Have you ever found yourself at a social event or vineyard, wine glass in hand, surrounded by people swilling, sniffing and slurping at the liquid, and unsure if you’re doing it right?
Like many things in Italy, whether it’s downing an expresso at the bar or eating spaghetti, there’s an art to it.
In fact, taking the time to taste wine properly won’t just make you look like a pro in front of that room full of people, but can actually enhance your overall wine experience.
For the wine tasting a step that some people often miss is having a good look at the wine and we don’t mean just a quick glance before taking a snap for Instagram, tempting as that is!
Take a good look down into the glass, then hold it to the light before giving it the slightest of tilts so you can see the complete color range of the wine. This should tell you a little about the density and saturation of the wine and what grapes are likely to have been used. A wine that is clear and bright in the light is always a good sign. You’re in for a treat.
Next step for wine tasting is a step that can sometimes go a little wrong, leaving you with wine stains all down your front.
Give the glass a gentle swirl. It’s easiest if you do it on a flat surface. This should aerate the wine slightly, releasing aromas that will leave the senses tingling before you take your first sip. See if the wine forms legs or tears that run down the sides of the glass. These are created by alcohol so as a general rule, the more legs, the higher the alcohol content.
By now you’re probably itching to take a big gulp, but smelling the wine is almost as important and satisfying as tasting it. Hover your nose the top of the glass then give it a few quick short sniffs. A glass of good wine can give off dozens of aromas, making identifying all of them a challenge. In general, you should be able to smell at least some fruity aromas. You can learn to look for specific grape smells which can tell you a whole host of things about how the wine was made – even the climate the grapes were grown in. Sometimes you can detect floral aromas, common in white wines like Riesling and Gewürztraminer, or you can smell grassy or herbal scents often found in a tasty glass of Sauvignon Blanc. It’s also common to pick up an array of scents formed by the oak barrels the wine was aged in. Sometimes you can detect smokey, vanilla, chocolate, or even caramel notes depending on the type of oak the barrels are made of, the age of the barrels and several other factors. If you’re a Chardonnay fan, you may notice a buttered popcorn or caramel smell, which is actually a sign it’s been put through a secondary, malolactic fermentation.
Thirsty yet? Finally, you’re at the tasting stage. Resist the temptation to have a large gulp of the wine, and take a sip instead, letting the taste linger in your mouth. The aromas you detected by smelling it should start to come through in the taste. In general, our tastebuds can detect salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. Most wines have at least some hint of sourness because of the acidity in the grapes, but this should be balanced with the other flavors in some way. Wine may also vary in texture, with a thicker texture indicating a riper wine with a higher-alcohol content. A dry, sand-papery like texture is a sign of tannin, often found in red wines. Once you’ve assessed the flavors it’s time to think about how they all come together, is it balanced or too sour or too sweet? Was it memorable?
Of course once you’ve made up your mind, you can go back for another or two or three or five more sips knowing you’ve tasted wine like an expert. To get even more familiar with the wine tasting process and learn the tricks of the trade, book a Wine Class in Florence!