Prepare a tasting room free from outside or food smells
Natural lighting is optimal or good, bright white light
White tables or sheets to assess wine colour
Taster should have a clean palate unaffected by cigarettes or food
No perfume or colognes
Clean and appropriate tasting glasses, free from detergent residue
Preparation of spittoons
Wines served at the right temperature (see chart below)
Prepare the correct order of wines to be served such as whites before reds, lesser quality before higher quality, less robust wines before concentrated wines
The clarity of the wine, whether there is a dull or cloudy appearance give clues to the condition of the wine.
Its colour reveals the age – red wines fade with age, starting from the rim and turn from a purple or ruby red tone to brick red and red-brown.
White wines deepen in colour with age, from pale lemon to gold and amber tones.
The intensity and colour tone can point to grape varieties. For example, pale ruby can indicate a thin-skinned variety such as Pinot Noir or pale straw-green can point to a cool climate variety such as Riesling.
The appearance can also indicate style and winemaking influences such as maturation in oak. Pale coloured white wines are likely to have been early bottled with minimal oak influence while deep colour gold may reveal age or maturation in oak or bottle.
For sparkling wine, the size and flow of the bubbles and the mousse reveals its quality – the higher the quality the finer the bubbles and mousse.
Those with experience and a keen or highly trained sense of smell can make a conclusion about the provenance, grape variety and style of the wine without having tasted a drop. The nose reveals so much about a wine since the palate notes only five basic flavours – sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.
This crucial step allows us to inhale the wines numerous complex and nuanced flavours. As the esters are released by swirling the wine, the fumes travel up the inner chambers of the nose and the millions of olfactory receptors neurons sends messages to the brain which identifies the smells. In my wine classes, I request that students spend as much time nosing the wine as tasting the wine.
First nose should be before the wine is swirled and aerated. This still state for wine allows the heavy esters to reveal a different set of flavours from the esters that are released when the wine is aerated. Note the flavours, then swirl the wine. The swirling helps to allow oxygen to mingle with the wine, releasing its esters and aldehydes that are more delicate, unveiling an additional range of flavours.
Avoid smelling the wine over and over again in quick succession which will make you less sensitive to the aromas. Once you have taken a good inhalation, it is best to note the flavours then wait a minute or two before nosing the wine again.
Smelling the wine reveals the wine’s condition – first determination being whether the wine is clean or faulty. The most common wine faults are cork taint (a musty, cardboard odour), brettanomyces (farmyard, horse stable odour), sulphur related taints (rotten egg odour), oxidation (dull fruit with burnt, cooked smell) and high volatile acidity (nail varnish).
The intensity of the smell can reveal origin, climate and quality. Often a fruit-forward aroma is associated with New World wines or wines from a warm climate while more restrained nose is linked with cooler climates and Old World styles. A wine with a complex nose with a myriad of flavours is likely to belong to a high quality wine.
The fruit character on the nose can reveal the grape variety and blends used in the wine.
The nose can also reveal the wine’s age and development since mature wines have evolved fruit characters such as leather and dried fruit notes.
Ensure the wine is served at the optimal temperatures and take about a spoonful (10 ml) of wine into your mouth. Make sure that you take the same amount of wine each time you taste for consistency.
Professionals sometimes inhale some air to help release flavours and this can be done discreetly and relatively quietly. Even without this step, additional flavours will be released as the wine warms up in the mouth.
After keeping it in your mouth for about 5 to 15 seconds, spit the wine into the spittoon and gather your thoughts to write down your impressions. Note the length of the finish whether it is just seconds or much longer. Tasting the wine is often a reconfirmation of many of the clues given by the appearance and smell.
On the palate there are eight key areas to pay attention to when tasting:
1.Sweetness – Generally most still white and red wines are dry. Even those wines that exhibit sweet, ripe fruit flavours such as a Barossa Shiraz is dry with minimal residual sugar. The perception of sugar comes from the high alcohol, high glycerine levels and sweet, jammy fruit character. However, the wine is dry since it has very little residual sugar.
2.Acidity – White wines and sparkling wines have higher levels of acidity than red wines. This is recognized at the side of the tougue, towards the back, and in the inner cheek area. Acidity causes the mouth to salivate and may cause a tingling sensation on the tongue.
3.Bitterness – A person’s sensitivity to bitterness ranges widely. For those who are extremely sensitive, bitterness is felt all over the tongue while those who are less sensitive may taste it mainly in the back of the tongue. Bitterness is the taste of dark, black tea.
4.Tannin – This is a tactile sensation rather than a taste and is relevant to red wines where it causes the entire mouth to dry out. Like bitterness, tannin sensitivity ranges widely between people. Tannins also exist in white wines at low levels if the wine was aged in oak.
5.Fruit characteristics – Although technically, flavour is inhaled rather than tasted, fruit characteristics are further released once the wine warms up inside the mouth. When combined with a slight inhalation of air while the wine is inside the mouth, this can increase the release additional esters and other flavour compounds.
6.Body and weight – A difficult concept to teach but one that is gained after many comparative tastings of heaviness and weight in wine. Generally higher alcohol, greater flavour concentration and intensity all contribute to increased weight and body of the wine.
7.Texture and palate shape – This tactile detection is especially important in red wine tasting where the tannin texture reveals the quality of red wines. The higher the red wine quality, the finer the tannin texture. The palate shape is the timing of how the flavour, acidity and tannins are perceived in the mouth. High quality wines always have a palate shape that rises in intensity and peaks in the middle and the end of the tasting experience while lesser quality wines may have upfront fruit but drop off in the middle and end.
8.Finish/aftertaste – This is the most important aspect in the quality assessment. Note how long the fruit and all of the wine’s components linger in the mouth. A wine with a long finish will leave its imprint for several minutes or longer after you have tasted the wine.
Quality assessments are often made within the context of the wine’s style and sometimes price level. Thus, to correctly assess quality for a wine from Pomerol for example, it is beneficial to have tasted numerous producers of Pomerols at various price and quality levels to gauge where a specific wine fits into the spectrum. Professionals generally have specific regions in which they specialise having many years of accumulated tasting experiences for that region and style of wine. For beginners, try to build a memory bank and keep a wine diary for easy recall and reference. Wine quality can be broken up into four parts:
1.Balance, finesse and elegance
2.Intensity and concentration
3.Length of finish
4.Complexity and depth of flavour
6.Conclude & Rate
Using the criteria above, sum up your conclusion and try to understand how the particular wine fits into the quality spectrum. Rating is very useful, even for beginner wine lovers, as it forces you to make a conclusion about the quality level of wine. For experienced tasters, ratings are very useful since they enable you to go back and quickly review what you thought of a particular wine.