Learning the skill of wine tasting

Why not try your hand at wine tasting?

Why not try your hand at wine tasting? - Credit: Archant

lthough wine is made to drink and enjoy, it is useful to be able to appreciate the intrinsic qualities of the wines we consume. Mastering the art of tasting enables us to increase our enjoyment of wine as it helps us realise why we like or dislike certain varieties and thus can select those we enjoy from a restaurant wine list.

Initially, the thought of critical wine tasting can be daunting as we usually open the bottle, pour and enjoy without too much thought! Sipping and spitting may seem somewhat unnecessary except when faced with a large number of wines to taste.

However, tasting need not be taken seriously, can be a fun social exercise and the essential elements are easy to learn. The important thing to remember is that anyone can be a good taster, as long as they have an unimpaired sense of smell and taste, and are prepared to concentrate.

Many of you may have seen such television series as the Food and Drink Programme with Jilly Goolden and Oz Clark and may have thought it was all an exaggerated art using flowery verbose descriptions that were difficult to relate to the liquid in the glass!

It made for a good programme but underneath all the flamboyance was the essential elements of wine tasting – the four stages of appearance, aroma, taste and finish. If a wine looks bright and appealing it is usually in good condition, the aroma aids the taster to anticipate the taste and also provide an insight into how it was made and whether any oak was used for example as well as the grape it was made from as the varieties all have individual characteristics obvious on the ‘nose’ or smell of the wine. A mouthful of the wine slooshed around the mouth will confirm the elements of the aroma and also allow an assessment of its quality and whether it is ready to drink.

Initially attending tutored tastings can be useful as one picks up the terminology used and measures one’s tasting skills against others to gradually build up a meaningful memory bank of wine notes. Tasting notes, however brief, using terms that mean something to the taster are useful as one’s memory may not be so good after a tasting of a range of wines and are a usful reference later. The type of glass used affects one’s ability to taste and the best glasses are tall with a tapered top that captures the aroma after the wine is swirled in the glass so it can be considered.

Most grape types have universally accepted simple descriptive terms that can be applied to them whever the wine is produced. An example of this can be seen with Sauvignon Blanc as it always produces refreshing tangy wines with notes of grapefruit and lime. In New Zealand gooseberry fruit notes are more obvious compared to the leafy pepper notes from Chile and the Loire Valley and these can be picked when tasting critically thus allowing a rational choice to be made from a wine list based on knowledge of the style.

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Red grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon also have distinctive characteristics including blackcurrant fruit, structure from the tannins plus perhaps chocolate and coffee from oak aging. The leafy herbaceous Cabernet flavours are more obvious from Chilean Cabernets, whereas in France there is more tannin and structure and in Australia they are mouthfilling silky and rich.

There are so many wines available to buy and enjoy, all are different in some way from each other and as individuals we won’t like all wines because of their flavour nor we will always like the same wines as others. So why not join in informal tastings held in wine shops or tutored tastings to build up your personal preferred wine list or get a group of like-minded friends together and start regular tasting sessions? Remember, wine tasting and drinking should be fun!