The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Quality | James Flewellen

The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Quality

By Tuesday, October 30, 2012 Permalink

by James Flewellen

One of the common themes running through my wine education courses and writings is that you, the taster, are the final authority on whether you like a wine or not. While I can tell you whether a wine is well made, and give my perception of the aromas, flavours and structure of a wine, I can’t get inside your head to assess your perception of a wine or whether you like it or not.

There are, however, some objective guidelines on assessing a wine for its quality. These are espoused by the WSET and various other wine educators and can be remembered easily by the acronym ‘BLIC‘.

B is for balance. A well-balanced wine will have a consistency between the aromas you smell and flavours you taste. The acidity will match the body of the wine and any sweetness. It won’t be sharp and unpleasant; nor will it be flabby and soft. The alcohol will suit the body of the wine and not be too harsh nor weak. If a wine has been aged in oak, then the level of oak will support the natural fruit flavours rather than overwhelm them. One factor that should be taken into consideration is the age of a wine and when it is expected to be drunk. A barrel sample of a very fine wine will not necessarily be in balance, yet it should be by the time the wine is ready to be drunk a decade later. One of the hardest jobs I’ve seen in the wine business is that of winemakers assess their newly-fermented wine and to make decisions on how to mature it based on their projections of how the wine will develop.

The length of the wine is straightforward. Simply: the longer the better. After swallowing, the finest wines will linger over your senses for many tens of seconds, even minutes in some cases! The one caveat is that the remaining flavours should be enjoyable. I’ve had at least one occasion of a wine with a very bitter flavour and an unpleasantly long finish.

Intensity is the next criterion. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword in that an overly intense wine can be overwhelming in some cases. If a particular aroma or flavour dominates at the expense of the balance or complexity of the wine, then too much intensity is a bad thing. However, with this in mind, the best wines will have an intensity and concentration of flavour that is precise yet generous.

Finally, we have complexity. This is perhaps the most difficult criterion for a wine to achieve. Complexity in a wine begins with high quality grapes. The vineyard must be well tended and the grapes healthy before a winemaker can make great wine. The winemaker’s skill is in preserving the complex biochemicals that occur naturally in the grape, enhancing and concentrating them, while still maintaining balance. Further complexity in a wine is achieved through judicious use of oak for maturation. Finally, the time spent in bottle results in further subtle and complex chemical reactions that develop ever new flavours in a wine. The end result of a fine wine that is opened at its optimal age for drinking is a plethora of aromas and flavours that change and evolve in the glass. The exact aromas and sensations can be hard to describe, yet the finish always leaves you wanting more!

__________________

James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, the huge range of wine James discovered in Europe spurred his interest in all things vinous. He became involved in the University’s Blind Wine Tasting Society and has recently completed a two-year term as its President. During this time he represented the University in a number of domestic and international wine tasting competitions, winning several awards. He is currently completing the WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. James has a passion for wine communication and education and runs the Oxford Wine Blog and the Oxford Wine Academy.

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ONGOING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES ON THE RAMBLING EPICURE SITE

By Tuesday, October 30, 2012 Permalink

Please bear with us. Have a wonderful week!

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Recipe: Kids in the Kitchen: Making Homemade Halloween Treats with your Children

By Sunday, October 28, 2012 Permalink

by Jonell Galloway

American Jack-o’-lanterns. Photo courtesy of Nosajanimus.

Have you ever thought of making homemade Halloween treats, and getting your kids into the kitchen to help out?

Sharon Bowers’ book Ghoulish Goodies: Creature Feature Cupcakes, Monster Eyeballs, Bat Wings, Funny Bones, Witches’ Knuckles, and Much More! (Frightful Cookbook) arose out of her lifelong love affair with Halloween. Epicurious has featured some of her recipes and ideas in its weekly newsletter.

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Itsy Bitsy History of Candy Corn and other Halloween News

By Sunday, October 28, 2012 Permalink

by Jonell Galloway

Don’t miss Gourmet Live’s history of how candy corn was invented in a time when corn was seen as low-brow, and how it later came to be associated with autumn.

Click here to read more.

For lots of fun and novel uses for candy corn (and for a few good laughs), you might want to read this article on Jezebel.

Laughing Squid has produced an series of sculptures made from candy corn.

Craftberry Bush shows a step-by-step photographic explanation of how to make candy corn party favors. These are some of the most original Halloween treats I’ve seen.

 

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Day of the Un-Dead

By Sunday, October 28, 2012 Permalink

by Alice DeLuca

The Day of the Dead and Halloween are nearly upon us and I am frantically digging for recipes that can protect the living against the Un-dead. Books and papers fly as I paw through shelves and piles, seeking something to ward off the Zombies, Vampires and Werewolves that may be lurking outside the door, or that may invade my kitchen at any moment. They all have highly specialized dentition designed to make swift work of the main course – me!

Day of the Dead Secretary Alice DeLuca 2011

I’m calling on restaurateurs —  please, this time of the year, an amuse-bouche for the living might be just the thing to calm the customer’s nerves. Could chefs please get a little creative, and instead of offering me a puddle of olive oil, or herbed olive oil, or olives in a lake of olive oil with obligatory bread (that I don’t eat anyway), could they provide something that will protect our table from monsters? Let’s get our priorities straight please; safety comes first!

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Slow Food’s Salone Internazionale de Gusto Food Fair

By Thursday, October 25, 2012 Permalink

The 2012 Salone Internazionale de Gusto food fair started in Torino, Italy, today October 25, 2012, and will continue until Monday, October 29, 2012. Hope to see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Simple Sustenance: Pumpkins, When the Beauty is in the Imperfections, a photo essay by Renu Chhabra

By Wednesday, October 24, 2012 Permalink

by Renu Chhabra

The harvest moon hangs round and high
It dodges clouds high in the sky,
The stars wink down their love and mirth
The Autumn season is giving birth.
Oh, it must be October
The leaves of red bright gold and brown,
To Mother Earth come tumbling down,
The breezy nights the ghostly sights,
The eerie spooky far off sounds
Are signs that it’s October.
The pumpkins yellow, big and round
Are carried by costumed clumsy clowns
It’s Halloween – let’s celebrate.
–   
Pearl N. Sorrels, It Must be October

Color and rusticity are the characters of autumn

Warm tones and ­­rustic gifts from nature fill our hearts with a sense of wholeness. It’­­­­s a feeling that reminds us of our connection with the earth and our humble existence.­­

Orange, yellow, red, and amber are the colors of fall, visible in landscapes and farms alike. Pumpkins, gourds, and squashes add soul to this season. Greeting us on the front porch or displayed inside the house, they adorn our spaces with fall bounty; they are festive and inviting. They bring with them a certain positive energy.

And what’s fall without pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and  pumpkin soup? It’s the pumpkin heaven that embraces us, at home or anywhere else. We all want to savor the season’s bounty to its fullest.

I am intrigued as much by the great pumpkin’s beauty as by its imperfections. Some of the very deformed ones are the most intriguing of all. But who said nature is perfect? Nature is beautiful, yet free-spirited when we see it in its natural and organic form. And we see its beauty in these colorful gourds that exude their individual characteristics in their own special ways.

They have different colors, shapes, sizes, and personalities. Yet they are beautiful and unique, despite their imperfections. They all bring something special to our tables in terms of taste, texture, and quality.

Just like us, human beings.

What do you think?

Celebrate the season!
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TECHNICAL PROBLEMS AT THE RAMBLING EPICURE

By Wednesday, October 24, 2012 Permalink

Dear Readers,

The Rambling Epicure site has been experiencing serious technical problems over the last ten days. We’re working hard to put everything back into order, so please excuse us if we are not posting as regularly as usual. And above all, please don’t forget us because we’ll be back with a bang!

Thank you for your understanding and patience.


Jonell Galloway, Editor of The Rambling Epicure and Freelance Food and Travel Writer
Twitter @RamblingEpicure    Facebook page: The Rambling Epicure   Google+: Jonell Galloway

 

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What we’re reading: Prerna Singh food photography, best new hotels 2012, lemon garlic ginger carrots, etc.

By Wednesday, October 24, 2012 Permalink

by Jonell Galloway

Click here to keep up with the latest in world food and wine news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Structure in Wine

By Tuesday, October 23, 2012 Permalink

by James Flewellen

When we taste a wine to assess it, we are looking for up to eight different components. Firstly, the flavours. In general terms, flavours will be similar to the aromas we can smell. Indeed, what we think of ‘taste’ is more influenced by smell sensors in the back of our nasal cavities than by our tastebuds! Things to consider about the flavours in wine include: Do they match with what we were expecting based on the aromas we can smell?  Is the balance between aroma and flavour harmonious, contrasting or conflicting? What sort of food would this wine go best with?

Peel me a grape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We now look out for the structure of the wine. This is a term used to describe components of the wine that carry the flavours and ‘support’ the wine. Alcohol is perhaps the most obvious aspect of structure in wine. Ethanol has the ability to hold more aroma and flavour compounds in solution than water, one reason alcoholic beverages are generally more complex than non-alcoholic ones. It is important that the alcohol is in balance with the rest of the wine and does not produce an unpleasant burn at the back of the throat (too much alcohol) nor results in a ‘thin’ or ‘weak’ wine (too little). Alcohol is a major component of what we call the body of the wine, which is how dense or viscous the liquid feels in the mouth. A robust, deep-coloured red wine is likely to be ‘full-bodied’, whereas a lower-alcohol cool-climate white wine will be ‘light-bodied’. There’s no right or wrong level of body, simply that the body of the wine is in harmony with other structural elements.

All wines have what we call residual sugar. This sugar remaining from the fermentation process, which converts the natural sugars in grape juice to ethanol. In most cases the level of residual sugar is so low that we cannot taste it. These wines are what we would call ‘dry’. In some cases the fermentation is deliberately stopped to leave a higher level of sugar in the final wine. These wines will be ‘off-dry’ or perhaps ‘medium-sweet’. Dessert wines can be incredibly sweet, and they are made from grapes with very high concentrations of sugar. Yeasts can only convert so much sugar into alcohol in fermentation (typically 13.5-14.5% abv); any sugar above this level remains unfermented resulting in a sweet wine. Sweet white wines are far more common than reds.

Acidity is a very important structural component in all wine. The natural fruit acids in the grapes are preserved through the fermentation process and provide the ‘backbone’ to wine. Acidity helps to carry to flavour of wine down the tongue and spread the sensation of the wine around the mouth. It has an important role in wine and food pairing as acid cuts through the fats and oils found in food, cleansing and refreshing the palate. This is why highly acidic wines go very well with creamy sauces and certain cheeses. Acidity is registered on the sides of the tongue; you can also assess it by noting your saliva response after swallowing.

An aspect of the winemaking process (a story for another time!) means that the quality of acidity in red wines is softer than that for whites. But red wines have another structural aspect: tannins. Tannins are chemicals found in the skin, stalks and pips of grapes. They interact with the inside skin surfaces of your mouth — gums, cheeks, tongue — to create a furry, puckering sensation. The same chemicals are found in tea. Unlike white wines, red wines are made in a way to preserve tannins. When you drink red wine with food, the tannin interacts with protein, neutralising it, and cleansing the palate in much the same way acidity does for white wines. This explains why red wine and red meat are such a popular pairing, and also why many red wines are not particularly pleasant on their own, yet amazing with food.

fruits sous la mer
It’s important to consider the effect of the wine’s structure on the food you might have with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One aspect of tasting wine that crosses over flavours and structures is the use of oak to mature the wine. Oak barrels lend a wine some of the oak flavours — nuts, butter, biscuit, spice, vanilla, coconut — which suit very well certain styles of wine. Ageing in oak barrels also allows a very slow air exchange to occur with the wine. This interaction changes the flavour and structure of the wine in other, more subtle, ways. The acidity becomes more mellow and the fruit character recedes slightly, allowing more complex flavours to develop.

Our final aspect of structure in a wine is the finish. This describes the effect of the wine after we swallow. The finish can be long, short, abrupt, disappointing, smooth, bitter, fruity, savoury, enjoyable, harmonious, complex, you name it. It is our final judgement on whether we like this wine and whether we’d buy another bottle.

Ultimately, the final arbiter of taste is you. No-one can tell you what you can taste and whether you like a wine or not. While there are accepted methods for assess the various structural elements I’ve described above, perception is a very personal thing. The trick to appreciating wine is to know why you like (or don’t like) a wine, not just that you do!

 

 

__________________

James Flewellen is The Rambling Epicure wine columnist. James is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. Originally from New Zealand, the huge range of wine James discovered in Europe spurred his interest in all things vinous. He became involved in the University’s Blind Wine Tasting Society and has recently completed a two-year term as its President. During this time he represented the University in a number of domestic and international wine tasting competitions, winning several awards. He is currently completing the WSET Diploma in Wine and Spirits. James has a passion for wine communication and education and runs the Oxford Wine Blog and the Oxford Wine Academy.

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