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What Exactly Goes Into Wine Tasting and How Does One Taste Wine Properly?
Drinking wine is easy, tasting wine is difficult.
If that sentence confused you, then stick around!
Tasting wine is an art of focus and very careful attention to detail. Assessing a wine for it’s quality is a skill that sets apart the enthusiast from the trade professional, but how does one assess quality? How do you take a moment and break down a wine to truly understand what is in the glass in front of you?
Understanding how to taste wine and make a call as to where that juice stands is a technique that is mastered through tasting thousands of examples over the course of years of practical exposure. That is not to mention that quality assessment is to a degree subjective. However, we can take a moment and look at the basics of such thought processes.
Above all, before we begin, the ultimate determination of a quality wine is how a wine strikes us when we taste it and the impact that wine makes after it has left our mouth. The wine itself is the sole substance of our assessment. There is no other factor that should influence the determination of what we perceive as quality or not.
When we pick up the glass, the first thing we notice is the color. The color of a wine can tell us many things, but for the sake of simplicity, color provides part of the story as to how the wine was made and what processes it has gone through until the point it has been opened. A wine’s color is rarely ever a major factor of assessing wine quality. Unless what is in your glass resembles the fluid that is extracted from the engine of your motor vehicle, color is an easy ‘A’ when making such calls. Many wine drinkers look for a wine that glistens in the light, yet a hazy wine should never be misjudged as a sign of poor practice, as this is usually a choice of the winemaker and is done intentionally to produce a certain style.
Next, we take a sniffy sniff, and we make notes of what we perceive on the nose. This is where things can become very subjective. Some tasters take a very strong adherence to quality in relation to the complexity of a wine’s aromas. The author of this article is more concerned as to how those aromatics translate to what is perceived when we taste the wine. After all, tasting is what we are here to do. The nose is a primer for what we may perceive as we move onto tasting the wine. Of the utmost importance is not perceiving aromas that are off-putting or considered inherent flaws of winemaking. In the most basic terms, is what we are smelling appreciated and pure? As we will discover with the palate, the complexity and nuance of the aromatics is a signal of quality in this level of assessment with smelling the wine. The intensity or strength of these aromatics should not be considered as an area of high marking, since, as such with the example of many New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, a wine can have a strong perfume of aromas yet not display much in the way of variety.
The palate, or what we taste when we sip a high quality wine, is the reason why wine is so revered in the context of any other alcoholic beverage, or in the context of all beverages in-general. As opposed to explaining or trying to make sense of this technique in words, let’s assess a tasting note of a bottling of 2015 Karthauserhof Riesling Kabinett, a rather significant work of German winemaking:
On the palate, complex synchronized notes of nectarine, tarter golden peach, honeysuckle, lemon verbena accented freshly with linear porphyry at the end. An absolutely vibrant Kabinett, with an intense display of flavor that lingers extensively on the mid-palate. After 15 minutes of opening, this wine represents this distinction of Riesling Kabinett wine in a standout display. Drink now or continue to hold.
To summarize, we highlight complexity, intensity of flavor and the lingering effects of how the wine lasts once we have savored it. The wine is balanced, or in other words, the components of structure [acidity, alcohol, tannin, texture] are harmonious with one another and no singular note of character is drawn out to be the main player in the layering of flavors. As a finishing point, we appreciate the overall effect a wine has and take it for not a singular aspect of its makeup, but rather for the sum of its parts. After all, it is how a wine strikes us when we taste it that is the substance of such an assessment.