BRUNELLO’S NOSE KNOWS….
TASTING WINE LIKE AN EXPERT!
We talk about wines from certain regions, wines that are dry and sweet, wines that are bubbly and still, yet we haven’t really discussed how the experts come to taste and rate a wine, and how you can, too! Every Friday night we hold tastings from 5 to 7:45, and our vendors come in and pour wines for you to sample from all over the world. Some people go back to their favorites, some people like to try new things. Some folks taste them all and still buy their old standby. The idea of tasting, and evaluating, is so you can become better educated on your own personal preferences. How do you know what you like? And why? How do you choose a bottle of wine from the thousands of labels we have here at Ed’s? Let’s explore the tasting process and see for ourselves!
There are currently three schools of professional wine educators, all based in Europe. The Court of Masters Sommeliers is geared toward the service industry. Most Sommeliers work for restaurants or hotel chains. It takes great work and practice tasting, geography knowledge and experience to pass the Court of Masters. There was even a movie made about the experience! A grueling test requiring hours and hours of study with a huge failure rate. There is the Society of Wine Educators, also head quartered in Europe. This is another grueling test to become a Certified Specialist of Wine, and then a Master of Wine. There are few in the world who have been able to pass and hold the title. Third, there is the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, WSET, out of London, England. This requires knowledge of both wine and liquor and has three levels, the third being the most difficult to pass. All three of these institutions use a similar format for their tasting and evaluating wine. We will borrow from all three, and conclude that we are masters of our own palettes and can assess what we like and make better purchases!
Tasting 101- simply follow your senses:
Hold the glass to the light, or against a white background. The wine should be brilliantly clear (unless you are drinking an older vintage). The depth of color is also significant, and with tasting experience, you learn what it should be for each variety of wine. For instance, a Chardonnay should have a pale yellow to light straw color. There should be no particles or other visible flaws, and the wine should be clean looking. If there happen to be small crystals stuck to the cork or floating on the bottom of the bottle, these tartrates are harmless. This is usually a result of the natural potassium acid level being high. At some point after the wine left the winery, it was chilled enough to cause the crystals to form. Tartaric Acid is what makes Cream of Tartar that we use in baking. Harmless.
Tears or legs. When the wine is swirled and then gently glides down the sides of the glass, these clear droplets are called “legs” or “tears” and generally are thicker and more prominent in a higher alcohol content wine.
Swirl the wine in the glass to release all its fragrances. Aroma refers to a young wine, while bouquet refers to a wine with some age. Sniff deeply using all of your sinus cavity; with experience you will be able to tell a wine’s age by simply a whiff. Does the wine smell like fruit or flowers, does it smell like minerals or mold? These are clues to tell you what to expect once you taste. Some people can tell if a wine is “off” by simply smelling it. There are many things that can destroy the smell and flavor of a wine, often smelling sulfur immediately after opening a bottle only means the wine was bottled quite quickly after fermentation finished. Often these aromas will blow off and the wine will taste and smell fine.
Take a small sip and swallow. Then, take a second sip, but hold the wine in your mouth and roll it all over your taste buds. Suck in air through your teeth to warm up the wine. This allows your entire olfactory system to take in all of the aromas and flavors.
How does the mouth feel after you swallow? Was the wine heavy or light bodied, is it still lingering with flavors, is it watery or syrupy? Does it burn? Is the alcohol too high. Alcohol can be perceived as a soft covering of the tongue, or a hot finish.
Wait a moment or two after you swallow. The “finish” of the wine, or “length” refers to the after taste. Do you still have a certain taste in your mouth? Are your cheeks getting pulled in, or is there so much acidity that you are generating saliva? The aftertaste should always be pleasant, be it oak, acid or fruit, depending on the varietal you are tasting. Let’s go back to that Chardonnay we discussed in the sight category. A Chardonnay should smell of tropical fruit, possibly even banana and even pear or apple. The wine will only taste like vanilla if it has been aged in a wood (oak) barrel. It will only taste buttery if it has gone through a secondary fermentation. This process is called Malolactic Fermentation- where the tart malic acid, which is naturally present in grapes, is turned into the softer, lactic acid. This typically happens when the winemaker adds yeast after the first fermentation process- Chardonnay becomes very buttery (think of milk- lactic acid) and butter (soft). This process is avoided in wines like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, in order to keep the more tart flavors.
A perfect expression of one of our buttery flavored Chardonnays in the store would be Raeburn Chardonnay- Russian River Valley in Sonoma, California. The wine shows typical apple and pear fruit, but a creamy, buttery finish from aging on the lees (the dead yeast cells) and from the secondary (Malolactic Fermentation). It’s a favorite of Ed’s, I give it two bones on the Brunello scale!! Enjoy your evaluations and learning what wines you like and why.
By Brunello Giancola as told to CRBrown