Yes, let’s taste some wine-- but let’s do it right. We want to experience all the subtleties the grape grower and winemaker worked for to impart on their product. So let’s review the basics and get tasting!
First, the wine must look good. It should be clear and bright. Young white wines should look fresh and have a greenish tinge; only oaked white wines may have a more pronounced straw color. Older white wines develop a deep straw-golden color but should still look fresh. If a white wine has a brown color it is oxidized and may be undesirable, a bit like apple that has browned. If the wine is cloudy, this could be a warning that bad things are to come.
Young red wine should have bright purple tinges on the edge of the glass. Older red wines will lose the purple hue and become ‘brick-red’ and ultimately brown.
The next step is to smell the wine and determine if it shows varietal or stylistic characters. A wine should not smell bad, peculiar, ‘off’ or uncharacteristic of the grape variety. Swirling the glass can amplify many of the volatile components and give you a more complete appreciation of the wine. Also, try letting the glass stand for a few minutes and then gently smell the wine to determine what else may be going on. At this stage you may pick up more subtle aromas.
As the wine warms up, different components will emerge. Some wines won’t reach their potential until they have “breathed” for an hour or more.
Finally we get the reward of tasting the wine. We should have a pretty good idea what we are going to experience from our earlier assessment. Now we look for flavor, the balance of the acidity, how long the flavor stays with us, and sadly, if there are any off-flavors to contend with.
In technical tasting during competitions, wines are frequently judged using the University of California at Davis 20 point scale. Each wine starts with 20 points and scores are deducted for faults (off colors, bad aromas, flabby mouth feel), missing components (where’s the varietal fruit?) and overall taste. The color and appearance is worth 3 points, the bouquet 7 points and palate is 10 points. The scoring is Bronze medal 15.5 to 16.9 points, Silver is 17 to 18.5 points and Gold is 18.5 points and higher.
You don’t have to score the wines you taste. But, if you keep in mind the process you will be able to become more astute in your tasting and enjoyment of wine.
by Barrie Cleveland & Chris Cameron