The wine establishment would have you believe that the art of tasting, let alone understanding, our favourite drink is wrapped up in some sort of mystique that only the most experienced of tasters can decode.
Follow this easy 4-step guide to breaking down a wine and you’ll be Robert Parker in no time…not to mention enjoy your glass a whole lot more!
- Is the wine clear or hazy? If it is the latter, it could be faulty
- Age is indicated, in whites, by an increasing gold/amber colour; in reds, if it shows brown tinges – or is an outright tawny hue – it has age on it
- Does it smell of damp cardboard? If so, your wine is corked!
- If the nose is clean though, think about the intensity of what you can smell: is it unassuming and neutral, or pronounced and aromatic?
- Can you only smell fruit, or can you detect the influence of the winemaker (e.g. oak)? An age giveaway is oxidative (coffee, caramel) and/or reductive (savoury, vegetal) characteristics
- What can you smell? In whites, is it citrus-led, or green, stone, or tropical fruit – this will indicate how ripe the grapes were when picked. In reds, look out for red, black or dried fruit. Any oak (vanilla, toast) present? How about anything mineral-, spice- or vegetable-related? Think of aromas from your past and be expressive when describing things!
- Time to finally taste your wine. First up, assess its sweetness – is it a dry wine or can you detect some sugar?
- A wine is said to have balance if its acidity, tannin (in reds), alcohol and flavour are all aligned – so think about each of them in turn. Acidity can be detected at the sides of your tongue, while tannin causes a drying sensation on your gums
- How is its body? If wine were milk, skimmed type would be light bodied, normal would be medium, and condensed would be full-bodied – this is what people refer to when talking about weight
- Flavour characteristics…what does your wine actually taste of? Like palate, refer to different fruit and flavour types, and what dominates
- Lastly, a wine’s finish is a reliable indicator of quality: pick any flavour characteristic, and assess the degree to which it lingers on the palate after you’ve swallowed or spat the wine out. For example, if that pleasant herbaceous blackcurrant taste in your Cabernet keeps going for 10 seconds+, you’re drinking a good wine!
- So, what do you think of it? Is it worth the money you, or someone else, paid for it?
- Think about its quality, based on all the factors you’ve expertly described above, and decide if it is poor, acceptable, good, or even outstanding
- Finally, is it better that you’re drinking your wine now, or could it be aged? (assuming you have more!) You can determine this by considering that all-important balance, and whether those four factors are there to support an extended period of rest in the bottle