Evaluating Wines . Sight / Smell / Taste

To really get to know the wine you're drinking, here are some simple points to note to give you a better idea of the balance, integrity and quality. So get your bottle opened up and get started!

Check the colour over a white cloth or paper
There are several reasons why a wine may have more or less color:
1. It is older (as wines age, whites go darker from pale yellow-green all the way to brown; reds go lighter from bright purple to brick red/brown).
2. Different grape varieties exhibit a different colour from their divers skin pigments.
3. White wines aged in wood, usually oak, may exhibit a darker color.

Swirl your wine around the glass
Why do we swirl the wine? To allow oxygen to mix with the wine, releasing the esters, ethers and aldehydes, which yield its bouquet. In other words, swirling aerates the wine and gives you a better overview view of the aromas. Another reason why one should swirl the wine is to give an additional look at the overall appearance. Look at the color and especially the "legs" that trickle down the inside of the glass once the swirling has stopped. The legs correspond to the alcohol content, the longer the legs run down the glass, the higher the alcohol as the alcohol evaporates slower when high in volume. Musty, cloudy or unclear wine is not good and should be returned or thrown.

This is the most important part of wine tasting. You can only perceive four tastes - sweet, sour, bitter, and salt - but the average person can smell over 2,000 different scents, and wine has over 200 of its own. Now that you have swirled the wine and released the bouquet, you should smell the wine three times. The third smell usually gives you more information than the first smell did. What does the wine smell like? What kind of nose does it have? The "nose" is a word that wine tasters use to describe the bouquet and aroma of the wine. Smell is a very important step in the tasting process which people simply don't spend enough time on.

Pin-pointing the nose of the wine helps you identify certain characteristics. The problem here is, many people want someone else to tell them what they are smelling. Am I smelling citrus, apricot or straw? What about black cherry, leather or tar? No one knows what you are smelling, only what they are smelling in their own glass with their own nose. It can be different and you have to have experienced a smell before you know it actually exists, so if you've worked around food or gardens before, then you'll pick up natural smells easier.

The best way to learn your own preferences of wine styles, is to "memorize" the smell of the individual grape varieties. For white, just try to memorize the three major grape varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. Keep smelling them and smelling them until you can identify the differences, one from the other. For the reds, it's a bit more difficult, but you can still take three major grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Try to memorize those smells.

Another interesting point while focusing on smell is you are more likely to recognize some of the defects of a wine through your sense of smell. Following is a list of some of the negative smells in wine:

Vinegar / Sherry - Too much acetic acid in wine
Cork (dank, wet-cellar, musty smell) - Oxidation- Wine absorbs taste of defective cork
Sulphur - Too much sulphur dioxide

Sulphur dioxide is used in several ways in the winemaking process. It kills bacteria in wine, prevents unwanted fermentation and acts as a preservative. It often causes a burning or itching sensation in your nose if overused (as it is in many commercial wines)..

To many people, tasting means taking a sip and swallowing immediately. This isn't tasting. Tasting is something you do with your taste buds. Remember, you have taste buds all over your mouth. They are on both sides of the tongue, underneath, on the tip, and they extend to the back of your throat. If you simply take a gulp of wine and throw it down your throat, you bypass all those important taste buds.

As I mentioned earlier, you can only perceive four tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salt (but there is no salt in wine, so we are down to three). It is important to determine where the sensations of taste are taking place, and specifically where they occur on your tongue and in your mouth. Bitterness in wine is usually created by high alcohol and high tannin. Sweetness only occurs in wines that have some residual sugar left over after fermentation. Sour (sometimes called "tart") indicates the acidity in wine. Here is where you "find" these sensations on your tongue.

Sweetness - Found on the tip of your tongue. It's a sensation you will taste right away, if it's there.
Fruit & Varietal Characteristics - Found in the middle of the tongue.
Acidity - Found at the sides of the tongue, the cheek area and the back of the throat. It's most commonly present in white wines and some lighter-style red wines.
Tannin - The sensation of tannin begins in the middle of the tongue. Tannin frequently exists in red wines or wood-aged white wines. When the wines are too young, it dries the palate to excess. If there is a lot of tannin in the wine, the tannin can actually coat your whole mouth.

One thing you should also do as part of your tasting is take a sip of wine and draw a bit of air into your mouth along with it. This opens up your retro-nasal passage and further aerates the wine and helps bring out the flavors in your mouth.

Texture is the feel of the wine in the mouth - smooth, velvety or perhaps astringent are common terms used to describe texture. "Creamy" is a term often used to describe the texture of rich wines that are low in acid. The best wines will have a great mouthfeel, being either silky or velvety in texture. How do you know if a wine is a good one or not? If you enjoy it, it is a good one. Don't let others dictate taste to you. When is a wine ready to drink? When all the components of the wine are in balance to your particular taste.

Balance is one of the most desired features in a wine is good balance whereby the various flavour components are in harmony with no individual component (such as acidity, tannin or oak, for example) present in excess. When all the parts are in harmony, the wine will have a sense of elegance and completeness and will also tend to age gracefully.

This is the last impression of the wine after it is swallowed. How long does the wine's taste linger? Fine wines have a clean, long finish, A lingering aftertaste is considered a plus while a short finish or little, if any, lingering aftertaste is undesirable.

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