Tasting 101

Sight.  Nose.  Taste.  Those are the basics of a tasting, and I will show/explain how I review wines for this blog.

The first step is to look at the wine in your glass.
What color is it?  That is the first question I ask myself.  The color can give you a hint as to what you will be tasting.  For whites I use a 3 color scale, the palest being Straw, then Yellow, then Golden.  For red wines, I use a 3 color scale as well, Garnet, Ruby, and Purple.  I also tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle to look at the color of the rim.

Can you see through it?  This can also give you a hint as to what kind of wine is present (in a blind tasting), specifically red wine.  I will use an intensity scale of low, medium-, medium, medium+, or high and tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle.

Is it cloudy? This is a simple yes or no.  Cloudiness in wine can denote contaminants, sediment, or oxidization.

How viscous is the wine? When you swirl the wine in the glass, watch the liquid on the side of the glass.  How fast does the liquid run back down?  Viscosity shows what kind of body or weight there is to the wine.  It can be thin like water, which would be low viscosity...or high like milk.

The next step in judging wine is to smell it.  When you first pour the wine, it will smell differently than if you decant it for an hour and then pour it into your glass.  Air opens the wine up allowing the aromas to show through more clearly.  Hold the wine glass up and put your whole nose inside, thats the best way to really smell it.
What do you smell? When I first started out smelling wine, it was hard to pick out particular smells.  But as I practiced, it became easier.  I also use this aroma wheel to pinpoint certain smells that are familiar but I don't necessarily recall.
Aroma Wheel
This nifty wheel helps me to be specific when I do a tasting.  Instead of saying "I smell something fruity,"  I like to be as detailed as possible and say that I smell golden delicious apples, or smell a gassy element like Petrol which is notorious in Riesling.  The basic groups are Oak, Earth, Fruits, Vegetal and Florals.  I encourage you to break out this wheel when you take that first sip of wine, after a while it almost feels like a game.  Hearing other people's opinions also help me too.  You smell and taste what YOU smell and taste...so if it's fruit roll up, fresh cut garden hose, or cigar box...there's no right or wrong answer here.

How intense is the smell?  I use the same intensity scale, low, medium-, medium+, and high.  If you can't tell how intense a smell is, it helps to pour a different wine in another glass and compare side by side.  One is sure to put off a stronger scent, which will give you a bit of perspective.  

What do you taste?  I use the same aroma wheel to pick out specific tastes.  I will always give a minimum of 3 different elements I taste.  For example:  Baked apples like apple pie, cinnamon, vanilla, and almonds.  With taste, there are a couple of other things to judge as well.  Let's start out with the easiest.

Is there any residual sugar?  Do you know the coating you feel on your tongue after you eat some skittles?  That's residual sugar, it feels like it's coating your mouth.  The scale I use will be Dry, Off-Dry, Sweet, and Very Sweet.  

How's the Acid?  How can you judge the acidity of the wine?  Acidity brings saliva to your mouth, from the back.  The easiest way to judge acidity is to swish the wine around in your mouth, and spit it out.  Your mouth will immediately begin to salivate, and the amount in which it does will be the intensity of the acid.  If you find that after you spit out the wine you have to swallow a good 3 times in 20 seconds...the acid is probably high.  

How are the Tannins?  Tannins come from the skin of the grape.  Red wines are red because during the wine making process the juice sits on the wine skins to absorb the tannins and color.  Tannins make your mouth feel dry and can make the wine taste bitter.  Tannins are also found in tea, so if you steep your tea too long, it becomes bitter from the tannins in the leaves.  Tannins seem to suck the moisture right off your tongue, but when you have a high tannin and high acid wine...it may be difficult to judge because the acid and tannins are waging a war in your mouth.  It almost feels like you're salivating and drying out at the same time.  Your tongue feels dry, but you can also feel some saliva coming from the back of your mouth.  Tannins will be reviewed using the intensity scale.

How much body does the wine have?  Taste the wine and swirl it in your mouth, how does weight/thickness of the wine feel?  Use low, medium-, medium, medium+, and high to describe body.

Does the wine have complexity?  This one can be difficult to pinpoint for newbies, but why not give it a shot.  Complexity is difficult to describe.  It tastes almost like big mixture of flavors in your mouth...that seemingly evolve everytime you try to pick out a specific taste.  Complexity will be no, average, and high.

Does the wine have length?  Can you taste the wine 20 seconds after you swallow?  That wine has length.  Use the intensity scale to describe.  

And that my friends, wraps it up for a basic tasting.  Remember that everything you smell and taste is very opinion based, so there are no right or wrong answers.  Please post any questions or comments, and hopefully as my blog grows....the tastings will become easier to interpret.