Wine Tasting vs Wine Drinking - Part One

At our wine tasting event last week, one of the new members of the Arrowhead Wine Enthusiast made a comment that I thought might be on the minds of a number of people. At all of our tasting events, I try to bring classic examples of wines produced in certain regions, and explain the production methods and growing conditions, but the one thing only the person tasting can do, is determine whether it is a good wine or a bad wine. That new member said he was having trouble tasting the differences between certain wines.

Are you drinking, or tasting wine? If you are swallowing your wine, you are probably drinking. If you are slurping, gurgling, and spitting... your are probably tasting. If you are taking notes, you are definitely tasting.

I must admit that if you are interested in really tasting a wine, then a large group of socializing people is not the ideal way of doing things. Tasting takes concentration, practice, and a good memory. I wish I was one of those "super tasters" that can pull all those extravagant flavors out of a glass of wine...but I am not. What I do know is that certain grape varieties have unique characteristics that will help you in your evaluation. As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, your wine study should begin with learning the characteristics of the noble grapes.

Step one is tasting is to make sure you are in a quiet place, with good light, and no adverse smells (no perfume or aftershave). Tasting involves a full evaluation of the wine in your glass. There is a series of steps used to evaluate a wine, and they are done in a specific order. By taking notes for each evaluation, the combined notes should lead you to the characteristics of a certain grape and region. The evaluation process involves: 1) Appearance; 2) Nose; 3) Taste; 4) Finish; and 5) Conclusion.

Appearance - In a clear, clean glass, filled no more than 1/4 full with wine, angle the glass slightly to view the wine in the glass (don't swirl at this point). Check the clarity of the wine (if it is cloudy, this could be a sign of problems). Next evaluate the intensity and color of the wine. Barrel aging can darken white wines and young red wines. Also white wines darken as they age, and red wines get paler, losing their brilliance. The intensity and color can give you clues on what to expect on the nose and palate.  Lastly, look for other things, like bubbles, legs or tears (the wine that clings to the glass after swirling), and tartrate crystals. Also look at the rim versus the core of the wine in the glass.

What do each of the "other things" above indicate?

Bubbles in a sparkling wine would be a good thing. The size of those bubbles can give you an indication of how those bubbles got into the wine. Typically, the finer the bubbles, the better the process for getting them in there. So, sparkling wine (produced in the traditional method, like Champagne) should have finer bubbles than a cheap sparkling wine, where the carbon dioxide was injected into the wine (look at how large the bubbles are in a glass of soda).

"Legs", or now referred to as "Tears" are evaluated by tilting the glass back and forth, and seeing how the wine runs down the side of the glass. The tears are indicators of alcohol strength. There is no easy explanation of why, and I am not a physicist, so just trust me on this one. The one trick is those German Rieslings, that have lower alcohol, but still have tears. In those cases, the high residual sugar levels come into play.

Tartrate Crystals, also often referred to as "wine diamonds", look like shards of glass in your wine, or sometimes just thought to be sediment. Not a comforting thing if you are unfamiliar with them. Tartrate crystals are harmless crystalline deposits that come from tartaric acid, which is natural in wine. The presence of these crystals usually indicates that the wine was not filtered, or did not go through cold stabilization. Those that look for less manipulated wines find these welcome sights in their wine.

With the wine glass tilted over a wine background, look at the core of the wine versus the rim (the center of the glass versus the sidewalls). Since all wines turn brown with age, the rim is a good indicator of age. For example, a young red wine will have an almost purple rim, versus an older red with a rim that is more brick colored. A young white will have a clear rim. versus an older white with a yellow brown rim.

So. appearance can give us clues for what to expect on the nose and palate. In the next post, we'll continue to explore the methods of actually tasting a wine, and not just drinking a wine.

1 comment:

  1. very good discription of tasting vs. drinking