The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: The Tools of the Trade
OK, so you’re interested in getting the most out of your wine. Perhaps you want to have a go at tasting some wines blind, or perhaps you want to maximize the expression of a wine to pair with your meal. What’s the first step? Well, to begin blind tasting, you need three things other than wine, a nose and taste buds: namely, an appropriate glass, a white background, and good lighting (you don’t need a blindfold – it’s hard enough as it is!).
An ‘appropriate’ glass – what does that mean? Surely any old wine glass will do? Well, any wine glass is better than a coffee mug, say, but a long-stemmed tulip-shaped wine glass is ideal for blind tasting. The reason behind the tulip-shape is to allow the aromas of the wine to develop and concentrate inside the glass without them escaping too much. This shape also lets you tilt the glass significantly to observe it without spilling the wine everywhere. The appearance of a wine in the glass gives away great clues as to the climate the grapes were grown in, the age of the wine, elements of the wine-making process and even the grape variety itself. It should thus go without saying that the glass should be clear. While a very few tastings use black glasses to obscure the colour of the wine, I personally don’t see the point and would certainly steer clear from the hideous coloured champagne glasses I’ve seen in department stores!
The glass makers Riedel have built an entire market on matching glassware to the individual character of wines (their selection is truly amazing). However, ISO tasting glasses are an ideal (and inexpensive) glass to use for tasting purposes. They are an international standardized wine glass and used for many wine tastings, competitions and awards.
A white background is useful for comparing the appearance of wines objectively. Paper, tablecloth, shirt cuff: all will do the job.
Lighting can be tricky. Natural daylight is best, but not always available. You want lighting as close as possible to daylight, without being too direct that the light creates unwanted reflections off your glass. This gives the best possible conditions for seeing the true colour of the wine.
Finally, pour the wine. You don’t want too much wine in the glass (despite how tasty it might be!). About 2cm depth is ideal. Too much volume and the wine could slosh everywhere when you swirl and take longer to release aromas; not enough and you won’t get a good idea of the colour.
Of course, when serving wine with dinner, the same rules apply. You may wish to have a greater volume of wine, yet you will still want enough room in the glass to allow for the wine to breathe and express its aromas. The solution is simple – a bigger glass!