Wine Tasting Component I: Look
The first step you have to undertake in wine tasting is visual.
1. Fill up glass up to 1/3 of its volume; never fill it more than half;
2. Hold glass by stem. Initially you may find this too pretentious but there are good reasons for it:
а) by doing it this way you can actually observe wine in it;
b) this will keep your fingerprints off bowl;
c) heat from your palm will not change temperature of wine. There’s a good saying by one of greatest French wine lovers, Emil Painot: Offer someone a glass of wine and you can immediately tell whether he/she is a connoisseur by way they hold glass.” Even though you may not think of yourself as a connoisseur, you could still learn how to hold wine glass.
3. Focus on color intensity and transparency of liquid.
a) color of wine, and more specifically its nuances, are best observed on a white background.
b) wine’s intensity is best judged by holding glass without slanting it and looking at liquid from above;
4. Next comes swirling of glass. This can also seem too pretentious or even dangerous if you have a full glass or a white top. But this movement is important since it prepares you for next step in wine tasting – Taste. The easiest way to swirl glass is to place it on a table or other even surface, and to swirl your hand while holding glass by stem. Swirl hard and have wine almost touch rim of glass. Then stop. The wine leaves tiny traces with irregular shapes on inside of glass. Some “experts” then read them with as much zeal as coffee-tellers. The truth is however, that they are just an indicator for quality of wine – more alcohol a wine has, more wine traces it forms.
What does color of wine tell us? The wine’s color tells us many things about its character. First, color shows grape variety. Let’s take two popular varieties as examples – cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Cabernet’s grapes are smaller, with a thicker and darker skin than those of pinot noir. As a result, color of wines made from cabernet sauvignon is usually described as violet to dark while color of wines made from pinot noir is associated with ruby.
Second, color is influenced by climatic conditions. A hot summer and dry fall result in ripe grapes, with a dark, intense color. A cold summer and rainy fall will produce undeveloped grapes with a lighter color.
Third, wine-making practices also have an influence on color of wine. For red wine, grapes are fermented with skin. Since coloring agents are in grape skin, and not in juice, longer process of maceration, i.e. longer skin stays with juice, darker wine color will be.
Fourth, process of wine aging also has an influence on color of wine. The young red wines are rich in coloring agents and that makes their color denser and fuller. In course of time chemical reactions take place in bottle and a sediment is formed at bottom. The wine’s color gets lighter and is often described as brick or amber.
Let’s go through an example: you pour yourself a glass of red wine and after carefully observing it, you notice a full granite color, good density, and not so good transparency. What conclusions can you draw?
Well, you can safely say that wine is: - from cabernet sauvignon grapes; - from a Southern region; - relatively young; - from a good yield; - that wine-maker has gone for a good long maceration.
If you know wine, compare what you know with what you see: maybe wine has a very full color and yield has been bad – this speaks of a good wine-making technique; or maybe wine is too pale for its age – this speaks for undeveloped grape or poor wine-making technique.