Choosing a wine glass
A good tasting glass is made of clear glass so that you can view the content easily. The stem has to be long enough for a comfortable grip without touching the bowl, and the foot wide enough to give a firm base.
Careful washing and drying the glasses are important. If detergent is left on the glass, it will affect the taste. If the glass is not properly dry, the water left in the glass will dilute the wine.
The extent to which a wine releases its aromas, and how efficiently they can be smelled from the glass depends on four principal, and inter-related factors:
- Shape of the glass
- Surface area inside on which the wine can be spread by swirling, allowing the liquid to evaporate and the aroma molecules to volatize.
- Space inside between the surface of the wine at rest and the rim of the glass, in which the aromas have room to circulate, develop and concentrate.
- Size of the glass’s opening in relation to the bowl. A balance between permitting the aromas to escape and preventing them from doing so.
How to Smell Wine
The following methods are the most widely used to smell a wine.
- Short, sharp sniffs; best for a quick impression.
- Deep, prolonged sniffing; strongest impressions early on
- Short, gentle sniffing; reveals smells that are fleeting
- Prolonged, gentle sniffing
How you use your glass will have an effect to which you can smell a wine. The following describes how to swirl.
- Always hold the wine glass by the stem either between thumb and one or two fingers.
- Swirl the glass anti-clockwise if you are right handed, and clockwise for left handed.
- Begin swirling with the glass resting on the table until you are comfortable with the movement, then it will present no problem up in the air.
When smelling a wine, you should do it when it is still. Before swirling and after it has been rested for a while. In this state, you will be able to pick up the lighter, finer aromas that the wine has to offer. After swirling, a little oxygen is added to the wine and helps to release all the aromas. However, you may not find a difference between “still” and “swirled” for a simple wine, which is meant to be drunk with food rather than savored.
Sight: Appearance and Colour
Brightness is a function of both acidity and a wine’s quality. A wine that is dull to look at will probably taste dull too, usually because it lacks acidity.
Viscosity: “legs” or “tears”. Swirl your glass so that the wine rises
up the glass, and some of the liquid will cling to the sides of the glass after the wine has settled, gathering to form droplets which then run back down the sides. If the wine has a high degree of alcohol or a high proportion of natural sugar in the wine after fermentation, there will be more “tears” and longer they will take to form.
The best way to describe a wine’s colour is the depth and hue.
Depth refers to the degree of colour; dark red or pale red, for example. It is usually examined from directly above, and then with the glass tilted.
Hue refers to the colour of the wine. It appears relatively uniform and difficult to define when viewed from above. It is easier to see with the glass tilted and against a plain white background.
With the glass tilted there are two colour sections to describe: the rim and the bowl.
The rim is always watery at its very edge. This watery extremity widens as the wine ages and loses colour. A narrow rim indicates youth and wine extracts from small grapes with thick skins, as a result of dry and sunny conditions. A wider rim suggests a higher ration of juice to skins during fermentation. This could be the result of a higher yield of grapes, thinker skins, or less colour in the skins from a cooler, wetter growing season.
Rim colour always starts as a bluish-purple in newly made red wines, turning red and then brick coloured as the wine matures. The degree of “browning” is more an indication of relative maturity than of actual age in years.
Tasting the wine will also tell you how sweet or dry it is and how much acidity and tannin is present. Acidity gives the wine the sharp taste, and tannin gives it a kind of “furry” feel. Your palate will tell if the wine is balanced, with all these components.
To experience all the attributes of a wine you must make sure that the wine is rolled all around the mouth and over the entire surface of the tongue. A very small quantity of the wine will be swallowed. The rest of the wine is spit out.
Expert tasters take in a little air with the wine, using their teeth to form a barrier as they suck air in through the gaps. This can be quite difficult at first, but it brings out the flavors in the wine.
The flavors that remain in the mouth after you have spit out the wine, is known as the “finish”. A long finish is on where the flavors linger in the mouth for a minute or more. This is a sign of quality of a good wine, and as for a lesser wine, it will have a short finish or no finish at all.
There are three things that can upset or distort one’s impressions.
Tobacco smoke and men’s or women’s perfumes. Though one’s nose adapts rapidly to surrounding odours, these are inconsiderate and certainly intrusive.
Chocolate and egg usually coat the taste buds so that they can’t taste anything else properly. Any hot, spicy or persistent flavor dulls perception and is thus inimical to effective tasting: mint, eucalyptus, pepper and so on.
Other tasters’ comment
Keep your impressions to yourself until others ask for them. Nothing is so destructive to one’s confidence as someone else’s forcefully voiced and very different opinion before you have even finished.
Ideal time to taste wine
Ideal tasting times are before a meal, when the prospect of wine seems appetizing. Eleven o’clock in the morning, or six o’clock in the evening are common times. If you don’t like tasting on an empty stomach, a large glass of milk, or water, and a plain sandwich are a good “base”. If your alcohol tolerance is low, plenty of water during a long tasting is also a very effective measure.