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'Taste' wine in three easy steps
Alok Chandra |
July 04, 2005
rinking wine is easy: tilt the wineglass and swallow.
Tasting wine is more of a challenge. You need special tools, the proper environment, keen concentration, a good memory and a vivid imagination.
But after three of four glasses, the basic effect is the same either way. So why bother?
Say you're a cricket fan. When you take a friend (who knows nothing about the game) to the stadium she may enjoy the crowd, cheer when someone hits a six. The rest of the time she's asking: What's the big deal? One guy throws a ball, the other guy misses it (or doesn't).
And everyone gets excited about someone getting out. But, for the fan, every ball bowled is critical: what line the bowler is bowling, how the field is set up, where the batsmen place their strokes, how the strategies of each team work.
When the match is over, everybody knows the score. But while your friend may have passed a pleasant morning, you've really appreciated the finer nuances of the game.
Wine is a similar experience, and that's why wine lovers love to taste, not just drink. We know that the effort put into understanding and appreciating wine -- as opposed to simply enjoying it (or its psychotropic effects) -- pays big dividends.
Really tasting wine adds an extra dimension to the basic routine of eating and drinking. It turns obligation into pleasure, a necessity into a celebration of life.
So what is wine tasting all about?
At the end of the day, wine that tastes good to you is good wine. The goal is to understand a wine, not to unmask it. The effort to understand a wine through tasting, and to share that understanding with others, creates a common experience.
Do remember that tasting is not a test -- your subjective response is more important than any 'right answers' -- this is because sensitivities vary widely when it comes to flavour and aroma.
Look, smell, taste
There are three broad components in wine tasting: Appearance, Aroma, and Taste. Look at the wine, smell it, then taste -- and finally (if you are tasting more than four wines and don't want to end up under the table by the end of the evening) spit out the sample.
The first step is visual -- and here it is essential to use a long-stemmed wine glass that does not have any patterns or etchings that will detract and distract. Fill the wineglass about one-third full, never more than half-full.
Pick it up by the stem (holding the glass by the bowl hides the liquid from view; fingerprints blur its colour; the heat of your hand alters the wine's temperature) and focus on hue, intensity and clarity. Red wines lighten in colour with age, while whites deepen.
The wine should be clear (not cloudy) and bright. Swirl the wine in the glass to examine the 'tears' that form along the inside of the bowl -- this is an indication of the amount of alcohol in the wine (the more tears, the more alcohol).
Next, smell the wine by sticking your nose right into the wine glass and sniffing. There are various techniques, but the basic goal is the same: to draw the aromas deep into the nose and thence to the olfactory bulb where notes are registered and deciphered.
Complex aromas emanate from the wine: these range from flowery, fruity, mineral, herbaceous ('grassy') and spicy to burnt, animal ('cat's pee' is a famous negative) and even ethereal ('waxy'), and each indicate the wine's quality and desirability.
Now comes the best part: with the aromas still reverberating through your senses, put the glass to your lips and sip -- but don't swallow right away! Roll the wine all around your mouth and even try to 'chew' the wine to draw out its flavour.
And don't forget the finish: after you swallow, exhale slowly through both the nose and mouth.
The tastes you will be exposed to fall into several categories -- the first is the 'dryness' or level of sugar in the wine, which is immediately apparent: to an untrained palate, a really dry wine comes across as sour! The next is the acid/ alcohol balance, which manifests itself as the 'mouth-feel' of the wine -- whether it is crisp/ sharp, watery or heavy.
Red wines may give a woody or astringent taste, depending on how the production process has been handled.
And, lastly, there is the aftertaste left in you mouth -- young wines have little or no aftertaste, while a good wine will leave a warm, lingering feeling in the back of your throat.
So, our hypothetical tasting is over. Most of the time, most of us drink young, simple wines. What you pay is what you get -- they may be flavourful and refreshing, but they don't warrant extended analysis.
Sometimes we splurge, opening a bottle from a topflight producer -- this is when tasting technique is essential for full appreciation. And once in a while we get lucky: a special night, close friends, an extraordinary bottle of wine -- that's what it's all about.