Side-by-side tasting will provide the chance to discover the differences between wines much better then tasting a bottle at a time. It eliminates the differences in perception by mood, environment or by different foods paired with the wines. These influences can be substantial.
Check the color, the depth of the color and the clarity of the wine. This can easily be done by holding your glass against a white background and looking through the wine glass.
Wine being organic is constantly changing. The color changes as the wine becomes more mature. Color depth and intensity can give you an idea about the richness of the wine in terms of fruit ripeness and extract.
Young white wines start off very pale to straw colored and gain color through oxidation over age to gold-colored. Reds loose color. If they are brown-amber colored they are usually too old. Color terms for white wine are: pale yellow-green, straw yellow, yellow-gold, gold, old gold, yellow-brown, brown.
All wines should be clear and bright, with no cloudiness present. Haziness in a wine should serve as a warning that the wine is troubled. But don’t confuse haziness with sediment; the sediment in a bottle of wine is a natural product of aging and will settle out. You will find this especially with unfiltered wines.
Sometimes in white wine on the bottom of the bottle or the cork you will find white crystals. Disregard them, they are inert tasteless tartrate crystals and can be seen as a sign of quality. Only wines with a lot of minerals and high acid can form those crystals.
Swirling the wine in your glass will leave drippings coming down from the rim of the glass. They are referred to as legs. A dry light wine will have thin legs that flow freely. A heavy bodied wine should have more condensed solid looking legs.
Swirling also aerates the wine by increasing the surface area. It releases the aroma and bouquet into the air in the glass which you will sniff in the next step.
The nose is a very reliable tool in determining the quality of a wine. Take your time and a deep sniff. The nose can detect as many as 10,000 (no typo, ten thousand) different smells (versus the mouth which has only 5 sensor types). Again, take your time. The different scents come from the grape varieties used, the soils or treatments of the wine (ex: oak-aging, sulfuring). Feel free to put your nose into the glass.
AROMA and BOUQUET are the two terms to describe the smell of a wine.
The mouth can only detect a few different flavors. Sweetness it detected by the tip of the tongue, bitterness or tannins by the back of the tongue. The sides reveal sourness and acidity. So running a tiny sip over the tongue tells only dry from sweet but very little about the fruit – acidity balance of the wine. Take a good size sip and chew it so the wine is exposed to all the taste sensors in your mouth. Sucking in air at the same time aerates the wine and releases more flavors out of it. Suddenly you will find much more going on in that wine you have been used to drinking.
What is looked for is HARMONY and BALANCE in wines. The three main elements that determine the taste of a wine are:
Less ripe grapes will have less extract and more acidity and a lower natural sugar content versus more ripe grapes which will have more extract, less acidity and more natural sugar.
These elements work together to create the taste of the wine on your palette. High acidity will make the wine taste tart which can be very refreshing but can be softened with some sweetness. Lower acidity makes the wine taste softer and can, in conjunction with ripe fruit, make a very full dry or with the right amount of sweetness, a luscious sweet wine.
Now it’s time to do something with the chewed and aerated wine in your mouth. As you swallow, the wine will leave an impression which is referred to as the FINISH. If after the finish there is still some taste, that is the aftertaste.
The finish and aftertaste tells you about the acidity, the finesse and the balance of the wine. Lingering fruit flavors and acidity indicate a long finish. Strongly oaked wines matured in a heavy toast barrel will leave a smoky aftertaste.
Remark: Spitting is encouraged. That way the wine can be tasted but of most of the wine will not end up in your body. Swallow only a little bit in order to still get the finish. This is especially important if you plan on driving after the tasting.