Wine tasting is a strange process as it’s practically impossible for it to be objective. There is a common denominator however, so even if we don’t all use the same vocabulary, there tends to be some kind of consensus. The process itself varies depending on where the taster is from (the French have a different way of doing it to, say, the Australians) and what his or her job description is; an oenologist or a sommelier for example. Αfter years of wine tasting, I’d like to share four tips with you which have really helped me in my career.
1) Smell first and then swirl
Many tasters are too quick to swirl the wine the minute it’s poured into a glass, resulting in them missing out on some of the more subtle aromas. As you are served a glass of wine do nothing other than pass it under your nose briefly in order to give it a quick sniff. This first contact with the wine tends to be crucial in your overall judgement as it will give you the tell tale aroma. I’ve also noticed that the first contact often wakes up unbelievable taste memories. Then you can smell the wine again, swirl it around and smell again so you can get into the other layers, if there are any! Most varieties have some tell tale aroma which betrays which kind of wine they are; petrol for Riesling, pepper for Cabernet and the infamous tomato for Xinomavro.
2) Swirling correctly begins at the elbow
It’s wrong to swirl by moving our wrist as you’re bound to get dirty eventually. The right movement involves keeping your upper arm still and moving from the elbow down. You don’t have to overdo it with the swirling either, it won’t make the wine taste any better! 2-3 times is enough as we do this to get oxygen to the wine and smell it directly thereafter.
3) Look out for three taste levels in your mouth
Good wines develop into three phases. The first impression is important because of things like acidity but it’s not the most important. The next level or middle palate shows off the heart of the wine, good or bad. The aromatic intensity and aftertaste form part three and give us the complete picture. So when you’re tasting wine don’t focus on the obvious (tannins, acidity, alcohol content) as they’re the structural elements. Try to read them in the way the wine presents them to you, in context.
4) Reach a conclusionForce yourself to reach a conclusion other than whether you liked it or not. Take a step back and treat the wine as you would a work of art; first impressions can deceive after all! Look at the wine as a whole. Was it balanced, harmonious or a little difficult to understand? At this stage the world’s best wine tasters look for the icing on the cake: apart from good, was the wine elegant and refined?
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