Taste and Tasting Wines and Different Alcoholic Beverages
Volumes have been written about the sense of taste, as understood in relation to drinks. Taste is at least 75% smell, and many people would rate the percentage higher (you have difficulty in tasting when you have a cold). Actual tastes are divided into very few categories and physiologically most taste buds are only in the tip of the tongue. But in fact there are those who taste well who have not an acutely developed sense of smell (though they are in the minority in the drink trade), and everyone who tastes professionally would admit to tasting with different parts of their mouth – the feel of the wine on the top palate, the way it touches the sides of the mouth, the sensation it gives along the gums, are all different and all contribute to forming a general opinion of what something tastes like. There is the taste of the wine in the mouth (usually taken in with a little air, which sharpens it up); the taste as it goes down the throat; and the aftertaste, as one breathes when it has been swallowed.
Professionals in the drink business seldom drink or swallow the liquids they are tasting, for obvious reasons. If they did, they would be incapable of getting through more than a few at a time. Spirits and, sometimes, the fortified wines, are tasted primarily ‘on the nose’ (by smelling) for the same reason. Those who taste brandies or Scotch sometimes also rub a little of the spirit on their hands and then sniff their palms – of course without having used scented soap or lotion. This can reveal many things about the spirit – for example, it shows clearly when a brandy has been over-caramelised, because one’s hands smell of vanilla. Wines being tasted seriously are spat out. In any event, to drink young wines can be definitely unpleasant; if they are still fermenting, they will upset the stomach. With practice, those whose business it is will be able to judge what they taste like without necessarily swallowing them.
Because of the importance of the smell of a drink, tasting glasses are usually tulip-shaped, elongated tulips or goblets, so as to concentrate the smell as it released to the nose of the taster. Anyone trying to taste seriously will pour only a little of the drink into a suitable glass. The liquid is swirled around while the colour, both at the centre and at the edge, is observed for brilliance, limpidity and actual tone. The liquid is then sniffed or ‘nosed’. Next a little is taken into the mouth, plus a little air, and this is run over the whole of the mouth. Throughout, and when the liquid has been ejaculated, the impressions made are precisely noted, so that past experience can be a guide as to what the liquid may do in the future, as well as what it is like now.
It is useless for anyone to try to taste seriously if they have been told ‘what they ought to think or say’. An uninformed but sincere opinion, precisely expressed, is more valuable – both to the drinker and those with whom he exchanges opinions – than any glib pronouncement repeated from the pages of a textbook or quoted from the speech of even a great authority. Only experience can give one authority in tasting, but only honesty and clarity of mind can gather the experience first. Those who taste – as those who drink – ‘on the label’ are wasting their own time and that of anyone who tries to teach them.
A great deal of publicity has been given in recent years to contests arranged between teams who tackle a series of wines in a blind tasting. There is nothing wrong with this – if it is remembered that the ability to identify a wine, blind, although a creditable achievement, is not in itself the hallmark of anyone whose knowledge of wine is profound and whose ability to convey their impressions and enthusiasms (and criticisms) makes their opinions of value and interest. People who live in a wine region and within a wine country may have limited experience of tasting the wines of other regions and countries – but they may still know a great deal about the wines of their own region. The extensive ranges of wines listed in the U.K., however, has made it possible for many British tasters – who train seriously for such contests and work hard to alert themselves to the shades of smell and taste that may enable them to pick out wines, grape varieties, vintages and even estates and growers- to do their ‘homework’ selecting wines from all over the world. The added perspective that this can give to the right people can make what they say about all wines of great interest and value; they will not find wines ‘better’ or ‘inferior’ simply because they are more or less familiar with them, nor will they be inclined to comment adversely on a wine that they have never encountered previously.
Where tasting matches can, unfortunately, have the wrong kind of result, is when the findings of particular tasting panels mark certain wines higher than certain others- and it is then found that, perhaps, a wine of great repute has come second to something little-known … the makers or salesmen of the second wine therefore make great publicity out of this. Wines have their ‘off days like human beings and, in some circumstances, the presentation of some wipes may not be truly fair. Indeed it is difficult to think how a big blind tasting might ever be 100% fair either to the wines or to the people.
Is the atmosphere dry or damp (humidity makes it very difficult for many people to taste and I, personally, invariably feel less than truly well when it is wet, so this should be taken into account)? Is the place where the tasting takes place lit by daylight or artificial light – and what sort of the latter? Do the tasters stand up or sit down—or are they free to do as they wish? Has whoever is presenting the wines attempted to do this so that those requiring several hours aeration or decanting are handled correctly, while those requiring chilling are neither frozen nor tepid – unless the sterner sort of taster wants to try such wines at room temperature, subjecting them to all the hazards this may involve? And, indeed, how has the selection of wines been made – are they of the same grape, from the same region, vintage, price range, grower and so on? Someone who might well be a highly respected taster and who could identify hundreds of wines of a certain type, might be absolutely lost if presented with wines previously only sampled when drinking them at someone’s dinner-table!
This is why I think that a little cool reflection must establish that, even if a wine of one region is marked higher than a great vintage and famous estate from another on just one occasion, all sorts of qualifying conditions should be taken into account or. At least, accepted as being possibly influential. Exactly the same should be said about anyone tasting: the procedure involves a personal test, something that may be a challenge issued on a day when the taster is feeling slightly less than in perfect health, a little worried about some trivial matter, or too concerned about the issues involved if a good performance is not given.
So. tasting matches can be and. In my opinion, should be fun. Those who like training their palates and enlarging their experience will take great pleasure in competing. Those who do not want to compete are not to be criticised, as long as they continue to enjoy wine intelligently. Those people and those wines who do not ‘show’ to advantage on one occasion, should not be forgotten or marked down for ever. Their mistakes or. As far as a wine is concerned, the possible ‘dumbness’ or temporary lack of revealed quality should never be accepted as being typical and permanent.
The one thing that no tasting match should favour is a solemn approach to wine. Serious, yes. But the instant the impressed spectator begins to feel that the activity is exclusive, then the whole purpose of why wine is made and why its lovers find it so fascinating is brought to nothing. Everyone should attempt to taste. The good tasters should encourage and teach others. If they are wise as well as humane, they will know that everyone is fallible, that every wine of quality is variable; and that, if a tasting match is lost, it does not mean that every person and every wine in the contest is bad – only that, at a single contest, some people and some wines were even better than those that did not win.
These are a comparatively new form of entertaining. At them there will be a selection of wines, possibly plus some form of food, for people to appraise. It is a variation on the wine and cheese party and, as a lighthearted social event when people drink rather than taste seriously, it can be both enjoyable and educational. Wines of holiday regions can be compared, different areas of classic wines, different vintages, different styles of the same wine – all are of interest.
More serious, but no less enjoyable tasting parties can be given by friends who get together to study wines. For such purposes, the stress is definitely on the wines, spittoons are included and the food – at least until the tasting is completely finished – is minimal and only to clean the palate (bread or plain biscuits). The tasting party can be an excellent and. If need be. Inexpensive way of learning about wines, because only a very small amount of wine is poured for a tasting sample. An experienced pourer will get 20 to 24 samples out of each bottle. So. If people club together, they can afford a selection of bottles.
Any wine merchant is usually glad to help to organise a tasting: trade help is advisable, unless the person in charge of the occasion is fairly experienced.
Because procedure should be controlled, so that supplies go round fairly. Also it is useful to have somebody on hand to answer questions, even if no formal talk is to be given. Increasing numbers of tasting parties, both serious and primarily social are given, and they can certainly be a way of finding out about wines wit hout the risk of spending money on a bottle that may not be liked. The palate can also be thus trained to appraise drinks so that future purchases can be assisted and greater enjoyment gained from even cheap bottles.