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Tasting Wine

You don’t need to be either a snob or a sommelier to enjoy properly ‘tasting’ wine. It can be great fun and rewarding and educational. Here’s how…

Eyes, nose, and then mouth are the order of the day. So first take a good look at your wine, preferably holding it against a white background. You can tell a lot about a wine by its colour – age, varietal and barrel fermentation all leave their mark. Many red wines tend to be inky in their youth, purple almost opaque. As they age they lose their vibrancy and richness and become more brick like. Haziness or murkiness is never a good sign. White wines tend to start life pale and crisp looking, although grape variety, growing climate and use of oak can influence them at this stage. From youthful lemon-green to mature gold they go, with every hew of yellow in between.

Giving your glass a gentle swirl and watching the way the wine holds onto the glass when you stop, the way it dribbles in rivulets, will give you an idea of its alcohol content. The more alcohol it has on board the tighter it holds on and the slower it moves, a little like people.

Now moving on to the ‘nose’, using your nose. The nose is the term used for the wines aroma. Swirl the wine a little to vapourise a bit of the alcohol and release some of the wines character, and then take a decent sniff. Think about the wines intensity; is it pungent or flat, bold or timid? Are there any unpleasant smells of must or mould? This is the stage to spot a ‘corked’ wine – one that has oxidised before opening - that gives off a pungent mouldy odour. Send it back immediately. If it doesn’t smell ‘off’, next explore its bouquet. Hidden within different wines are huge arrays of familiar smells, which give the wine its character. Peaches, butter, asparagus, oak, grass, flowers, fruit, smoke, vanilla, mud and many, many more. Throw on your explorer’s hat and let your nose take you on an adventure. There is no right answer and you may be surprised at what you might find.

And now the mouth. Take a sip. Because different areas of your palate taste different flavours, let the wine wash over every part of your mouth. For an even broader experience breathe some air in through the wine, aerating it and really letting the body of the wine out. You’ll notice various characteristics. First is the wine’s sweetness (or not). The sensation of sweet is located at the front of the tongue, in wine language if it’s not sweet it’s dry.

Acidity is next, think lemon and vinegar. A good wine has a great balance here. Too much acidity and you’ll think you are in fact drinking vinegar, not enough and you’ll find it flat, flabby and unrefreshing.

Tannins can be ‘felt’ in the mouth. A natural preservative that occurs in grape skins, tannins play a vital role in allowing wines, particularly red ones, to age. A wine with a lot of tannins dries the tongue, particularly at the sides and back, the teeth and the gums. Lighter reds such as Pinot Noir and Beaujolais are often best drunk young as they have fewer tannins so often don’t cellar well.

The middle of the tongue detects the characters of the wine that you smelt earlier. With reds you’ll be able to pick up hints of berry fruits, spices, woodiness and earthy, smokey tones. Whites will display flowers, tree fruits, apples, pears, a butteriness, and maybe oak.

Enjoy your deeper understanding of your wine world. Notice what you like. Within a short time you can build a record of what most appeals to you, not to mention having a lot of fun finding out exactly what that is.

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