Drinking wine is more than just a way to enjoy a glass of something delicious. It is also an opportunity to use your senses to expand your knowledge and appreciation for different types of wines.
While you may not be able to tell the difference between a Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay at first, you can begin to identify different types of wine with a little practice.
To truly appreciate wine, you need to develop your palate by using your sense of sight, smell, and taste. In this blog post, we'll discuss the basics of tasting wine and give you some tips on how to improve your palate.
Evaluating Wine Based on Appearance
The color of the wine can tell you a lot about its quality. Here's a quick guide to help evaluate by appearance:
A wine's color can also help you if you're interested in collecting wine. Older wines or those with more tannin tend to be darker in color. Red wine will have purple hues, while an older wine will show more brick-like colors. Dessert wines tend to become very dark, almost black.
Clarity refers to the number of suspended particulates in a wine. Wine's reflective quality may describe it as brilliant, dull, clear, or hazy. The best way to test for clarity is to hold the wine up to a light source and observe how much light can pass through it.
White wine should be clear and bright, with no visible sediments. This is because sediments can impart a bitter flavor to it, and they also tend to absorb light, making it appear darker and less appealing—especially if it is red or rosé.
A good rosé wine should be light and translucent, with very few sedimentary particles visible to the naked eye. The best way to gauge a rosé's clarity is to hold it to a strong light source and look for any turbidity or cloudiness. If the wine appears murky or opaque, it is likely poor quality.
A clear red wine should be free of sediment and have a clean, bright appearance. In some cases, sedimentation in red wine can indicate spoilage. However, there are a few sediment-related scenarios where the wine's quality is unaffected.
Sediments, for example, may be present in unfiltered wine, particularly if the grapes were not properly crushed during the winemaking process. The best way to deal with sediment, in either case, is to carefully pour the wine into a decanter or carafe, leaving the sediments behind.
Legs or Tears
Legs are droplets that run down the inside of a glass and can provide details about the alcohol content and its sweetness. Thin legs indicate a light-to-medium-bodied wine with low alcohol or no residual sugar. Thick legs typically indicate a more full-bodied with residual sugar, experts say.
Effervescence refers to bubbles in the wine, particularly sparkling wines. The appearance is entirely due to the fermentation process. For a wine to be effervescent, carbon dioxide must be introduced. This gas becomes trapped in the bottle, causing the wine to produce bubbles.
Evaluating Wine Based on Aromas
To develop your sense of smell, start by taking a few deep breaths and focusing on identifying different scents. Aromas are often the first indicator of a wine's quality.
The primary aromas come from the grape variety, secondary to fermentation and tertiary to aging. If you're having trouble identifying an aroma, let it swirl around your mouth before exhaling through your nose.
Use Sense of Smell to Know if the Wine is Still Pristine
If a wine smells bad, it isn't stored properly. It doesn't make the wine unsafe to drink, but it is unpleasant to consume it. If wine aromas are faint, it could indicate a shy wine, while an intense aroma may suggest a bolder variety.
Identify Fruit Aromas
Fruit aromas are just the smells of the grapes or other fruits used to make the wine. They can be sweet, tart, or even spicy. Identifying these different aromas can take some practice, but getting the most out of your wine-drinking experience is worth it.
For White Wines
The key to identifying this drink is dependent on your individual preferences and how each unique flavor combination works for you.
Citrus fruits such as lemon, lime, and tangerine can contribute complex flavors to a wine. Orchard fruits like apple, pear, peach, and apricot can provide rich notes reminiscent of summer.
For Red Wines
Wine enthusiasts know that many factors influence the flavor of a wine. One factor in identifying fruit aroma is thinking about different kinds of fruits and how they smell.
Knowing and comparing the wine's aroma to the closest fruit notes can help you decide on a fruit-forward wine.
Identify Highly-Complex Aromas
Wine aromas can be defined in many ways, like balsamic, animal, wood, spice, ether, floral, smoky, fruity, etc. To get a sense of the complex aromas of a wine, it is often helpful to use your imagination. Picture the wine in your mind and try to identify all the different elements.
Herbal and Floral Notes
Herbs and flowers have long played an important role in winemaking. They add a unique touch of earthiness to wines, making them stimulating and full-bodied. A wide variety of herbs are well-known for their distinct added flavor in the world of wine.
Wine terroir is the unique combination of soils, climate, and growing environment that gives each wine its distinctive character.
Some winemakers purposefully select grapes from vineyards with very rocky soil to create richer earthy flavors in their wines. Ultimately, what makes earthiness so special and desirable is its ability to transport us to beautiful natural places.
Winegrowers and winemakers use several techniques to create unique and complex wine flavors. Oaky oak barrels can impart subtle and spicy notes ranging from clove and cinnamon to nutmeg and cardamom.
An example of this is Malolactic fermentation, which allows lactic acid bacteria to feed off naturally occurring sugars in the wine.
Evaluating Wine Based on Taste
When evaluating wine by taste, you need to consider a few different factors. First, you'll want to consider the wine's sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol content, and body. By taking all of these factors into account, you'll be able to evaluate a wine based on its taste properly.
Sweet, semi-sweet, and dry on a wine label refer to the sugar content in the wine. A dry wine will not be sweet if the sugar has been fermented into alcohol. Semi-sweet is a wine with some fermented sugar, but not all of it.
The acidity of a wine can be measured using pH tests or titratable acidity analyses. Wines with high acidity will be much more tart or sour than those with low acidity. White wines tend to have higher acidity levels than red wines due to the various compounds such as malic and citric acids.
Tannin is a naturally occurring substance in grape skins and seeds. Tannin levels are determined by many factors, including the type of grape and maceration time. It's an important component in the aging process that can make a young wine taste better as it ages.
The alcohol in wine is important for two main reasons. The higher the alcohol content, the more likely you'll feel a warming sensation in your mouth.
Wine's "body" determines how heavy or light it feels in your mouth. Wines made from grapes grown in tropical regions are fuller-bodied than those grown in cooler areas. The body can also be affected by barrel aging when the wine is stored in oak barrels.
If you prefer your wine sweeter, look for bottles with a trace of residual sugar. Dry wines contain no residual sugar and can range in flavor from fruity to earthy. Wines are frequently labeled "semi-sweet" or "dry," depending on their dryness level.
Quick Tips on How to Taste Wine Properly
Drinking wine is more than snapping the cork and pouring it into a glass. There's a whole world of wine etiquette to discover.
Savoring each sip is an experience that should be savored in-and-of-its-terrific. There's no right or wrong way to taste wine—it's all about what you enjoy. Here are some quick tips to help you get the most out of your wine-tasting experience.
The color, viscosity, and opacity of the wine can give you hints about its age and climate. When aging, white wines can change in color, developing in pigment into shades of yellow or brown. Red wines sometimes lose color as they age and become more opaque.
Aroma and Fragrance
When tasting wine, try to look for broad categories of wine aromas rather than individual notes. Secondary or tertiary aromas are developed during the winemaking process and are most prominent in whites. Some secondary aromas you can look for are nuts or yeasty aromas (almost beer-like).
Taste & Flavor Notes
Wine tasting is the process of feeling its complex flavors in your taste buds. After swirling your glass and smelling the wine, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty of wine tasting.
Take small sips and chew the wine in your mouth to get all the different tastes and textures. Your tongues can detect all kinds of different flavors, from salty to sour or bitter. "Observe" it with your tongue rather than just finishing the whole glass.
Think about the time you just tasted it and compare it to your expectations. Was the taste balanced or leaning in a certain direction (i.e., too tannic, sweet, acidic, and bland)? Did you enjoy the taste of the wine?
Useful Tips to Know When Wine Tasting
It's an opportunity to get to know and develop an impression of wine by using all your senses, from smell to taste. Here are some tips on how to go about wine tasting.
Learn the Art of Swirling
Swirling the glass isn't something that's done to look fancy. It helps you better smell the wine and identify different notes because it releases more wine aroma compounds into the air.
Look for Specific Flavors While Tasting
When drinking, coat your mouth with one larger sip of wine followed by several smaller ones since this can help you isolate specific flavors. For example, if you're tasting a rich red dessert wine, you're likely to get a general taste of dark fruits and then specific notes of individual fruits like blackberry, dark cherry, or plum.
Taking notes is important in wine tasting, especially if you are a detail-obsessed person. Don't worry if you're new to wine tasting and feel intimidated by those who are more experienced.
Discuss your feelings about the wine, such as the taste, aroma, and mouthfeel. These elements contribute to your overall wine experience.
How to Train Your Palate
Use a Refined Vocabulary
If you want to sound like you know what you're talking about while tasting wine, it's all about your vocabulary. Please familiarize yourself with all the essential terms surrounding wine and learn them well. It will also help you understand what the sommelier leading the tasting explains.
Put Your Experience into Words
Everyone goes wine tasting for the wine itself, but don't just down the whole glass as soon as the wine is poured into it. Instead, take small sips, think about what you're tasting and smelling, and describe the experience with your learned terms.
Drink More Wine
If you want to learn how to sound like a sommelier, you have to drink more wine. Pour yourself a glass with your dinner and go through the tasting notes.
For more information on how to taste wine and develop your palate, please see the following video:
In this video, you'll learn how to properly swirl, smell, and taste the wine so that you can get the most out of every glass.
Wine is more than just a beverage. It's an experience worth savoring and appreciating for its complexities. You are soaking up the winemaker's hard work and devotion with each sip.
You'll appreciate wine on a whole new level once you understand the thought and effort that goes into every bottle. Ask the sommelier what makes each wine unique the next time you're at a wine tasting. Who knows, you might end up becoming a connoisseur yourself!