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Taste wine like a pro


Learn the four basic steps

Numerous factors affect how a wine is perceived, including the surroundings, nearby odors, lighting, stemware and especially the food. Wine appeals to all your senses: sight, smell, taste and intellect. Each glass is a lesson in history, geography, agriculture, botany and more. The more wines you try, the more you’ll develop your palate. Most important is how you try the wine, so read on and you too will soon become an expert.

Tasting Wine like a pro, the four basic steps:

1) Determining the color and appearance.

2) The scent of the volatile compounds detected by the nose.

3) The retro nasal scent of the volatile compounds detected.

4) The flavor revealed by the wine once in the mouth.

The color

Fill your glass until it’s about a third full. Tilt it slightly against a white background, or hold it up to the light, natural daylight is the best, neon lights, quarts lamps, candles, colored walls, furniture and even what you’re wearing can alter the color of the wine. Look for clarity and color. All wine should be bright and clean and free of particular sediments. White wine has a range of colors from water white to deep golden depending on sugar content and maturity. Red wine ranges from dense purple to pale cherry depending on grape variety and age. Incidentally, white wines gain color with age, while reds lose color and fade.

The scent

Now give it a swirl, getting a good motion going, his releases all the wine’s aromas. Let it settle, look for the transparent wetness left on the sides of the glass that will fall back to the surface in “tears” or “legs”. This tells you the alcoholic strength of the wine and it’s viscosity. Thicker “legs” and a slow motion toward the bottom of the glass indicates a high alcohol content. Jam your nose right into the glass and inhale slowly. Your first impressions are the most vivid. Your nose will tell you seventy-five percent of what you want to know about the wine. First look for faults: off odors, vinegary scents or oxidation. Once you have established that the bouquet is clean, assess its quality. Enologist Ann Noble of the University of California at Davis developed an aroma wheel to help describe a whole range of smells found in wine, both good and bad.

The UC Davis Aroma Wheel, consists of three concentric circles. The smallest contains the most general terms to describe a wine’s bouquet. The second circle becomes more specific, qualifying the first. The outer circle refines the perception down to a specific aroma description. Ann C. Noble is a sensory chemist and retired professor from the University of California, Davis. During her time at the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology, Noble invented the “Aroma Wheel” which is credited with enhancing the public understanding of wine tasting and wine terminology.

The retro nasal

By swallowing, your mouth is closed, forcing you to exhale through your nose, in so doing, the vapors in your mouth are carried retro-nasally to the smell center and as the wine warms up in the mouth, it releases a wider secondary and tertiary aromas. An experienced taster an distinguish 5,000 smells while the palate only registers four: sweet, salt, sour and bitter. Most people find it difficult to describe what they smell in a wine, but when they hear a description that approximates their own experience they will agree upon it.

A mouth-feel wheel is a sensory wheel vocabulary developed by a small number of wine-tasters at the Department of Horticulture, Viticulture and Oenology, University of Adelaide, Waite Campus, PMB 1, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.


The flavor

Taste – There is not one taste but three: the initial taste as the wine hits your palate, the secondary taste when the wine warms up in the mouth and the aftertaste once you have swallowed it.

The Tongue – Different areas of the tongue are more sensitive to one taste sensation than another. Sweetness at the tip, saltiness a little farther back and sourness or acidity at the sides, with bitterness sensed at the very back.

Acidity – Makes the wine taste crisp and fresh. Too much and it will taste unpleasantly sharp and bitter. Not enough it will taste flabby.

Alcohol – The higher the level of alcohol gets, the rounder the wine feels in the mouth. If it’s out of balance with the fruit and tannin and so on, then it will feel hot. We cannot actually smell alcohol we are aware of its presence as a “hot” sensation in the nose and down the throat.

Sweetness – This is affected by the amount of sugar in the wine. Sweetness needs to be balanced by acidity or the wine is too sugary and flabby, and will not refresh the palate..

Tannin – Tannin creates that furry, drying feeling that you get in the mouth after a swig of a very young red. Tannin helps with the weight of a wine and soften with age.

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