Wine Tasting: How to Taste Wine
HOW TO TASTE
We have seen that the nose is vital for enjoyment and that the eyes can be helpful if you are playing that near-useless but impressive party game of trying to identify a wine ‘blind’, that is without first knowing what it is. The mouth is of course essential for the monitoring of sweetness and acidity, and for the following further aspects of wine drinking.
This is not a basic taste, but can only be sensed by the mouth. Tannin is extracted along with colouring matter from grapeskins and is good at preserving red wines until they are interesting and mature. It is most noticeable when the wine is very young, and then gradually fades to allow the natural fruit in a wine to show the way it has matured. There is a lot of tannin in tea, and a very tannic wine has the same effect on the mouth as stewed tea, drying out the gums and the inside of the cheeks.
LENGTH AND AFTERTASTE
The length of time a wine lingers in the mouth after it has been swallowed is a very good indicator of its quality. The longer the wine seems to reverberate around the back of the mouth and throat, the better it is. Such wines are called ‘long’ and said to have a ‘long finish’ or ‘long aftertaste’. If a wine leaves no aftertaste, it is said to be ‘short’ and reckoned to be of fairly basic quality. A glass of great wine should take much longer to drink than a poor one, so long should each mouthful last.
This is the component that makes wine so much more interesting than grape juice, and is also the one that tends to make wine gatherings such sociable affairs. When the wine is in the mouth it is possible, with practice, to judge-how alcoholic or ‘full-bodied’ a wine is. Just as a mouthful of cream feels heavier in the mouth than water, so different wines have a ‘weight’. The higher the alcohol content of a wine, the heavier it is and the more ‘body’ it is said to have. Very alcoholic wines, such as port or some California Chardonnays, leave such an alcoholic aftertaste that the taster feels that his breath should be kept well away from naked flames.
Professional tasters see alcohol as a necessary evil and try to stay as sober as possible while they taste up to 100 different wines at a single session. This is done by spitting out every mouthful into a special container, called a spittoon. This practice looks disgusting to outsiders, but seems perfectly natural — nay vital — within the confines of the tasting room.
The wine taster has no excuse for drinking at all: the throat is devoid of useful sensory equipment and there is no need to swallow a wine in order to taste it.
To sum up:
STEP ONE Look at the wine by tilting it away from you to note its clarity and colour.
STEP TWO Swirl the wine around in the glass and take a short, sharp sniff”, noting and savouring the nuances of flavour.
STEP THREE Take a good mouthful so that all of the tongue is covered and notice what happens to the tip of the tongue (for sweetness), the upper edges (for acidity) and the inside of the mouth (for tannin).
STEP FOUR While the wine is in the mouth, try to gauge its weight, and just after you have swallowed it (or spat it out!) notice how ‘long’ it is.