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Our bluffers guide to wine tasting

A guide on how to evaluate and taste wine, with some great lingo to throw into the conversation and of course, how to host your own wine tasting.

Wine judges look at each wine in three parts - colour, smell and taste.

Colour

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.

Smell

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.

Taste

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. 

 

 
Wine Lingo

Ever heard of malolactic fermentation? Do you know your lees from your complexity? Most industries have their own terms and jargon and wine is no different. Here are some terms and buzz words so you can learn what they mean and throw them into casual conversation.

  • Acid

Detectable on the tongue and the sides of the mouth, gives wine the essential crispness and zing as well as freshness and life.

  • Aroma

The smells derived from the grape and in some cases also the fermentation.

  • Balance

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.

  • Complexity

Displaying a range of aromas and tastes that make the wine multi faceted. This character is found in good wines that are still developing.

  • Dry

The amount of residual sugar left in the finished wine. Wines with the absence of residual sugar or very little are termed dry. Those with some sugar are regarded as medium and with lots of sugar as sweet.

  • Fruit concentration

The intensity of the fruit flavour. e.g. the difference between blackcurrant drink and blackcurrant jam.

  • Lees character

The flavour imparted into the wine by the yeast during and post fermentation. In sparkling wines it is usually a toasty/fresh brioche aroma and in still white wines a rich creamy textural character. Chardonnay that is barrel fermented often shows intense textural lees character.

  • Length and finish

The persistence and intensity of flavour after the wine has been swallowed.

  • Oak

Some white wines are fermented in oak barrels and most red wines are stored in oak barrels to impart the oak flavour/character into the finished wine. In white wine oak imparts a vanillin flavour while in red wine it's the flavour of cedar wood, coconut or pencil shavings. The inside of the barrels are often charred, and the degree of the charring will impart toasty and smoky characters to the wine.

  • Soft and round

No rough edges, the wine has a mellowness and without excess tannin or single dominant character.

  • Tannin

The mouth drying astringent effect found in most red wines and some white wines. The same character is present in very strong black tea.

  • Texture

The physical sensation of the wine in your mouth.

  • Weight

A sense of the heaviness and body of the wine in your mouth.

Hosting a wine tasting

Wine tasting is a fun way to learn about wine with like-minded friends. You can sample new wines, develop your interest and recognition of wine varieties, plus make exciting discoveries of new and different wine styles.

Logistically, groups of up to 15 people are a good size. Work on pouring a 50ml tasting sample of each wine per person. By tasting 4 or 5 different wines, that works out at roughly a third of a bottle per person.

You can create a theme for the wines you are tasting, for example, country, varietal, year, region, style etc. The wines can be served with a commentary on each or served ‘blind’ where the participants don’t know the identity of the wine and have to make ‘educated’ guesses.

Another way is to organise a ‘Wine Options’ evening. This is where participants are asked a series of multiple-choice questions about the wine to earn points. At each stage of questioning the questions usually get harder so you can see who knows their ‘noir’ from their ‘gris’!

However you organise a wine tasting remember to have:

  • glasses of water readily available
  • suitable food which can be incorporated into the tasting - try different foods with different wines to find that perfect partner
  • safe transport home for your guests
  • fun!