WINE ETIQUETTE - PART III: TASTING & DEVELOPING YOUR PALATE

Grab a glass of wine because today, you going to learn the 4 steps to taste wine and develop your palate!

 

1) LOOK

This step can give you hints as to the approximate age, the potential grape varieties, the amount of acidity, alcohol, sugar and even the potential climate (warm vs. cool) where the wine was grown.

 

Age: As white wines age they tend to change color towards more yellow and brown colors, increasing in overall pigment. Red wines  tend to lose color, becoming more transparent as time goes on.

 

Potential Grape Varieties: 

Here are some common hints you can look for in the color and rim variation

◦ often Nebbiolo and Grenache-based wines will have a translucent garnet or orange color on their rim, even in their youth.

◦ Pinot Noir will often have a true-red or true-ruby color, especially from cooler climates

◦ Malbec will often have a magenta pink rim

 

Alcohol and Sugar: Wine legs can tell us if the wine has high or low alcohol and/or high or low sugar. The thicker and more viscous the legs, likely the more alcohol or residual sugar the wine has.

 

2) SMELL

How to judge the smell of wine Aromas in wine nearly give away everything about a wine; from grape variety, whether or not the wine was oak-aged, where the wine is from and how old the wine is. A trained nose and palate can pick all these details out.

 A single glass can have hundreds of different compounds, which is why people smell so many different things.

 

There are 3 categories for Wine aromas:

 

Primary Aromas: Primary aromas are from the type of the grape and the climate where it grows. For instance, Barbera will often smell of licorice or anise, and this is because of compounds in Barbera grapes themselves, not because of a close encounter with a fennel bulb. Generally speaking, the fruit flavors in wine are primary aromas.

 

Secondary Aromas: Secondary aromas come from the fermentation process (the yeast). A great example of this is the “sourdough” smell that you can find in Brut Champagne that is sometimes described as “bready” or “yeasty.” Yeast aromas can also smell like old beer or cheese rind. Another common secondary aroma would be the yogurt or sour cream aroma that comes from malolactic fermentation. 

 

Tertiary Aromas: Tertiary aromas (sometimes referred to as “bouquets”) come from aging wine. Aging aromas come from oxidation, aging in oak and/or aging in bottle over a period of time. The most common example of this is the “vanilla” aroma associated with wines aged in oak. Other more subtle examples of tertiary aromas are nutty flavors found in aged vintage Champagne. Often, tertiary aromas will modify primary aromas, with the fresh fruit of a youthful wine changing to be more dried and concentrated as it develops.

 

3) TASTE

With practice you could be able to blind taste a wine down to the style, region and even possible vintage! Here are the details on what to pay attention to.

 

Sweetness:

The best way to sense sweetness is on the front of your tongue in the first moment you taste a wine. Wines range from 0 grams per liter residual sugar (g/l RS) to about 220 g/l RS. By the way, 220 will have a consistency close to syrup! Sweet table wines are only traditionally made in Alsace, Germany, and the Loire Valley out of white grapes, so if you’re finding sweetness in a red wine that isn’t dessert-style or Manischewitz, you’ve got something weird on your hands!

 

• Dry Wines Most people would draw line for dry wines at around 10 g/l of residual sugar, but the human threshold of perception is only 4g/l. Most Brut Champagne will have around 6-9 gl/l, your average harmoniously sweet German Riesling has about 30 or 40 g/l.

• Acidity Matters Wines with high acidity taste less sweet than wines with low acidity, because we generally perceive the relationship between sweetness and acidity, not the individual parts. Coke has 120 g/l but tastes relatively “dry” because of how much acidity it has! Coke’s really high acid is why you can also melt teeth and hair in it. Coke’s total acidity is way higher than any wine.

 

Acidity:

Acidity plays a major role in the overall profile of a wine because its the mouth-watering factor a wine has, which drives wine’s refreshment You can use these clues to determine if the wine is from a hot or cool climate and even how long it might age.

Acidity refers to pH There are many types of acids in wine but the overall acidity in wine is often measured in pH. Acidity is how sour a wine tastes. You generally perceive acidity as that mouthwatering, pucker-ing sensation in the back of your jaw. High acid wines are often described as “tart” or “zippy”. pH in wine ranges from 2.6 which is punishingly acidic to about 4.9 which is barely detectable as tart, because it’s much closer to the neutral 7.0 measurement.

• Most wines range between 3 and 4 pH.

• High Acidity wines are more tart and mouth-watering.

• High Acidity can indicate a wine from a cooler climate region or wine grapes that were picked early.

• Low acidity wines tend to taste smoother and creamier, with less mouth-watering qualities.

• Super low acidity wines will taste flat or flabby.

 

Tanin:

Tannin is a red wine characteristic and it can tell us the type of grape, if the wine was aged in oak and how long the wine could age. You perceive tannin only on your palate and only with red wines; it’s that cotton-ball-like drying sensation.

Tannin comes from 2 places: the skins and seeds of grapes or oak aging. Every grape variety has a different inherent level of tannin, depending on it’s individual character. For example, Pinot Noir and Gamay have inherently low-levels of tannin, whereas Nebbiolo and Cabernet have very high levels.

• Grape Tannins Tannin from grape skins and seeds is typically more abrasive and can taste more green.

• Oak Tannins Tannin from oak will often taste more smooth and round. It typically hits your palate in the center of your tongue.

 

Alcohol:

Alcohol can sometimes tell us the intensity of a wine and the ripeness of the grapes that went into making the wine.

• Alcohol level can add quite a bit of body and texture to wine.

• Alcohol Ranges from 5% ABV – 16% ABV. A sub-11% ABV table wine usually means something with a little natural sweetness. Dry wines at 13.5% to 16% ABV are all going to be quite rich and intensely flavored. Fortified wines are 17-21% ABV.

• Alcohol Level directly correlated to the sweetness of the grapes prior to fermenting the wine. Fort this reason, lower ABV (Sub-11%) wines will often have natural sweetness; their grape sugar wasn’t all turned into booze.

• Warmer growing regions produce riper grapes which have the potential to make higher alcohol wines.

• Low vs. High Alcohol Wine Neither style is better than the other, it’s simply a characteristic of wine.

 

Body:

Body can give us clues to the type of wine, the region it was grown and the possible use of oak aging. Body usually is directly related to alcohol, but think of body as how the wine “rests” on your palate. When you swish it around in your mouth, does it feel like skim, 2%, or whole milk? That texture will roughly correspond with, light, medium, and full bodied in wine. Usually body will also correspond with alcohol, but various other processes like lees stirring, malolactic fermentation, oak aging, and residual sugar can all give a wine additional body and texture.

 

4) CONCLUSION

This is your opportunity to sum up a wine. What was the overall profile of the wine? Fresh fruits with an acid-driven fish? Jammy fruits with oak and a broad, rich texture?

In a scenario when you are blind tasting a wine, you would use this moment to attempt to guess what the wine is that you’re tasting. Try hosting your own private blind tasting to hone your skills.

 

Cheers!