By: Valarie Roberts
Becoming an effective wine taster is a combination of technique and experience. When you taste wine, using all of your senses can help you understand not only about how it's going to taste, but how it was made among many other aspects.
The first sense that we use in wine tasting is looking at the wine. The color hue of the wine can tell you what style of grape was used, if it's a 100% of one grape variety or a blend, the wine's age, even the wine's region.
At first, it looks red or yellow but look deeper. What shade of those colors do you see? Is your red wine showing brown or tan colors? Is it showing green in your white wine? These subtle values are your visual clues to look for.
In red wine, the darker the color and intensity of red can tell you what grape varieties the wine contains. Petite Syrahs, and Cabernets are towards the darker end of the spectrum while Merlots and Pinot Noir run lighter in the hue values. If you notice a lighter hue value but the density of the color is greater than you would expect in say, a Merlot, it could be because its not 100% Merlot - it could be a blend.
You can guess the age of a red wine by observing its "rim." Tilt the glass slightly to about a 45 degree angle and look at the edge of the wine. A purple tint in reds may indicate youth while orange to brown indicates maturity. After determining the possible grape varieties and age based upon color, you could get your mind ready for the flavors soon to come.
Swirl the glass a few times. Move the glass in circles vigorously enough so the wine moves around the sides of the bowl without spilling out of the glass. This allows the wine to open up and release its subtle aromas and possible flavors. When you're finished swirling, notice the sides of the glass and how the wine drips back down. These are called the wine's "tears" or "legs." The only clue this gives is how much alcohol is in the wine - the more alcohol, the more legs or tears.
Next, is your sense of smell. Some would argue that smelling a wine is even more important than tasting it. Regardless of what works better for you, taking in a wine's aromas or "bouquet" or "nose" is a step that should never be side stepped. It's all about enhancing the aromas to more easily identify them. When you swirl the wine up and along the sides of the glass, it leaves a small amount lining the inside. When air contacts this thin layer, the liquid evaporates and the aromas are captured in the glass.
Finally, we get to taste the wine. Gently swish it around every crevice in your mouth. Different portions of your mouth and tongue will pick up different cues.
With your tongue, feel the texture of the wine. Is it smooth? Does your tongue suddenly feel dry? Remember to take your time during this process - don't take a sip and immediately swallow. Exploring the wine with your mouth takes time.
Slowly swallow the wine, examining the flavors and texture still as it slides down. Try to notice the last flavors picked up by the back of your tongue. Now that the wine has been consumed, what flavors are left in your mouth? How long after your swallow do these flavors last? Do you notice any hints of new flavors after your initial taste?
At the winery, spittoons are provided typically as metallic drums or boxes with saw dust, or even a large bowl. There's a time and place when spitting after tasting is an absolute must! If you are intending to visit numerous wineries in a day, spitting becomes a necessity if you want to last the day. When tasting wine, you're absorbing alcohol through the nose and in the mouth. Over time and even after spitting, absorbing that much alcohol will have an effect.
Etiquette is observed to the person in front of these canisters. NEVER should you try and spit across another person. Also, cease all conversation to a person with a mouthful of wine. Let them analyze the wine and focus on it before engaging them in conversation. At sit-down tasting events, you will always have your own spit canister, sometimes it poses as an ice bucket or a small receptacle.
Spitting wine, to some, is an art form and should be practiced. There are proper spitting techniques that should be practiced at home, ideally in front of a mirror so you can watch yourself during this process. When you finish tasting the wine, spit in a single jet stream line in the spittoon through pursed lips. Don't dribble the wine out of your mouth, or worse, off your chin. When you're finished spitting, there should be no drips on the floor or countertop - nothing to clean up. Some say that you can spot a professional wine taster based on how they spit.
A good friend of mine, Jennifer Woodward, who has visited wineries internationally, has recommended Huber Winery in Starlight, IN for a local winery experience. This would be great for first time tasters and experienced ones. For more information, visit their website at www.huberwinery.com.