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      All about tasting the wine
       excerpetd from The New Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia © 2001 by Tom Stevenson


    The difference between tasting and drinking is similar to test-driving a car you may buy and the relish of driving it afterwards. One is a matter of concentration, as you seek out distinguishing merits and faults, while the other is a far more relaxed and enjoyable experience. Tasting is a matter of concentration, and almost anyone can acquire the technique.

    When tasting a wine it is important to eliminate all distractions, especially comments made by others; it is all too easy to be swayed. The wine should be tasted and an opinion registered before any ensuing discussions. Even at professionally led tastings, the expert's job is not to dictate but to educate, to lead from behind, putting into perspective other people's natural responses to smells or tastes through clear and concise explanation. The three "basics" of wine-tasting are sight, smell, and taste, known as "eye", "nose", and "palate".


    The first step is to assess the wine's limpidity, which should be perfectly clear. Many wines throw a deposit, but this is harmless if it settles to yield a bright and clear wine. If it is cloudy or hazy, the wine should be discarded. Tiny bubbles that appear on the bowl or cling persistently to the edge of the glass are perfectly acceptable in a few wines, such as Muscadet sur lie and Vinho Verde, but probably indicate a flaw in most other still wines, particularly if red and from classic Old World regions. The next step is to swirl the wine gently around the glass. So-called "legs" or "tears", thin sinewy threads of wine that run down the side of the glass, may appear. Contrary to popular belief, they are not indicative of high glycerol content, but are simply the effect of alcohol on wine's viscosity, or the way the wine flows. The greater the alcohol content the less free-flowing, or more viscous, the wine actually becomes.

    The colour of wine

    Natural light is best for observing a wine's colour, the first clue to its identity once its condition has been assessed. Look at the wine against a white background, holding the glass at the bottom of the stem and tilting it away from you slightly. Red wines vary in colour from clairet, which is almost rose, to tones so dark and opaque that they seem black. White wines range from a colourless water-white to deep gold, although the majority are a light straw-yellow colour. For some reason there are very few rose wines that are truly pink in colour, the tonal range extending from blue-pink, through purple-pink to orange-pink. Disregard any impression about a wine's colour under artificial lighting because it will never be true - fluorescent light, for example, makes a red wine appear brown.

    Factors affecting color

    The color and tonal variation of any wine, whether red, white, or rose, is determined by the grape variety. It is also influenced by the ripeness of the actual grapes, the area of production, the method of vinification and the age of the wine. Dry, light-bodied wines from cooler climates are the lightest in colour, while fuller- bodied or sweeter-styled wines from hotter regions are the deepest. Youthful red wines usually have a purple tone, whereas young white wines may hint of green, particularly if they are from a cooler climate. The ageing process involves a slow oxidation that has a browning effect similar to the discolouration of a peeled apple that has been exposed to the air.


    Whenever an experienced taster claims to be able to recognize in excess of 1,000 different smells, many wine-lovers give up all hope of acquiring even the most basic tasting skills. Yet they should not be discouraged. Almost everybody can detect and distinguish over 1,000 different smells, the majority of which are ordinary everyday odours. Ask anyone to write down all the smells they can recognize and most will be able to list several hundred without really trying. Yet a far greater number of smells are locked away in our brains waiting to be triggered.

    The wine-smelling procedure is quite simple: give the glass a good swirl, put your nose into the glass, and take a deep sniff. While it is essential to take a substantial sniff, it is not practicable to sniff the same wine again for at least two minutes. This is because each wine activates a unique pattern of nerve ends in the olfactory bulb; these nerve ends are like small candles that are snuffed out when activated and take a little time to reactivate. As a result, subsequent sniffs of the same smell can reveal less and less, yet it is perfectly feasible to smell different smells, therefore different wines, one after the other.


    As soon as one sniffs a wine the natural reaction is to taste it, but do this only after all questions concerning the nose have been addressed. The procedure is simple, although it may look and sound rather strange to the uninitiated. Take a good mouthful and draw air into the mouth through the wine; this makes a gurgling sound, but it is essential to do it in order to magnify the wine's volatile characteristics in the back of the throat. The tongue itself reveals very little; sweetness is detected on its tip, sourness or acidity on the sides, bitterness at the back and top, and saltiness on the front and sides. Apart from these four basic taste perceptions, we smell tastes rather than taste them. Any food or drink emits odorous vapours in the mouth that are automatically conveyed to the roof of the nasal passages. Here the olfactory bulb examines, discerns, and catalogues them - as they originate from the palate the natural inclination is to perceive them as tastes. For many of us it is difficult to believe that we taste with an organ located behind the eyes at the top of the nose, but when we eat ice-cream too quickly, we painfully experience precisely where the olfactory bulb is, as the chilly ice-cream aromas literally freeze this acutely delicate sensory organ. The texture of a wine also influences its taste; the prickly tactile sensation of CO2, for example, heightens our perception of acidity while increased viscosity softens it.


    Whether you are a novice or a Master of Wine, it is always personal preference that is the final arbiter when you are judging wine. The most experienced tasters can often argue endlessly over the relative merits and demerits of certain wines. We all know that quality exists, and more often than not agree which wines have it, and yet we are not able to define it. Lacking a solid definition, most experienced tasters would happily accept that a fine wine must have natural balance and finesse and show a definite, distinctive' and individual character within its own type or style. If we occasionally differ on the question of the quality of wine, should we disagree on what it tastes like? We may love or hate a wine, but surely the taste we perceive is the same? Conveying specific taste characteristics from the mind of one person to that of another is difficult enough, whether one is writing a book or simply discussing a wine at a tasting. Much of this difficulty lies in the words we choose, but the problem is not confined to semantics. In a world of perfect communication, conveying impressions of taste would still be an inexact art because of the different threshold levels at which we pick up elementary tastes and smells, and because of the various tolerance levels at which we enjoy them. If individuals require different quantities of acidity, tannin, alcohol, sugar, esters, and aldehydes in a wine before actually detecting them, then the same wine has, literally, a different taste for each of us. In the unlikely event of people having the same threshold for every constituent and combination of constituents, disagreement would probably ensue because we also have different tolerance levels; therefore, some of us would enjoy what others dislike because we actually like the tastes and smells they dislike. Thresholds and tolerance levels vary enormously; the threshold for detecting sweetness, for example, varies by a factor of five, which explains the "sweet tooth" phenomenon, and there are an infinite number of tolerance levels. Apply this to every basic aroma and flavour and it is surprising that we agree on the description of any wine.

    Pomerantz 6 Bottle Wine Rack w/Pourer
    Pomerantz 6 Bottle Wine Rack w/Pourer
    Towle Beacon Hill Wine Cooler
    Towle Beacon Hill Wine Cooler Keep your wine at its perfect temperature in this attractive and functional Wine Cooler. Features a crosshatch design border, cast in a heavy durable solid brass, plated in brushed nickel - carefree, non-tarnish finish. 9" high x 5 3/8" dia.
    Connoisseur White Wine Goblet
    Connoisseur White Wine Goblet Different wines require different shaped glasses to bring out the intensity of the aromas of the wine and to help direct the wine to specific parts of the tongue. White wines use a taller and slimmer glass. The clear glass lets you enjoy the delicate color of white wine and the long stem will keep the heat of your hands away from the glass, preventing the wine from warming. 19 1/4 oz.
    Farberware® Wine Stopper Set/2
    Farberware® Wine Stopper Set/2 Helps retain the freshness and flavor. Simply place the stopper in the opened bottle top and push the lever down. The stopper expands to form an airtight seal.
    Stemless Red Wine Tumbler Set/4
    Stemless Red Wine Tumbler Set/4 Many experts prefer stemless glasses for the full enjoyment of either red or white wines. These sophisticated wine tumbler are perfectly shaped for the maximum appreciation of bouquet, flavor and finish. Set of four, each 21 oz.


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