Wine Basics–Tasting

The world of wine sometimes carries an exclusive and highfalutin air about it that can be intimidating to the casual wine drinker, but we here at Barsha say phooey to that!  We think wine is all about sharing–bringing more people into the fold, becoming more knowledgeable and enthusiastic about great wine.  So here we present the Barsha guide to tasting.  There are many ways to drink wine, and we offer no hard-and-fast final rules here, but these are a few techniques that help us appreciate the many things there are to love about a wine.

See

Once you have poured the wine into your glass, take a look! The color of a wine doesn’t reveal much about how it will taste, but some wines are beautiful to look at.  Swirl it around in the glass, see what it does.  Hold it up to the light, tilt the glass in different directions and notice the color gradation between the deeper and shallower areas.  Is it a deep violet? A golden hay? Perhaps girlish pink?

The effect of oak aging on red wine color: the above samples are both Penedès region Cabernet Sauvignon varietals; on the left, a two-year-old cosecha; on the right a six-year-old crianza. As the wine matures, its color shifts from deep purple or crimson to a lighter brick-red and takes on a more graduated appearance in the glass.

What the color of a wine does reveal, however, is its age. In its youthful first few years, red wine in a glass will display a dark violet center that lightens at the edges. Over time, the color pigments and tannins precipitate into solids (which is why we decant older wines so we leave the solids out) and so the purple fades into a reddish-brown.  White wines on the other hand darken with age, say from straw to gold. It’s important to note that most wine is not suitable for aging, and that there’s nothing wrong with a light white or a dark red.

Swirl the glass around again and notice how the droplets run down the inside and settles to the bottom.  These are called ‘legs’.  Contrary to popular belief, legs don’t speak to the overall quality of the wine, but to its alcohol content.  The phenomenon of legs has to do with the rate of evaporation of alcohol vs. water.  Still though, there is something soothing about watching the droplets hang for a moment before running back to the wine.

Smell

Get in there and sniff!

Get in there and sniff!

A few short sniffs reveal a lot about a wine.  It usually clues you in to how the wine will taste (but not always!) and in fact, much of our ability to taste comes from our sense of smell, not our taste buds.  Thankfully all that swirling you did exposed the wine to oxygen, opening up its aroma and flavor.  So no need to be shy about it, get your nose in there and take a whiff!

Each wine will have its own particular smell.  Even wines that are made from the same grapes will smell different with different winemaking styles, so it’s helpful to try and describe this totally unique smell by comparing it to other scents or tastes that are familiar to you.  Perhaps it smells like peach, green apple, and honeysuckle.  Or maybe like plums, earth, and black cherries.  A scent of vanilla or cream tells you about the wine maker emphasized the use of oak. An earthy, barnyardy aroma is characteristic of old world styles that emphasize the land where the grapes were grown.  The more you practice naming aromas the better you get at recognizing them and the more concrete and focused your memory will be of each wine.

Taste

Now the question on everyone’s lips: how does it taste?  Well, the best way to answer is to take a sip, but not swallow (yet).  When you immediately swallow your first sip you can miss out on a lot of the complex flavors and unique qualities–like mouthfeel, weight, and acidity–of your wine.  Swoosh it around in you mouth and coat your palate.  Some people like to suck air in as well to both aerate their wine a second time and to circulate it throughout their mouth.  So then, how does it taste?

Then swallow or spit, depending on your situation. If you plan on tasting many different wines as accurately as possible, it is better to spit.  If on the other hand you are just enjoying a great bottle then swallow and enjoy!

Dionysus, Greek god of wine

Dionysus, Greek god of wine and having a good time

 

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