Feel unsure when asked if you'd like to taste the wine in a restaurant? Relax – many people feel the same way. Wine tasting can seem intimidating, a skill that requires a lot of knowledge. But in fact all you need are your senses: sight, smell, and taste. Read on for some tips from Baron de Lestac on the art of wine tasting, and learn how to interpret what you perceive.
The secret of a successful tasting is to let the wine fully express all its nuances and aromas. But before we get into the details, here are a few tips to help awaken your senses.
It might not seem obvious, but the location for tasting needs some consideration. Choose a room that is odour-free (so avoid tasting in the kitchen after preparing food, for example) to avoid your senses being distracted. A room that has plenty of natural light will allow you to fully perceive all the wine's nuances.
The choice of wine glass is all-important. Opt for a glass with a stem and foot (holding the glass by the stem rather than the bowl avoids heating the wine with your fingers). A perfectly clean, transparent glass means that you will be able to appreciate the colour of the wine.
A glass and cork screw are the basic essentials, but there are many other useful accessories, such as drop stops, wine thermometers, carafes, spittoons and so on. For more information, read this article about wine tasting accessories.
Wine tasting involves sight, smell and taste. Tasters analyse wine's three facets, namely its visual, olfactory and gustatory aspects.
Before assessing the colour, examine the wine's visual aspect. Unless it is an older vintage, a quality wine is clean and bright. Swirl it in the glass to better observe its texture, and to see if it leaves any tears (also known as legs) on the sides of the glass.
The colour (known as the robe) is then assessed, observing not only the dominant colour but also any highlights, as these can change over time and indicate the wine's age. For example, for red wines, the robe of a young wine ranges from purplish-blue to purple, developing into brick-red and then brown as time goes by.
The two senses of smell and taste are intimately linked, which is why it is important to smell the wine before tasting it. A wine's aromas can give clues about the grape varieties used, how the wine was vinified and matured, or indeed its age.
This olfactory assessment is a two-step process. The “first nose” refers to what can be detected by simply smelling the wine, without swirling it in the glass. In this way we judge the intensity of the aromas, and identify the key aroma groups (floral, fruity, woody...). This is also the moment where any faults (eg. a corked wine) are detected.
The second step consists of swirling the wine in the glass, before smelling it again. Airing the wine in this way allows the aromas to reveal themselves, making them more evident. Before trying to name them all, simply refer to smells that are familiar to you - your grandmother's jam, or toasted bread – and with practice, you will learn to associate what you perceive with specific aromas.
Now comes the final stage: tasting the wine. This is a three-step process, namely the attack, the mid-palate and the finish.
The attack is the initial taste of the wine, what we detect at the first sip. Before analysing the notes, we can detect a sensation that is more (or less) agreeable, depending on individual preferences. An unpleasant sensation may indicate a fault (perhaps the grapes were under-ripe), but the main point to remember is that we are trying to assess the overall balance between acidity, sweetness, bitterness, saltiness and so on.
The mid-palate is a deeper examination of what is perceived on the palate. To do this, tasters suck in a little air, which helps reveal the aromatic nuances. At this stage the wine's structure is assessed in terms of its body, fullness, perhaps a silky quality, its lightness, elegance and so on.
Lastly the wine's finish is assessed, by measuring the time the taste persists on the palate. The longer the finish, the better the quality of the wine. Of course, the finish can also reveal other gustatory nuances such as freshness, or spicy notes.
You are now ready to fully enjoy the sensory experience that is wine tasting. All you need to do know is practise and the Bordeaux wines of Baron de Lestac are just right for this.