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Tasting & Labels

Wine 101...

These brief excerpts from a book by Michael Polseno helped me immensely in tasting and understanding wine.

THE METHOD OF EVALUATION by Michael Polseno

Setting:

Wine evaluation should be conducted using a clear crystal glass of approximately 8-10 ounces. A white tablecloth is preferable and a good light source is certainly helpful. The glass should be no more than 1/4 filled, allowing better appreciation of appearance and aroma.

Appearance:

Attempt to describe the wine’s color, clarity, and comment on its “legs” and maturity. Holding the glass by its stem, tilt it away from you and look through the upper portion of the wine’s edge to best determine its true color. A maturing wine will appear to have a slight browning or lightening at its edge. Next, hold the glass to a light source and look directly through to ascertain is clarity. Next, swirl the wine a few times in the glass, allowing the wine to cover the upper 2/3 of the wall. Observe the “legs” as the wine falls from the glass wall. The legs may be very thick, or thin, may drop very rapidly, or very slowly. The richer and thicker the wine, the slower and thicker will be the wine’s legs.

Nose:

One of the more important qualities of a wine is its nose, because the aroma or bouquet of a wine will follow through to its taste and finish. It’s also one of the most subjective of evaluations because each person’s sense of smell can be quite different. It’s very difficult to describe something you have not smelled and identified previously. In order to determine the wine’s nose you must again swirl the wine in the glass, bring your nose directly into the glass and smell. Repeat this procedure several times before actually tasting the wine. You should be able to describe more aromas each time you smell. Properly described, the aromas are odors originating from the grapes of the wine and the bouquet are odors originating from older wines that have developed within the bottle during its aging process.

Taste:

A wine’s taste is determined by evaluating its sweetness, its acidity and bitterness. Its flavor is a combination of these things and its nose. Remember, 80% of what we think we taste we actually smell. Without our olfactory senses wine and food taste very bland. To describe the wine’s taste, take a small sip and first ascertain its degree of sweetness and properly describe it. Off dry, dry, etc. Next, move the wine further back in the mouth to the middle portion of your tongue and attempt to describe the wine’s degree of acidity. Then move the wine to the back of the mouth and describe its degree of bitterness or tannin. Because white wines are characteristically not tannic, you would substitute wood taste rather than tannin when evaluating. Take several small sips and concentrate individually on each major taste characteristic. Then take a larger sip of wine and attempt to chew the wine bringing it into contact with the entire roof of the mouth, pressing the tongue against the palate to determine the wire’s body and texture. Degree of alcohol accounts primarily for a wine’s body. You could expect a wine higher in alcoholic content to be a big, full wine while a lower alcoholic content would produce a light or thin wine. Next, attempt to ascertain the wine’s flavor by holding a sip of wine in the mouth for a few seconds aerating it to reveal its taste and olfactory components. Look to the nose characteristics and combine all of the individual taste characteristics to describe the wine’s overall flavor. Attempt to comment about the wine’s ageability. Does it have the necessary balance of elements to age gracefully? Acid balances against sweetness, fruit balances against oak and tannin and alcohol balances against acid and flavor. Ask yourself the questions, “Is this wine overly acidic? Lacking fruit so that it will simply dry out as it ages? Does alcohol dominate against the acid and flavor?” Such a wine will give a very warm or hot feeling in the mouth. Is the wine well balanced with a proper degree of bouquet, sweetness, acidity and flavor?

Finish:

A wine’s finish and aftertaste is also an important characteristic. After swallowing the wine you have tasted, evaluate how it moves through the throat Is it rough? Smooth? Oily? Watery? Again look to the nose and determine the wine’s aftertaste. Oftentimes a wine’s aftertaste may be completely different than its flavor in the mouth. Evaluate how long this taste remains with you and describe it as short, medium, long, etc.

I found a simple, generic wine tasting evaluation sheet a few years back and have used it ever since:

Below are a couple of brief gems regarding wine labels:

Up Tasting & Labels Flights of Fancy Food

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