To fully appreciate good wine it is essential that we take the trouble to notice the details, the nuance and the pleasure of the wine. To take the time to notice pleasure is the essence of pleasure!
To notice the pleasure of a wine we must employ the senses of sight, taste and touch.
When we speak about wines for tasting, we mean that classification of wines that are known as Vintage – Varietals. Here is a link with more information about wine classifications.
A 1985 Brunello di Montalcino. This wine was produced in Tuscany, Italy. The bottle was a gift from a very good friend (Thanks again, Chipster). I enjoyed this wine with a traditional Christmas roast when it was 12 years of age .
When I bought this wine in 1989, I paid $19.- . If you can find it today, it is still quite drinkable (after 26 years of aging – at the time this article was written – 2012). I hope you don’t mind the price…my research indicates that the remaining bottles still in stock are selling at retail for roughly $100 each.
I consumed this claret in 2001 at the ripe age of 15 years. Reviewing my notes from the time of drinking, I estimated the wine had longevity of at least another decade. It seems from the current reviews this estimation was spot on.
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The first step to prepare for a proper wine tasting is to clean the glasses. The glasses should be washed then air dried upside-down. After washing and air-drying, the glasses should be steamed and dried with a clean, lint-free cloth. At this stage, the glasses should be left to cool to room temperature. Steaming wine glasses for a tasting is very important to ensure the glass is spotlessly clean. Here is some more info about cleaning wine glasses.
Step two – If you will be tasting a wine older than 10 years, the bottle should be stood upright and left undisturbed for a day or two prior to opening. The next step in the preparation of an older bottle of wine is to decant the wine. This allows the sediment in an older wine to settle and the rest of the wine is poured off to another container. Thus, avoiding the chance of a mouthful of sludge while drinking.
Step three – Be sure to wipe the outside of the bottle clean. This removes any must or dust that may have collected during the storage period.
Step four – Uncorking the bottle starts with removing the foil or paper wrapper from the neck of the bottle. Next, wipe the top of the cork and the surrounding area with a clean damp cloth. Now, gently begin to twist the corkscrew into the cork being careful not to veer off to the side causing damage to the cork. After the bottle has been uncorked, it should be left to breathe for at least 20 minutes. Young red wines may need a little extra time to air out and develop their bouquet. More on uncorking your bottle of wine correctly.
Here is a list of wine terms that will help you to understand the complexities of the language used when tasting wine. Also, some more information about different types of wine tastings can be found here.
Tasting the wine. The 5 S’s of wine tasting are; See, Smell, Swirl, Sniff and Swallow.
SIGHT – Approximately 78% of what we know comes through our eyes. Colors can be more easily described than scents or flavors.
SEE – the bottle – shape, color, presentation, size, condition, “attitude”.
The cork should be inspected. Any sign of mold on, seepage from, or decaying of the cork can be an indication there may be a potential problem with the wine.
What shape and color are the glasses? Proper glasses for tasting wine should be clear and smooth. Cut crystal or colored glass will prevent you from clearly seeing the wine.
Color – hue
White Wine gains color with age. A new white wine is pale yellow to green in color – turning to straw yellow – to yellow gold – gold – old gold – yellow brown to brown. Brown color in a white wine is a sign that the wine is long past its prime drinking age and has begun to oxidize.
Red Wine loses color with age. Beginning with a rich purple turning to ruby then, red – red brown to mahogany then, Tawney and finally to amber brown.
Tone is a function of the type of grape and time (time incurred cultivating the grapes to maturity, the time needed to ferment the juice and the time required to age the wine in oak casks)
SWIRL the wine in a glass to determine density based on the “legs” or “rope” that run down the inside of the glass. If the glass is not properly cleaned it will diminish your ability to read the legs.
Depth or Tone are also noticed when we swirl the wine.
We also look for clarity of the wine. A cloudy wine is an indication of poor storage conditions (too hot, too cold or stored in an area that had wide fluctuations in temperature or was subject to vibration or light).
SMELL and TASTE – These senses are rarely so highly or continuously employed as the sense of sight. The level of awareness can be low and this can make it difficult to identify the nuance of the many flavors we taste. The senses of taste and smell are easily fatigued, taste being more quickly fatigued. Flavor is a compound of taste and smell.
Swirl again! – To vaporize the Esters, Ethers, and Aldehydes. Swirling the wine allows air to mix with the wine (vaporization) and thereby “opens-up” the wine.
SNIFF – To experience the Cleanliness of the wines freshness/pungent substances that excite physical sensations in the nerve endings rather than in the olfactory system.
The bouquet of the wine will increase with age and it will become more apparent as the wine has time to breathe. You can notice this effect when you first taste a wine. Then let it sit. An hour or so later the flavors are richer, more robust and again in another 2 hours or so, you can notice more of the complex “palette of colors” found in the bouquet. When tasting an older wine of 15 years or more the bouquet and flavors may diminish more quickly and the wine may fade after several hours.
Is it fruity? This is a fragrance of the grape composed of tartness and sweetness. Fruit scents of cherry, plum and berry in reds and whites may offer, pineapple, grapefruit and other citrus fruits.
Flowery? This is a fragrance without tartness or fullness. Sometimes there may be a scent of herbs, lilac and honeysuckle.
What is the grape variety?
Maturity tells us about the age and development of the wine. Some wines mature faster than others. White wines (with the exception of high sugar content dessert wines) are generally meant to be consumed in under 5 years. Red wines can age in the bottle for 3, 5, 10, 20 or as long as 50 years (though this is very rare) or longer! It is the presence of tannins found in the grape skins and in the oak casks used for aging that permit wine to age for extended years. Here is some information about storing wine.
Depth is another characteristic we seek to identify in wine. Does the wine offer layers of complex aromas? Scents of sandalwood, cedar, cigar box, tobacco, oak and earth or soil are sometimes apparent on the nose of a red wine. Whites may hint of almond, honey, or butterscotch.
TASTE AND TOUCH AND SMELL –
Savor the wine by completely circulating it around in your mouth. Draw in some air as you savor the subtleties.
The temperature of the wine will affect the taste. The flavor will change and perhaps grow more intense as the wine warms to the temperature of the room.
Check the body of the wine. The weight, substance and consistency all play a part in the tasting experience.
The aroma, esters and ethers combine to give us an idea of the wines character.
Taste the wines, acidity, astringency, dryness, sweetness.
The texture of the wine helps to enhance the experience.
The finish of the wine is an important factor to consider.
Does the wine have finesse?
Is the wine balanced?
Aftertaste tells us a lot about the wine as well. Is it smooth?
If you intend to get involved with wine tasting, I strongly urge you to take notes. Commit to a serious evaluation and to record your impressions. Over the past 35 years, I have recorded notes about some of the great wines I’ve had the pleasure to experience. It is a fun hobby and I look back with fond memories of those wines, the food I paired with them, and the friends I shared them with.
The picture is a random selection from my wine notebook. Looking back over the years, my notes are a wonderful way to reflect upon some spectacular wines that I have had the pleasure to notice.
Oh! and don’t miss this article about Port.