Wine Education - Tasting

On The Grapevine -
September 2010
Bro Mike , Wine Correspondant
Preparing the wine
The Glass
Holding a fine wine glass is a pleasure in itself. Whether you are tasting or drinking wine purely for enjoyment the ideal vessel is one with a bulbous base and inwardly sloping sides. This concentrates the aromas in the top of the glass giving the full benefit of the wines bouquet toward the nose. The glass should be plain and clear to enjoy the colour. A long stem allows for swirling and prevents the warmth of the hand inadvertently heating the wine. For sparkling wines, flutes with a narrow shape trap the froth (mousse) keeping the wine bubbly for longer.

Serving at the correct temperature

When it comes to serving the wine drinking a warm white wine for instance is not a pleasant experience. Chill it down (but not over-chill) and all the lovely fruity flavours, crisp acidity or toasty oak are revealed. The reverse is true for most red wine, too cold and the fruit is hidden, too warm and the alcoholic punch dominates making the wine seem bland. As a guide the best temperatures to enjoy various wines are:

    Sparkling wines/Champagne  5-7 Celsius

    Aromatic lighter white wines  7-8 C

    Full bodied /oaked whites  8-10 C

    Sweet wines  10 C

    Roses and light reds  10-12 C

    Young fruity red wines  12-14 C

    Mature/full bodied reds 14-18 C
Do wines need breathing or decanting ?
Exposing young tannic full bodied red wine to air before you drink it can develop its aromas and soften its flavours. This can be done by decanting (pouring into a more open glass vessel) but most other wine will not benefit from breathing, particularly very old fragile wines. However, it is important to generally open a bottle around half an hour before drinking, to allow bottle stink the harmless stale smelling air trapped between the wine and the stopper to dissipate. In the past stoppers were traditionally cork but now most 
Australian wines, even the more expensive ones, are moving to screwcap to avoid cork spoilage. The debate on the pros and cons of stoppers would need another article. With increasing age, many wines especially reds throw a deposit of tannins and colour pigments (known as a crust). To remove this sediment the wine needs to be decanted. After letting the bottle rest upright for several hours remove the stopper and gently decant the whole bottle in one movement, leaving the residue in the bottle (a filter can also be used).

How to taste

Knowing how to taste or assess can really enhance your appreciation of wine. It is a process of using a number of our senses: looking, smelling, and tasting.

The first step is to look at the clarity of the wine it should be bright and clear. Then look at its colour. If it is pale white it suggests a cool climate young white wine such as

a riesling or if it is bright straw gold it suggests a warm climate or oaked white wine possibly a chardonnay. A red wine may be ruby, garnet or bright purple. Very intense colour, almost black, indicates a warm climate shiraz.  With       reds you can pick up the age in the colour too. By tipping the glass to 45 degrees a deep- coloured centre and pinkish rim indicates youth, a paler red with an orangey-brown rim speaks of age.
Secondly swirl the glass energetically to release the aromas and then take a sniff or two. A good wine should reveal some lovely fresh aroma’s, try thinking in terms of different fruits, vegetables or flowers.
Now finally comes the all important taste, swish the wine around in your mouth. The first thing you will notice is sweetness on the front of the tongue, acidity and sharpness is picked up on the sides of the tongue and bitterness at the back and top. Wines high in tannin will make your gums and teeth feel dry and furry.
As outlined in the two previous articles, wine is unique in the variety of flavours and feel it can provide. Again think of fruit and vegetables including herbs and spices. Can you taste vanilla spice or smoky toast indicating oak being used in the wine-making. The feel in the mouth is also important. Heavy and warm suggests higher alcohol or flabby owing to low acidity. A good wine will leave you with the impression of balance with all the elements working in harmony to produce a delicious mouthful that leaves you wanting more.

Matching wines with food and occasions will be covered in a future article. I believe wine is best enjoyed whilst sharing a lovely meal around the table with good friends and companions.