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Thread: Wine tasting for beginners.

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    No more Mr Nice Guy. Nick's Avatar
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    Wine tasting for beginners.

    So, want to expand your knowledge on wine?
    Fancy knowing a bit more about wines you like?
    Well, you need to start tasting a few.
    Why?
    The answer is quite simple. If you want to get a broader wine knowledge and branch out from the two or three wines you know you like, then the only way is to start tasting wines. Once you've begun this, you can then start to talk to a reasonably knowledgable assistant in the wine shops and they can direct you along the lines of what you like.

    You don't have to rush off out and buy a whole load of different wines either, you can start with what you have a home and gradually go on from there. To help you with tasting and to help you with keeping notes, I've written a brief guide below.

    First off, we'll assume you're not going for anything super special here, and we'll assume that you're tasting a wine somewhere in the £5-£10 a bottle range. These wines do not need to be decanted, though in the case of some of the more full bodied reds, decanting can help smooth off the tannins a touch.

    (btw, just to blow the whole 'letting the wine breathe' myth apart, unless you decant, there's no point opening a red an hour before drinking. The surface area for allowing a bit of oxidation is so small as to make no difference.... unless you decant)

    Ok, so you've got your wine open, now you need a glass. Ideally this should be a wide bottomed glass that narrows towards the neck. Imagine a white wine glass but thinner and you get the idea. Below is an ISO tasting glass, so dig around in the cupboard and see if you've got something similar.



    Note how full the glass is in the picture. The reason for this, (and the reason for the shape of the glass) is to allow you to inspect the wine without spilling it and to allow room for the wine vapours to collect in the glass with the narrowing neck concentrating the aromas for you to smell.

    Now, get yourself a pen and paper and write down the following:

    Name of the wine:
    Country:
    Region:
    Quality Status:
    Vintage:
    Producer:
    Supplier:
    Alcohol Content:
    Price:
    Tasting date:

    (You might want to cut and paste that lot into Word and print it off)

    Now divide the remainder of the page into four sections and give the sections these headings as you go down the page (again, why not copy and paste into Word?)

    APPEARANCE (clarity, intensity, colour)

    NOSE (condition, intensity, fruit character)

    PALATE (sweetness, acidity, tannin, body, fruit charachter, length)

    CONCLUSIONS (quality)

    These are the four things we'll be looking at when we taste a wine. The idea behind noting this all down is to build up a reference that is specific to you and your tastes. More importantly, it gives you a yardstick to measure other wines by. The thing is, as you taste more, the yardstick becomes ever finer graduated and you'll end up finding that what you thought was, for example, a medium bodied wine when you first started making notes, might actuaslly be a fairly full bodied wine once you've tasted and made notes on a dozen other reds... the point is that tasting is COMPARATIVE and only by tasting a comparing can you become more accurate in what you think and how you describe a wine. I guarantee you though, you'll really start to enjoy wine as you explore the flavours that tasting opens up to you!

    So lets get on with actually tasting shall we?

    First off APPEARANCE

    Hold the glass at a 45 degree angle with a sheet of white paper behind and look through the glass at the back edge of the wine.

    CLARITY: Is it clear, cloudy, dull? Pretty much all wines would be clear, but a poorly decanted aged red might be cloudy. In a newer wine, cloudiness may mean theres a problem.

    INTENSITY: Is the colour deep and rich or pale and watery? Even a white wine could have a deep intensity, if it had a strong golden colour as some aged white wines do.

    COLOUR: Whites would be anything from pale lemon colurs through to rich gold. Rose wines can be anything from pink to deep orange. Reds maybe be purple, ruby, tawny or even slight brown.

    Remember you're not looking at the main body of the wine here but at the back edge of the wine in a tilted glass.

    Right, we've had a look at the wine, let's have a sniff.

    Swirl the glass smoothly around to agitate the wine and let the air mingle into it. This helps release the wine's aroma or 'nose' and also helps develop the flavour.

    Still swirling gently, bend you head to keep the glass upright and place your nose in the glass. Breathe in deeply but steadily so the vapours are drawn smoothly into your nose. Sniff to quick and you'll run out of breathe befopre your nose has had a chance to register the aromas going past it. Take your time here, our sens of smell fades very quickly once the source of the smell has gone.

    Now, look at you paper and think about each of these things as you smell.

    CONDITION: How does the wine smell overall? Clean or dirty? Wine that has reacted with the cork might smell musty, wine opened too long might smell sour.

    INTENSITY: What is the bouquet like? Is it a strong, pronounced aroma or are you struggling to smell anything?

    FRUIT CHARACTER: Close your eyes and think of what the bouquet reminds you off. This is divided into four general headings, fruity, floral, vegetal, spicey. Its perfectly possible for a wine to smell of more than one of these, or to have an aroma that reminds you of several things under one category. (A Sauternes for me is floral and fruity.) Try and describe the smells, it could be red fruits, or lemons and melons... maybe even exotic fruits with spice and pepper.

    Ok, now its time to taste the wine.

    Take a small sip, not a great gulp, and swill the wine all around your mouth. Some people find they like to rinse it around their mouth like mouthwash, I prefer a swill and then the backward whistle method, myself. This doesn't really apply when you're at home, but if you taste a lot of wines at a wine fair or something, you don't want to swallow all the wines you try as you'll be smashed within an hour. The idea is to get the wine in contact with all parts of your mouth, including under the tongue as all these areas affect how you percieve the wines taste or 'palate'. You do have to get wine to the back of your tongue as well, as the taste buds there will tell of any aftertaste the wine may have. To do this without swallowing you need to do a backwards whistle. Also, this method aerates the wine over the tongue, bringing much more flavour into the mouth. To aerate the wine (the backwards whistle) lean your head forward and let the wine fall to just behind your teeth. Now purse your lips and breathe in sucking air into your mouth through the wine. This will pull a very small amount of wine to the back of your tongue without having to swallow and you'll get a complete idea of the flavours. Give it one more swill around your mouth and then spit (or swallow, the choice is yours).

    Now you can assess the following and enter it under the PALATE section

    SWEETNESS: Sweeteness is apparent right away on the tip off the tongue. A wine with no sugar in it is called 'dry', next is 'off dry', then medium, medium-sweet and sweet. Those are the main ones, but later you might find layers in-between those.

    ACIDITY : Acid is very important in wine, it gives it balance. To much though and the wine is too tart, too little and the wine tastes flabby. Acidity is one of the most comparative tastes. High acidity might give balance to a sweet wine but make a dry wine undrinkable. It also helps balance against tannins. So, is your wine low, medium or high in acids? Or somewhere in between?

    TANNIN: This is the over-brewed tea taste that some red wines have. It leaves the mouth feeling dry and can be felt quite clearly on the teeth and gums. Tannins drop out of red wine as it ages (though not many reds are worth bothering to age in the bottle) and form the deposits that decanting can remove. A balanced wine will have tannins nicely in proportion to the sweetness and acidity.

    BODY : This is the general mouth 'feel' and is a combination of the above three. Its a measure of how they go together and make the wine feel in the mouth. A Rioja might feel full or heavy bodied while a Riesling might feel light and airy.

    FRUIT CHARACTER : This is the hardest to describe and agree with to anyone. Settle on the fact that everyone tastes differently, but you should be heading along the saem line as everyone else... roughly. Tastes here could be anything from dark fruits, grapes or even leather and earth for a red wine through to tin, fruits, melon, lemon, flowers, grass or even petrol for whites. There's no yardstick here. This one os just a case of closing your eyes, emptying your mind and thinking of what the wine reminds you off. It is very tricky but write down what YOU think... no one can tell you its wrong.

    LENGTH : This last category does exactly what it says. How long does the flavour of the wine stay in your mouth once you've gotten rid of the wine itself? A Soave might be gone very quickly, a Barolo might have a finish that stays a good while. Is there any aftertase, and if so, what's that like?

    And now we come to the last section, the conclusion. Here you some up what you thought of the wine overall. Perhaps you were disappointed by the nose, but it turned out to be a pleasant wine in the mouth. Or it could be that the nose suggested black fruits and the palate gave you oak, red fruits and pepper, which makes for a much more interesting wine... remember the notes are personal to you and no-one can say they're worng.... they can, however, disagree...

    Well, that's all there is to tell you about how to taste wine. Its up to you to go off and have a crack now.

    I'll post up a few of my own tasting notes over the next few days or so, feel free to post yours!
    Last edited by Nick; 21-07-2009 at 11:07 AM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Dareos View Post
    "OH OOOOHH oOOHHHHHHHOOHHHHHHH FILL ME WITH YOUR.... eeww not the stuff from the lab"

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    Fantastic reading Deck... I knew some of the basics to tasting, and this has helped draw it all together. Off to Asda...

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    Bonnet mounted gunsight megah0's Avatar
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    That matches with what we were told on our winery tour in greece last year.

    Great guide
    Recycling consultant

  4. #4
    only the finest beef
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    Could have done with that guide last year at uni - as wines member on the mess committee I had to go to wine tasting lunches - a pretty good excuse for getting very 'light headed' .

    Problem was I then had lectures afterwards

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    mutantbass head Lee H's Avatar
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    it all still reminds me of vimto filtered through a tramps sock to be honest, I'm a fruity white man myself

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    Off to ASDA!? wont find much there. Get on the ferry and go pick up some proper stuff

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    Don'd dismiss the Austrailian contribution, i find it more consistently palatable than some of the euro stuff. Try:

    Wolf Blass (presidents selection is nice and so ir the shiraz grenache)
    Lindemans, Hardys, Banrock Station the list goes on

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    Thanks for that. I'll know what to look for on my pre-xmas booze cruise now!
    x

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    Awesome reading Nick i've not long discovered the joys of wine and been looking for an easy to read guide like yours, I shall certainly be experimenting

    Jon bought me a wine rack that holds 70 bottles, he's complaining that i'm drinking it faster than i'm filling it got 11 bottles so far! I plan to have it full by next Christmas

    Maybe we can post our own wine reviews

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    Re: Wine tasting for beginners.

    Thanks for the lecture. off to Tesco lol

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    Re: Wine tasting for beginners.

    I hope you guys don't mind if I plug my site: wine-in-a-glass.com. I have a bunch of wine tasting tips and info, a section on wine and food with cooking tips, wine and food pairing tips, and recipes, regional wine info, wine club deals, and a bunch of other wine stuff!

    I'm looking for feedback on the site since I just started building it. Take a look at it and let me know what you think. I'm always looking for constructive criticism. And, you will find some good useful info as well!

    Thanks,

    Matt from Wine-In-A-Glass

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    Re: Wine tasting for beginners.

    I have only got into wines more recently (was predominately a beer/lager man!). This is some great info on wine! Didn't realise there was so much to it! It's pretty much an art in itself!

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    Re: Wine tasting for beginners.

    Should of read this before I went to the wine fair in the village.

    Cheers anyhow!

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    Re: Wine tasting for beginners.

    Yes it's a good guide indeed.

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    Re: Wine tasting for beginners.

    Very detailed and very precise. I was wondering about wine clubs though. We have a passion for wines. I have tried WSJ and I don't think its worth it compared to others. I have seen zagat wine club review and have yet to try them. The deals were awesome but I do hope it taste good as well.

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    Re: Wine tasting for beginners.

    Will add a list of some good supermarket buys later - this is to remind me to do it.

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