Feb 03 2009

Wine Tasting 101

Published by at 11:35 PM under Savvy Sip Tips,Wine Tastings

My husband sometimes likes to poke fun at my “seemingly serious” wine analyses when I uncork a new bottle for the first time. He’ll pick up my glass, swirl it around, and say something like, “Oh, I think I am picking up scents of chewing tobacco, rotten prunes, and bacon,” or something to that effect. You get the picture: the man is hilarious, a regular comedian. I, however, do not get offended, and instead go about my lone tasting session in the kitchen while he walks away cracking up.

Unlike my dear husband, perhaps you’re interested in familiarizing yourself with what sensations are hitting your palate – and where – when tasting a wine? Different parts of your mouth, tongue and gums receive different aspects of a wine’s taste. While looking at and smelling the juice play significant roles in determining a wine’s characteristics and overall quality, this particular crash course focuses on what to look for after taking that first sip.

• Sweetness is the first sensation you’ll get and that’s because you taste it on the tip of your tongue.
• Next is acidity, which will hit the sides of your tongue and make your mouth water. Wine lacking in acidity will seem flabby – yuck! – which is not a good thing.
• You’ll feel tannin on the gums, teeth, and in the middle of the tongue towards the back. In contrast to the salivating sensation of acidity, tannin will have a drying effect, similar to that of the skin of a walnut or unripe apple.
• Now, try to determine the body of the wine, sometimes called mouth-feel. Does it feel ‘light-bodied’ or heavy, which would make it ‘full-bodied’? One of my teachers at the International Wine Center in New York City explained the concept of body by comparing it to the weight of skim milk (light) vs. whole milk (medium) vs. half-and-half (full).
• Alcohol will mostly be felt at the back of the mouth and may give a warming sensation. Alcohol binds flavors together and rounds them off.
• The flavors you’ll taste on your palate might be challenging to articulate at first, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it. Don’t feel like you have to be able to distinguish between, say, red currant and red cherry. Initially, just keep it simple: am I tasting red fruit or black fruit flavors?
• And, lastly, will be the finish of the wine, or aftertaste. Flavors that linger, albeit pleasant ones, usually signify a quality, more complex wine. But, even better, they insist you go for another sip!

Hopefully, you’ll get some practical use out of this information. You could also use it to impress your wine geek friends, or to mock them – lovingly, of course. Because this was a fairly basic overview, please do drop me a line if you’d like some elaboration on any of these aspects. Happy Tasting!

Tell us where on the tongue do you perceive acidity in wine?

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