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Tasting Wine

Once you have your grapes harvested, made into a vintage wine, bottled and labeled it’s time to savor that wonderful nectar.  There is a way that will maximize your enjoyment of any wine.  It is referred to as the five S’s that stands for sight, swirl, sniff and finally sip and savor.  This might seem very basic but it will assure you of the maximum pleasure for each glass of wine you want to enjoy.

STEP #1: THE SIGHT………

It’s basic knowledge that there are two types of wine.  Red and white with some variations of those core colors in-between.  The color of the wine can tell you about its condition and drinkability.  Always judge the color against a white background so that the color is not influenced or shifted by a strong secondary color.  Always try to look down through the wine while tilting the glass.  You are looking for three important factors:

  • Clarity: You are looking for a liquid that is free of sediment. If you look through a glass of water that is filtered you will not see any suspended particulate.  That’s the condition you are looking for in a good glass of wine.  Also if it is a red wine it should be a dark purple to reddish maroon.  If it is a brown color it is a sign of oxidation, which will negatively affect the taste and aroma of the wine.  In white wines the similar condition will produce an amber hue. A clear wine has a visual appeal.
  • Color Depth: There is a difference between color and hue. The best way to describe the difference is the following example.  Red is a color and hue is the variations or intensity of that color. So the darker the hue the more intense you can expect the wines flavor to be.  For instance if you take white wines as an example Pale Pinot Grigio will appear a very light hue of gold while Chardonnay is darker deep gold.  The hue is darker and therefore the wine has a more intense flavor. The same holds true of red wines.
  • Legs: Remember I told you to tilt the glass of wine.  That is to emphasize the trails of wine that slip down the sides of the glass.  Those legs or “tears”, according to the French, are a sign of viscosity and body.  The more legs the heavier body the wine will usually have.

STEP #2: THE SWIRL…….

First of all don’t judge this step.  A lot people think this is the height of snobbery. The real truth is that it is very functional.  The swirling process it to create additional vapor in the wine glass to set-up the smelling phase. The reality is that you don’t smell the liquid but the vapor it gives off.

There are two methods that you can use to swirl your wine. Either one is acceptable.

  1. The first is to set the wine glass on your tabletop and swirl it clockwise or counter-clockwise and this will create adequate aromas for the next step.
  2. The second method is to pick up your glass by the stem and swirl the glass to create the vapor.  Don’t hold the glass by the bowl because it will warm the wine unnecessarily.  The only exception to this technique is if the wine is over chilled and this will prevent the aromas from escaping. In that event use both hands and swirl the glass till sufficient aroma has developed.

STEP #3: THE SNIFF………

By testing the aroma of the wine you will get a sneak preview of what the wine has to offer.  The reason why the sniff is so important is because our sense of smell is more acute than our sense of taste. Additionally, the sense of smell is totally integrated into the tasting process. The aromas that wines produce are distinctly different’

  1. The first type is classified, as “Fruity” and it is the major category to consider.  It ranges from Peaches to citrus fruit to berries.
  2. The second category can range from vegetables, herbs, to minerals.  The amazing fact is that once grapes have been fermented the result can be so far from the taste of just grapes.

Ever wonder why red wines are served in large bowl glasses and white wines use smaller bowls.  That is because whites have a less potent aroma and by using a smaller bowl you concentrate the aromas for the sniff phase of tasting.

STEP #4: THE SIP…………..

Now just take a nice big sip and let it roll around your mouth and over your tongue.  By doing this you should get the maximum impact of the wine by sampling the wine’s flavor as well as the texture. The reason why you swish the wine around and over your tongue is because of the fact that different parts of the tongue detect different tastes.  It is has been shown that the tongue will detect acidity, sweetness, and bitterness on different surface areas. Flavors have different layers so the initial flavor can be followed by additional impressions.

STEP #5: THE SAVOR…….

This is where you try to asses the wine’s finish.  Finish is best described as the aftertaste.  Whenever we taste something you get a first impression and that is the primary flavor.  The taste that lingers is the finish.  It can be pleasant, short or long, tangy or crisp.

Those are the five S’s. If you employ them in your wine tasting efforts you will be pleasantly surprised at all the characteristics that will reveal themselves in your favorite wines.  Even if you have no intention of making your own wine the better your tasting skills the more you will appreciate a good bottle of wine.


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