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?

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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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The Art of Tasting Wine with James Flewellen: Quality

By Tuesday, October 30, 2012 Permalink 0

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!

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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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