve determined the color, you’ve roughly determined the age, now, take your wine glass and swirl the wine. In swirling the wine you are intentionally exposing it to oxygen, which will “open” the wine. This just means as you swirl the wine, a beautiful bouquet is released. Now, smell the wine. What does the wine smell like? Do you notice anything particular about the wine? Does it remind you of any other food, in particular a fruit, vegetable, or spice? Based on smell, do you think you will enjoy it? You might notice the scent of fruit, flower, spice, earth, or wood. Their are dozens of adjectives you can use to describe a wine. Get creative, and remember, no observation is incorrect.
At this juncture it is important to distinguish the difference between aroma and bouquet, and fortunately, this can be very simple. Aroma is the smell of the grape, the bouquet is all the collective aromas in a wine. This has to be one of the most exciting parts of wine tasting because people can distinguish different aromas and there are lots of possibilities! Literally, books have been devoted to the art of aromas. Some major elements to consider aside from fruit, flowers, and spice are: Caramel, Earth tones, Tree fruit, Herbaceous or Vegetative, Nutty, Woody. Wine tasters use the word, “nose” to describe the bouquet and aroma of the wine.
Now, for the moment you’ve waited for. Taste! Be careful with that first sip. The acid and alcohol are a shock to your taste buds. Wait a moment, then taste again. This time, leave the wine in your mouth for three seconds. This allows the wine time to warm up and fully release all the flavors, which you will be able to pick up on. (Ninety percent of taste is smell, that’s why smelling the wine before you taste it is so important.)
As you taste, keep an eye out for the wines level of sweetness, how the acid reacts with your taste buds, and notice the fruit profiles. Close your eyes if you wish to really concentrate on what is happening in your mouth. Do you notice your mouth drying out? This tends to start in the middle of the mouth and work its way around. That drying sensation isn’t part of taste, it's tannin. Tannin comes from the pressing stage, where juice comes in contact with the grape skins. Tannin can come from oak barrels.
One of the first elements you will notice in a wine is the sweetness. Is the wine high in sugar? Acid tends to creep in sometimes slowly, but it can also shoot in fast. Do you taste the fruit? How does the smell compare to what you are tasting? Do you notice the wine leaving your mouth dry? That’s the tannin! It might slowly dry your mouth out if it is a very tannic wine, or it might demand your mouth for another sip.
With your eyes closed or open (doesn’t particularly matter) how do the elements of sweetness, acid, fruit, and tannin play together? A good wine has the right amount of each of these components. Since we all have various threshold levels, one person might enjoy the acid in a wine as another might enjoy the sweetness of a wine.
Before you make a judgement on the wine, allow yourself a minute to fully experience all the wine has to offer. It's important to note a good wine leaves the mouth with a pleasurable, lingering flavor. This is called the “finish.” Quality wine leaves a strong, long finish.
After you’ve tasted the wine, you are ready to answer some simple questions to determine if you like it or not:
- •What is the texture of the wine, light or heavy?
- Can you taste notes of fruit? What are they?
- Do you taste a hint of oak?
- Is the wine too acid? Or does it taste flat?
- What type of food pairs well with this wine?
Continue tasting the wine. Pay careful attention to how the wine changes over time as the bottle is exposed to air. As you taste, if you nibble on little bits such as cheese, dried fruit, or chocolate, each can greatly enhance your experience or change it completely.
Are you interested in tasting some wines from around the world? The Malverne Civic Association is hosting its on Friday, April 27, at 7 p.m. in the American Legion hall located on Franklin Avenue in Malverne. You will have an opportunity to taste 10 different wines and discover what wines you really enjoy! (Oh, and there will also be a diverse selection of beer.) For more information, click or visit www.malvernecivic.org.