The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Wine Tasting in a Nutshell

By Tuesday, November 27, 2012 Permalink 0

by James Flewellen 

 

Over the last few posts I’ve covered various aspects of wine tasting in some detail. We’ve looked at the appearance of wine, the aromas we find in white and red wines, the structure of the wine on the palate and how to begin to assess the quality of the wine. This post summarises these ideas in a concise ‘checklist’, which I hope you find a useful prompt as you explore new tastes and new wines.

Step 1: Appearance

What is the colour of the wine? Can you see through it? Tilt the glass and examine the wine against a white background. Is there a change in colour, or ‘gradient’ along the wine?

Step 2: Nose

Tempranillo varietal wine bottle and glass, sh...

Tempranillo varietal wine bottle and glass, showing colour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The nose is the aroma of the wine. Is it powerful or subtle? Complex or easy to describe? Does the aroma change after swirling the wine? Does it evolve over time as the wine aerates or warms up? What can you smell? Is the wine primarily a fruity wine? What sort of fruits, and are they fresh, cooked or dried? Perhaps there are also other aromas: spices, grassy notes, herbs, wood, nuts, savoury/meaty aromas? Do any of these aromas remind you of other wines you’ve had before, or maybe indicate some age on the wine?

Step 3: Palate

We look for up to eight components of a wine when we taste. Firstly, the flavours: are these the same as the aromas you can smell? All wines have perceptible acidity and alcohol, which give structure to the wine. Alcohol is a major component of the body of a wine, which is how heavy or viscous the wine feels in the mouth. Red wines also have tannins, which provide additional structure. Some wines have perceptible residual sugar. The evidence of maturation in oak may also be present in many white and red styles. Finally, the finish is how long the flavours and sensations of the wine linger in your mouth after swallowing.

sundowner

Step 4: The Conclusion

Wine tasting is a very personal thing. No-one else can tell you whether you like or dislike a particular wine, or why you do. That said, there are certain features a professional wine taster looks for in assessing the quality of a wine (whether it suits their personal tastes or not). These include:

  • Balance: is the overall perception of the wine flavours and structure in harmony?
  • Length: do the flavours persist for a long time or do they fall flat and short?
  • Intensity: are the flavours and aromas intense or a bit weak? Perhaps they are too intense and overwhelming.
  • Complexity: is there a lot going on in the wine, or is it a bit simple and ‘one-dimensional’.

Other things to think about are: When would you drink this wine – by itself or would it be better with food? What sort of food? Is it good value for money? Is it ready to drink now? Or perhaps it will be better in a few years. It might seem  like a lot to take in but ultimately enjoying wine comes down to two things: Do you like this wine? and more importantly: Why is that?

__________________

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.

Never miss a post
Name: 
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries

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

By Tuesday, October 23, 2012 Permalink 0

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.

Never miss a post
Name: 
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries

UA-21892701-1
WordPress Backup