A good wine is whatever wine you like. But how you determine what you like is a process called wine tasting. Wine drinkers should follow several steps when evaluating a wine. Knowing the steps will help you appreciate the beauty and complexity of wine.
In order to get more out of your wine drinking experience, you need to consider the wine in three stages: look, smell, and taste. If you do not trust your memory, it is handy to write down your impression of each wine. Use a simple notebook, or an elaborate cellar book to provide the date, place, details from the label, price, where it was purchased, and the size of the bottle.
In good light, begin by looking at the wine against a plain, white background. Hold the glass by the base or the stem and tilt the glass approximately 45 degrees. Look down on the wine and view the clarity, the color, and the hue of the wine. Also notice how much color graduates from the center of the glass to the rim.
Wine should always be clear and bright, never cloudy or hazy. Whites vary from almost colorless, to hints of green or yellow. The sight of a brownish tinge is a sign of too much oxidation. Oxidization is the process in which the wine comes in contact with oxygen. If a wine is said to be oxidized, it generally refers to the faults resulting from excess contact with oxygen. Reds tend to tell more in terms of age and quality by their color. Reds become paler with age. The rim of the glass is where to look to get a feel for the age of a red wine. The paler and more brown, the more mature.
The following table shows the differences in the color of wine as it ages.
Continuing to hold the glass by the stem or base, swirl the glass to get the wine moving. The main point in doing this is to aerate the wine, so it releases its smells and aromas. However, before you smell, remember to take a look at the wine. The way that wine clings to a glass and then trickles down tells you something. In wine circles it is referred to as the phenomenon called “legs.” A wine that trickles back slowly and in distinct streams is high in alcohol, sugar, or both. A wine that breaks quickly and raggedly may be old, light, or dry. (Be careful that you have a clean glass, as detergent and lint can interfere with the surface tension of the wine.)
Raise the glass to your nose and sniff. Swirl the wine in the glass again, and then smell more deeply. The first thing you will notice is wine does not always smell like grapes. The most common scents in wine are floral, fruity, spicy, vegetative, or wood odors. Over 500 aromatic compounds have been identified in wine, derived from the grapes, fermentation, and maturation. The fruity aromas come from the grapes. The more complex aromas such as yeast, butter, or oak come from the fermentation process. The aromas produced as wine matures are often very subtle and difficult to describe. As found in Appendix A, The Noble Wine Wheel is a reference tool for analyzing the smell of a wine.
Take a generous sip, enveloping your mouth with the taste. Savor the different flavors and move the wine around gently inside you mouth, to expose the wine to all of your taste buds. Swallow the wine when-you feel you have experienced the flavors and feel of the wine. Next, pay attention to the aftertaste. It should remain pleasant and linger.
If you are at a large tasting, it might become necessary to spit the wine after experiencing it in your mouth. This allows you to keep a clear head. A spittoon may be provided. In addition, wine tasters find it necessary to cleanse the palate in between different wines. This can be accomplished with plain water, or the use of bread and cheese. Cleansing the palate makes it easier to distinguish the different taste sensations associated with the different wines. Also, when tasting a number of wines, always drink whites before reds, dry before sweet, and old before young. This system allows your palate to adjust according to the qualities of each wine.