Do you know what kind of wine you like?
Wine can be such a complex beverage and each bottle has interesting features, if you get to know it! Finding what you like to drink is part of the fun of wine tasting. For me, a bold Cabernet Sauvignon has always been my go to favorite. However, I learned a lot more about my preferences after participating in a virtual wine education session with The Blending Lab, a winery out of Los Angeles. For the session, we received three bottles of wine and what you would think was a science kit, with beakers, cylinders and more. The goal was to make a wine perfect for me. Instead, I walked away with a better understanding of what to look for in a wine based on my preferences. And what I ended up with was definitely not a Cabernet Sauvignon!
The great part of that entire experience was that I learned how to taste test at home and apply it to any bottle of wine. In simple terms, think about how we teach our children to understand their senses. The same is easily applied to wine.
The three senses to use when tasting wine:
Now, get out a glass of wine and follow along with me as I review the senses!
The Sight of the Wine
By looking at the wine, you can get a good sense of the three elements. The things to look at are the color, the opacity and viscosity. Viscosity are what people often refer to as the “legs” on the wine. Let’s start with the color.
The color of the wine gives you a good idea of the wine and the grape you are drinking. The colors are more than just white, red and pink. White wines become a little more yellow as they age, while red wines become more brown. If you are drinking a red wine, notice if the color is more red or blue. Is it red like a ruby and gem like or a deep dark, purple and blue color? The color can help you determine the level of acidity in the wine. Red fruits are more acidic and blue fruits are less acidic. So if the wine is more of a blue or purple color, you should expect the wine to be less acidic. If it is more of a red color, expect it to be more acidic.
Look at the body of the wine and color intensity next and see if you can see through the wine, or if it is cloudy. The body of the wine has a lot to do with the alcohol content and color. Lighter bodied wines have an average alcohol content and easier to see through. Wine with higher alcohol content will be thicker, making it feel more heavy, or full bodied. Riesling and Pinot Noir are example of light bodied wines, while Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel are examples of a full-bodied wines.
Now to these legs! The viscosity of the wine is observed when you swirl the wine in your glass. Go ahead and swirl the glass and watch as the wine drips down the sides of the glass. As it drips, you will see it leaves behind “legs.” The legs, or viscosity, tells you more about the alcohol content in the wine. The higher the viscosity, which means the legs will be longer, mean the alcohol content is higher. What I found interesting is that even if a bottle has the same amount of alcohol as another, the legs may look different. It all depends on the amount of sugar in the wine. Hence, you can also determine the sweetness of the wine as you are swirling!
The Smell of the Wine
What does the wine smell like? Identify the aromas as you smell it.
When smelling your wine, it helps to have comparisons. Start simple and think about what you are smelling. Is the wine more floral smelling or does it have more citrus notes? This helps when you go to pick out a wine and are asked what you prefer. Some wines have more earthy smells, so start by identifying what you like in a wine you already know you enjoy.
In the tasting session, I was asked to determine if the wine smelled fresh and cool or if it smelled ripe, heated and cooked. To determine this, we thought about red fruits. Like cranberries, raspberries and cherries. Now apply that to the wine you are drinking. With the Zinfandel I was tasting, I could tell it smelled warm. Compare that smell to warm red fruits. You typically wouldn’t classify a strawberry as warm fruit, but you would for a cherry.
The Taste of the Wine
Take a sip and you can assess the taste structure and flavors.
For sipping wine, we were suggested to swish the wine around your mouth so it completely coats your tongue. What you find is different parts of your tongue detect different flavors and characteristics. The sides of your tongue detect the acidity of the wine and are what produces that mouthwatering sensation. The tip of your tongue detects sweetness, so if the wine is not sweet, there is no residual sugar in the wine.
This is where you need to understand what tannins are. Tannins come from the skins, seeds and stem of the grape. These tannins bind to the saliva and make different reactions in your mouth. This is where you may notice a dryness or bitter sensation. Tannins are often associated with red wine because they are in contact with the grape for longer periods and what gives the wine body. Higher tannin wines are those like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, while low tannin wines are those like Pinot Noir and Tempranillo.
By keeping these things in mind as you drink your wine, you will begin to understand the wine on a more complex level. I am still learning a lot about the characteristics of wine and what I enjoy. What I found that helped me in this process was to pick a wine I already know I like and learn more about it. That way I know what to look for when shopping for a new wine to try.