Wine Tasting for the Rest of Us

Posted on March 26, 2008

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This is a quick overview of wine tasting, a concise look at terminology, and the basics of tasting wine.

You know all those wine reviews, all the notes you read when you’re in the wine store that you think back to when you’re tasting a wine?  Toss ’em out the window.  Until you’ve smelled and tasted cassis, or kirsch, or cigar box, what’s the use of that language to you?  Trust your palate (your tongue & sense of taste) and your sniffer, and describe wines in terms that make sense to you.  Does it smell like old gym socks?  Got a snootful of old strawberry jam and slimy green pepper?  Awesome, talk about it in those terms.  I once described a wine as smelling like a brand new he-man action figure dipped in raspberry jam, and rolled down a hill of fresh cut grass.  Classical description?  Nope.  Does it work?  Well, anyone that grew up in my age bracket remembers the plasticky smell of Skeletor coming out of the package, and summertime grass as you’re cutting your grandpa’s lawn for 10 dollars.  Add some raspberry and you get something interesting.  Don’t make up crap you read in a magazine, trust what you smell and taste and describe it in terms that you understand and relate to.

Here are some of the common terms used in wine tasting.

Nose/Bouquet – this is the smell of the wine.  Put your nose into the glass and give it a sniff.  Sniff for more than 3-4 seconds and you won’t get anymore information – your olfactory glands will be saturated with alcohol.  Give ’em a few more seconds to desaturate, and sniff again.

Mouthfeel – this is what the wine feels like in your mouth.  Heavy like Aunt Jemima syrup, or light like water – rough like tonic water or silky smooth like vodka fresh from the freezer.

Acidity – this is often described as “sourness”.  I usually get it on the edges of my tongue.  Lick a lemon and you’ll get the idea.  Also causes you to salivate.

Tannins – this is the stuff that dries your mouth out.  If you’ve ever had a wine made from Nebbiolo grapes (Barberesco or Barolo, for example) you know exactly what this is.  Try green tea, only let it steep too long you’ll get the idea – bitter, dries out the mouth.  People sometimes describe tannins as round, ripe, angular, big – all subjective descriptors, so ask the taster when they say “full of ripe tannins” what exactly they mean.

Attack – Usually refers to the first thing you taste in the wine.  Pour it in your mouth, what’s the first thing you think of (don’t say “wine”).

Midpalate – this is the transition from attack to finish.  So after the first stuff you taste, what happens?  Does it disappear?  Get all peppery on you?  Are the flavours you first tasted still there, or other flavours from the nose?

Finish – this is after the initial flavours are gone.  The snobocrats usually rate a long finish better than a short one, but that’s only if it doesn’t taste like ass.  Are the flavours left in your mouth after swallow (or spit, girlie man) pleasant?  All the stuff from the attack and midpalate there still?  Anything new showing up?  Do you like it?

If I can impart one thing during my time publishing this blog, it’s a lesson I learned from my good friend (well, I’ve only been watching his video podcast, I don’t really know him personally) Gary Vaynerchuck (tv.winelibrary.com) – be real, be yourself, and don’t be fooled by the wine snobs.  Forget about feeling intimidated – it’s just fermented grape juice.  Ask questions, trust yourself, and be honest.  Oh and enjoy!  Wine is one of life’s great pleasures.

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Posted in: wine info