The top 3 characteristics to look out for when you're tasting wine.
Is important as an initial indicator of the wine's condition. Generally as red wines age they lose colour and take on browner hues, whereas white wines gain colour intensity as they get older.
Is always much easier to assess from a good wine glass, so try to use a glass that has a stem - this stops the warmth of your hand changing the wines temperature. The bowl of the glass should be slightly wider than the rim to concentrate the aromas as you smell them.
Pour into your glass about 50mls or so (usually around a quarter of the glass volume) and holding the glass by the stem swirl the contents gently in an anti clockwise direction to allow the wine to give off more aroma. WARNING: This swirling action can be addictive and you may find yourself swirling the coffee in the morning, which can result in strange sideways glances from fellow coffee aficionados.
Once you have swirled the wine for 5 to 10 seconds put your nose into the glass and inhale deeply. Now you will get the true aroma of the wine.
Each grape variety produces different aromas and even within a specific variety there will be variations depending on such influences as climate, soil type and aspect (do the vines get more or less sun as you go down the hill). Even the grower and the decisions on picking date will alter the aromas of the finished wine as will, of course, the wine making process.
Wines such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer we classify as 'aromatic' as the flavour and smell of the wine is that of the grape variety. These wines often have the aromas of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Grape varieties such as Chardonnay and most red wines have added to their basic fruit aromas additional winemaking components such as oak barrel aging, which in white wine creates a nutty vanilla character and in red wine creates cedar wood, pencil shavings and coconut aromas.
The taste or palate of the wine should reflect the aromas as flavours. Other components of the wines taste are the acid and length of time the flavour remains in your mouth, and in Chardonnay and red wines the tannin.
Pinot Noir is a great wine to show soft and gentle tannins.
Want to sound like you know what you're talking about? Here's a quick guide to those fancy wine terms with a useful explanation of each.
Detectable on the tongue and the sides of the mouth. Gives wine the essential crispness and zing as well as freshness and life, particularly important in white wines, especially aromatic varieties.
Aroma and Bouquet
Aroma is the smell derived from the grape. Bouquet is the total smell of the wine including the aroma, oak (where used), fermentation and age characters.
The elusive character that quality wines possess, where there is a harmonious merging of acid, sweetness and tannin to create a seamless wine. A case of where the sum of the parts is better than the individual components.
Displaying a range of aromas and tastes that make the wine multifaceted. This character is found in good wines that are still developing.
Wine that contains no residual sugar is termed dry. Most wines with up to five grams of residual sugar per litre will taste dry.
Fruit Concentration and Intensity
The intensity of the fruit flavour. For example, the difference between blackcurrant drink and blackcurrant jam.
Length and Finish
The persistence and intensity of flavour after the wine has been swallowed.
The sediment after fermentation is largely the residual yeast cells. If the wine is left in contact (‘sur lie’), the lees impart a rich creamy texture to the wine. A technique used in bottle fermented sparkling wine and often in Chardonnay production.
The flavour, texture and weight of the wine, as well as the acid and tannin level – all pertaining to the mouthfeel and taste.
Soft and Round
No rough edges – the wine has a mellowness and is without excess tannin or a single dominant character.
The mouth-drying astringent effect found in most red wines and some white wines. The same character is present in very strong black tea. Very important in red wine for ageing potential.
The physical sensation of the wine in your mouth. Often a combination of the density of the wine along with characters such as lees.
A sense of heaviness and body of the wine in your mouth.