When we start tasting wine and really want to learn more about it, one of the first things we do is start paying more attention when we taste wine on the first sip.
Developing a little routine of how we go about it and a little mental database, that sensory checklist of characteristics that we look for is one of the first steps in really expanding your wine experience and building your wine confidence.
When it comes to the mechanics of tasting, there's a few things that we want to always do every time we try a new wine.
1) Look at the color. A white background really helps to give us a sense of whether this red wine is translucent or opaque for example, or whether a white wine is almost water white, or has that golden tinge that we associate with aging.
2) The next thing that we're going to do is swirl the glass, and swirling freehand like this up in the air can be a little dangerous the first time you try. I recommend using a table top or a surface and holding the stem of the glass as if it was a pencil between your fingers. Pretend you're drawing little circles on the bar top. After we've swirled, we've coated the inside of the wine glass with a layer of wine which increases its evaporation rate and amplifies its smells. All of those sense that we know and appreciate in white and red wines are amplified so that swirling the wine glass is almost like turning up the volume on the stereo, you're just doing it for your nose.
3) Take a nice sip, a little bit larger than you might take as a sip socially and squish it around on the inside of the mouth before we're ready to swallow. Doing this makes sure that we coat every surface area, that we hit every taste bud, that we get as much textural impact as we can and really gives us a much stronger impression of the flavor and feel of the wine in the mouth. You can almost pretend your chewing the wine, or even like it's your mouth wash in the morning. The important thing is to hold it for a few seconds and make sure you hit every surface.
Among our senses there are 4 that we use when we're tasting wine.
Visual, sight, we look at taste, smell and touch as well.
On visuals, this is definitely a red wine, not a white or a pink wine. In terms of it's density of color, we have translucency at the core, so this is on the paler end of the spectrum.
In terms of flavor and taste on the taste buds, this wine when I tasted it, did not have any noticeable sweetness at the tip of the tongue, so it's a style that we would call dry, meaning not sweet at all.
The next taste I look for is acidity, which is something we feel more down the sides of the tongue, often as a perceptible tingling, sort of like what you would get with lemon or vinegar. This would be a medium acidity wine.
When we come to the next sense that we're going to examine that is our olfactory sense, but we remember that smell does not just come this way when we inhale from the glass, but also scent rises up from the mouth through the retro nasal passage to reach our olfactory center every time we taste the wine as well.
In terms of flavors, we look for two categories. The wines fruit, which is all of the smells and flavors that are associated with the grapes and wine making, which of course occur in all wines and the smell and flavor of oak which only occurs when we use new oak barrels for either fermenting or maturing the wine.
In the case of this lovely California Pinot Noir, we have both moderate fruit and moderate oak component going on.
Last but not least, the last items on our sensory checklist are to look at tactile sensations. Things we perceive with our sense of touch, and no I don't mean that we're going to be feeling feeling the wine with our fingers, I mean that we're going to be feeling it inside the mouth.
Wines of different alcoholic strength feel different in terms of their texture. With higher alcohol wines feeling fuller bodied, and lower alcohol wines feeling lighter and more sheer in the mouth.
This wine at about 13, 13 and a half percent alcohol though is right at the medium bodied end of the spectrum.
Generally speaking, tannin is something that expresses itself as a feeling of dryness, almost like somebody has patted off the top of your tongue with a paper towel.
This Pinot Noir is on the low end, the soft end of the tannin spectrum and is not something that would be described as astringent or aggressive.
This covers our tasting technique. We're going to see, we're going to swirl, sniff, sip and savor and every time we do, we're going to walk through how the wine looks, how it tastes, how it smells and how it feels and rate it on our sensory checklist of characteristics.