Tasting wine is a full sensory experience and is always better through all the senses. It’s not just about taste. Including your smell and sight amplifies this experience so much. We suggest a journey into the seduction of the senses through tasting wine.
When it comes to choosing the wine we want to buy, what is it that makes us pick THAT one?
Humans have a multitude of sensors. Sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch are the five traditionally recognized senses. However, what constitutes a sense is a matter of some debate, leading to difficulties in defining what exactly a distinct sense is, and where the borders lie between responses to related stimuli.
The most important sense in the Art of Seduction is… the human sense of smell. Yes, our sense of smell. About 40 million receptors lie within the interior area of a human nose. A smell arises or reduces the appetite.
There are 4 steps to wine tasting:
Look: A visual inspection of the wine under neutral lighting
Smell: Identify aromas through orthonasal olfaction (e.g. breathing through your nose)
Taste: Assess both the taste structure (sour, bitter, sweet) and flavours derived from retro nasal olfaction (e.g.breathing with the back of your nose)
Think/Conclude: Develop a complete profile of a wine that can be stored in your long-term memory.
Look at your wine
Check out the colour, opacity, and viscosity (wine legs). You don’t really need to spend more than 5 seconds on this step. A lot of clues about a wine are buried in its appearance, but unless you’re tasting blind, most of the answers that those clues provide will be found on the bottle (i.e. the vintage, ABV and grape variety).
The Smell of Your Wine
When you first start smelling wine, think big to small. Are there fruits? Think of broad categories first, i.e. citrus, orchard, or tropical fruits in whites or, when tasting reds, red fruits, blue fruits, or black fruits. Getting too specific or looking for one particular note can lead to frustration. Broadly, you can divide the nose of a wine into three primary categories:
- Primary Aromas are grape-derivative and include fruits, herbs, and floral notes.
- Secondary Aromas come from wine-making practices. The most common aromas are yeast-derivative and are most easy to spot in white wines: cheese rind, nut husk (almond, peanut), or stale beer.
- Tertiary Aromas come from ageing, usually in bottles, or possibly in oak. These aromas are mostly savoury: roasted nuts, baking spices, vanilla, autumn leaves, old tobacco, cured leather, cedar and even coconut.
Taste of Your Wine
The taste is how we use our tongues to observe the wine, but also, once you swallow the wine, the aromas may change because you’re receiving them retro-nasally.
Taste: Our tongues can detect salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. All wines are going to have some sour because grapes all inherently have some acid. This varies with climate and grape type. Some varieties are known for their bitterness (i.e. Pinot Grigio), and it manifests as a sort of light, pleasant tonic-water-type flavour.
Some white table wines have a small portion of their grape sugars retained, and this adds natural sweetness. You can’t ever smell sweetness though, since only your tongue can detect it. Lastly, very few wines have a salty quality, but in some rare instances, salty reds and whites exist.
Texture: Your tongue can “touch” the wine and perceive its texture. Texture in wine is related to a few factors, but an increase in texture almost always happens in a higher-alcohol, riper wine. Ethanol gives a wine texture because we perceive it as “richer” than water. We also can detect tannin with our tongue, which is that sand-paper or tongue-depressor drying sensation in red wines.
Length: The taste of wine is also time-based, there is a beginning, middle (mid-palate), and end (finish). Ask yourself, how it takes until the wine isn’t with you anymore?
Thinking about Your Wine
Did the wine taste balanced or out of balance (i.e. too acidic, too alcoholic, too tannic)? Did you like the wine? Was this wine unique or unmemorable? Were there any characteristics that shined through and impressed you?
Wine Tasting Guide
White wines range from clear, pale and light in colour to deeper golden colours. This can depend on the grape variety, although richer colours generally indicate more age.
Red wines range from deep purple colours (generally more youthful) to lighter ruby & garnet colours (generally older). Thin-skinned grapes such as Pinot Noir can produce paler reddish-purple wines.
Intensity refers to how prominent the aroma of the wine is. If you can smell it before you place your nose in the glass, it is pronounced. If you have to work a little harder to detect aromas, it is lighter.
Primary aromas come predominantly from the grape. With white grapes, examples could include citrus fruits, stone fruits, tropical fruits or floral aromas.
With red grapes, examples could include red & black fruit aromas. Secondary aromas come from elements of the winemaking process. For example, wine aged in oak could have aromas of vanilla, cedar, cinnamon, and toast. Tertiary aromas come from the wine reacting with oxygen as it ages. Aromas in this category can include nuts, leather, game, tobacco, and honey.
Sweetness is detected on the tip of the tongue. As a rule, most wines will be dry or off-dry, with sweetness sometimes being used to balance the acidity.
Acidity is detected on the inside of the cheeks as a sharpness, which can create a literal “mouth-watering” sensation.
The body is detected along the tongue as the “weight” of the wine. A full-bodied wine will feel weightier and more substantial in the mouth.
Alcohol strength is detected on the back of the throat. A wine with high alcohol will give a slight “burning” sensation.
Tannins are detected on the upper gums. A wine with high tannins will give a “drying” sensation. NB: tannins are generally only noticeable in red wines.
Similar to ‘Nose -Intensity’, flavour intensity means how prominent the flavours of a wine are in your mouth. See if the flavours on the palate match the aromas from smelling the wine. It is also worth noting whether the intensity of the flavour matches the intensity of the bouquet, and how long you are able to taste the wine after the initial sip.
The length or finish of a wine is how long the flavours remain in your mouth after you have swallowed it. A wine with a short finish will disappear almost immediately.
Describing Aromas & Flavours
Primary Aromas & Flavours
Floral – acacia, honeysuckle, chamomile, elderflower, geranium, blossom, rose, violet
Green fruit – apple, gooseberry, pear, pear drop, quince, grape
Citrus fruit – grapefruit, lemon, lime (juice or zest?), orange peel, lemon peel
Stone fruit – peach, apricot, nectarine
Tropical fruit – banana, lychee, mango, melon, passion fruit, pineapple
Red fruit – redcurrant, cranberry, raspberry, strawberry, red cherry, red plum
Black fruit – blackcurrant, blackberry, bramble, blueberry, black cherry, black plum
Dried/cooked fruit – fig, prune, raisin, sultana, kirsch, jamminess, baked/stewed fruits, preserved fruits
Herbaceous green – bell pepper (capsicum), grass, tomato leaf, asparagus, blackcurrant leaf
Herbal – eucalyptus, mint, medicinal, lavender, fennel, dill
Pungent spice – black/white pepper, liquorice
Other – flint, wet stones, wet wool
Let your sense take over now and let’s look at the wines in front of you.
Smell and taste are the most important here, and another thing from my old man, don’t let me tell you what to smell and taste, let’s find out what your senses tell you about the wines.
That’s why we want to trust in what we buy & your independent wine merchant can give you this opportunity to smell & taste before you make your decision. Get involved in wine tasting, this is one of the best ways to let your senses do the talking. Explore more wines & develop your palate with one of our wine tastings.
Learn how to taste wine to make full use of the experience and enjoy the seduction of your senses.