Tasting wine is often said to be different to drinking wine. In my opinion it is not that different; just a little slower to observe and enjoy the impact that the wine can have on your senses. Tasting and assessing the wine and its intrinsic quality can take anywhere between 3 to 10 minutes, depending on your practice. It helps to not wear a light-coloured shirt with the fear of spilling wine as you spit it out (yes you spit wine when you taste); also avoid wearing any perfume so it does not interfere with the aromas of the wine. The 3 essential steps to wine tasting are appearance, aroma and palate.
This is mainly to assess the depth and hue of colour and to rule out any signs of spoilage. Although much is made of this, there is no correlation between depth of colour and quality. The riper the grapes, the deeper the colour will be. In case of white wine, ageing in oak barrels can cause a deepening of colour to a golden hue rather than a lemon tinge. Well made wines tend to look healthy – no greyish tinge on the surface. Red wines may be a deep purplish blue hue indicating youthfulness, to a mahogany or garnet indicating some ageing. If a very young red wine has some orange in it, this suggests it may have evolved pre-maturely through some oxidation, so not a good sign.
Start by swirling the glass to aerate the wine and release its aromas. For practice, place the wine glass on a table and move your hand as though you are drawing tiny circles with the base. Some wines are aromatic, and others rather neutral, but in any case they must smell clean and fresh. An aroma heavily obscured by oak indicates too early for drinking or poor quality. Young wines display primary fruit aromas or esters as a result of fermentation. For white wines, aromas are in the citrus and stonefruit to tropical fruit range; whereas for red wines, aromas are mainly in the red and black fruit spectrum. Green leafiness suggests unripened fruit. Graceful ageing develops tertiary aromas of savoury, dried fruit, spice and leather in wines.
Take a mouthwash size sip and briefly swish the wine around the mouth to make sure it coats your entire tongue before you spit it out. Here you are looking for the intensity of the flavours and also for a harmonious balance of the other components such as sweetness, acidity, body, alcohol and tannins. An excess of acidity can only be balanced by some residual sweetness in the wine. Oak ageing will add to the body of the wine. Don’t be afraid of gum-drying tannins in wine; look for the tannin quality – are they too drying or rich and melting? If your palate is feeling ‘hot’ at the back of the throat, the wine probably has too much alcohol. A perfect harmony of all components accompanied by a deep intensity of fruit flavours, with a lasting impact on the palate (known as finish) exemplifies a well made good quality wine.