For many, coordinating and actually putting on a wine tasting can be a daunting task or as simple as gathering a few friends together and pouring some wines. I thought it might be helpful to put together some supportive information about what wine tastings are all about from A-Z. This way when you are ready to host your own, you can do a little or do a lot and choose what you want to do in order to get the greatest experience you are looking for.
Wine Tasting 101
Wine tasting consists of evaluating the color, aroma, flavor and feel of the wine as it touches each part of the mouth and involves assessing the quality, maturity and flaws.
Professional wine tasters and sommeliers around the world attend all types of wine tasting events. Each event will have its own significance in preparation and highlights. There is also a standard order and process to follow during these kinds of tastings.
Types of Wine Tasting Events
An example: There are two glasses. One is Coca Cola. One is Pepsi. Taste and judge. The same technique is used in wine tasting too. It helps to ensure impartial judgment of a wine. Certain blind tasting events include black wine glasses as well to mask the color of the wine. A taster’s judgment can easily be influenced when geographical origin, price, reputation, producer, vintage, color and other details are made known.
Different vintages of the same wine type from the same winery are tasted. The point is to differentiate the taste of the same wine from different years.
The wines are all from the same vintage but are from different wineries. Keeping wine variety or type and wine region the same helps emphasize differences in winery styles. You can also use retail price range as additional criteria.
Wines presented for the intention of sampling and comparison of certain features. For example, several wines from the same region and vintage or several wines from the same variety but different regions would comprise a flight. As the tasting organizer you are responsible for the selection of flights to enable tasters to easily highlight the similarities and differences of the wine presented.
Tasting order is important in maintaining the accuracy of the taster’s assessment. Heavier or sweeter wines dominate lighter ones. The tasting order should be like:
Appearance and nose/aroma alone is enough to determine the order that the wines should be evaluated in. Heavier wines are deeper in color and more overwhelming to the nose. Sweeter wines are denser and will leave legs down the inside of the glass when swirled.
The five basic steps in wine tasting (also known as the 5 “S’s”) are:
The six characters looked at are:
Varietal character describes how much a wine presents its inherent grape aromas.
A wine taster also looks for integration of the non-grape components of the wine like acid, tannin, alcohol, etc. When a wine is well balanced, the wine is said to have achieved a “harmonious fusion”.
Expressiveness is the quality the wine possesses when its aromas and flavors are well-defined and clearly projected. Over-handling the wine bottle can disturb its expressiveness.
The connectedness of the wine, a rather abstract and difficult to ascertain quality, is how connected is the bond between the wine and the land (terrior, pronounced tear-WAHR) where it comes from.
Highly Technical Jargon
Stopping to experience a wine’s bouquet aids the wine taster in anticipating the wine’s flavors and focusing the palate. Once inside the mouth, the aromatics are further liberated by exposure to body heat, received by the interior pathway in the mouth and delivered to the olfactory epithelium (The olfactory epithelium is a tissue inside the nasal cavity that is involved in smell). It is here that the complex taste experience characteristic of a wine actually originates.
Thoroughly tasting a wine involves perception of its array of taste and mouth feel aspects, which involve the combination of textures, flavors, and overall “structure”. Following appreciation of its olfactory features, the wine taster savors a wine by holding it in the mouth for a few seconds to saturate the taste buds. Taste buds are also found in the larynx. So an extended sip, in which the wine is allowed to pass slowly through the mouth and past the epiglottis, presents the connoisseur with the fullest gustatory (sensory system for the sense of taste) profile available to the human palate.
The acts of pausing and focusing through each step distinguish wine tasting from simple drinking. Through this process, the full array of aromatics is captured and interpreted by many millions of highly-specific sensory receptors. When tasting numerous wines in succession, however, key aspects of this fuller experience (length and finish, or aftertaste) must necessarily be sacrificed by expelling.
A spittoon is usually prepared for the wine tasters to spit out the wine after tasting it. The reason is to prevent alcohol from affecting the consumer’s judgment. At formal tastings where dozens of wines are prepared, tasters will usually spit out the wine after assessing the quality.
Of course everything described above is intended for a complete and in-depth tasting similar to what professional Sommeliers might be involved with. For your own comfort and pleasure, the steps above can easily be modified to tailor your own experience and is a guideline only.
After all, the whole idea of tasting for us all is to try new things, expand our wine knowledge and have some fun too!