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A Basic Guide to Wine Tasting

February 27, 2015

wine tastingA ‘swirl and sip’ session is a very popular activity around here, with the Cape Winelands right on the doorstep of Penny Lane Lodge.

Not everyone is a ‘wine aficionado’ so here are a few tips for getting the best out of those wine-tasting and wine-pairing sessions which so many of the wine farms up the road have on offer. The more refined your senses the better you’re able to understand and enjoy the wines you come across, so you can get the very best out of your tastings. And you’ll look the part too!

Take a good look

Hold up the glass by the stem and tilt it slightly. Look through the glass against a white background if you can. You are looking at the clarity and intensity of the colour. Colour indicates age: a lighter liquid is usually a fairly young wine, while a deeper, richer colour suggests an older wine. Older red wines can sometimes be a brownish red.

Next swirl the wine around the glass to create a thin film of wine on the inside. You will see the ‘legs’ running down and it is these which determine the body or texture. The thicker the legs the fuller body. Full-bodied wines are bold and powerful, and tend to have a higher alcohol content. In contrast, light-bodied wines are more delicate and refined.

Inhale the aroma

A good swirl is needed to release the full aroma of a wine. As you swirl the wine in the glass it increases the exposure to cartoonthe air and allows more of the aroma to be released. Put the edge of the glass up to your nose and your open your mouth a little. Take a deep sniff to get your first impressions of the wine. Try to identify types of scent rather than specific ones – floral, fruity or grassy for example.

If you get a musty smell the wine may be ‘corked’ which means the wine has been contaminated by an airborne fungus that infiltrates the cork. The fungus is harmless but the smell – and therefore the taste – ruins a wine.

Get the taste

To taste the ‘palate’ try to take in a little air as you first taste the wine. This will aerate the wine and release more of the aromas. Roll the wine over your tongue and as you swallow, breathe out through your nose so that your sense of smell and sense of taste work together. With the next sip and move the wine around your mouth like you would a mouthwash. The idea is to then compare the scents and aromas you discovered with your nose with those you experience with your mouth.

The taste of a wine comprises two basic elements: flavour and structure. Flavours will be things like blackberry, chocolate or strawberry; the structure is about the level of sweetness, alcohol, acidity, and tannin.

Dry or sweet: dry does not mean the wine is bitter; it just means it isn’t sweet. Dessert wines are usually sweet.
Alcohol: this is that slight burning feeling you get at the back of your throat after swallowing some wine. The more heat the higher alcohol content.
Acidity: a good level of acidity makes a wine taste crisp and fresh.
Tannin: if a wine contains a lot of tannin your mouth will dry up a little when you sip the wine. Such wines are better with food.

If these elements are balanced with no single element dominating, then this usually indicates a good quality wine.

Go for the finish

The last impression of a wine is the finish: The taste that stays on the palate after the wine has been swallowed. The length of the finish is the final indicator of the wine’s quality. That taste can be short and crisp, or it can linger for a minute or more, continuing to unfold the flavour secrets of the wine before finally fading away. Generally, more extensive finishes will be evident in higher quality wines.

When drinking a dry white wine, you will usually find a clean, crisp finish. With age, the wine tends to soften and the finish will become more round (subtle changes and fading) and long. Oak aging imparts a longer, more complex finish. Young reds tend to be lighter in taste and are more approachable for the uninitiated palate. But the truly world-class reds produce a long, lingering taste in the mouth which continues to develop and which is as complex as the wine itself.

glassesDeveloping the skill of wine tasting takes practice. The more wines you taste, the better you will become with the whole sensory process. Sounds like a good excuse for another tasting trip…cheers!

Next time we’ll start to look at some of the local wine farms where you can put this into practice.


From → Food and drink

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