Updated: Jul 15, 2019
Most of us have a preference when it comes to wine – we know what we like. But how do you have a preference, without tasting around?
We’ve all been at a dinner party, or in a restaurant, where some Wine Know-It-All is inspecting their glass of wine through the sideof the glass, often held aloft in their arm, before taking a glug and swilling it around like Listerine. If you’re lucky, they’ll often finish off with an impression of Hannibal Lecter describing his favourite food pairing of liver and chianti. In the past, I would have been the first one to roll my eyes at this performance, however now I understand the science behind these actions it makes more sense (and I apologise for calling them a Wine Know-It-All when in fact they just knew more than me at that time).
I’ve broken the wine tasting process down into stages, which we talk more about at our Wine Tasting events. This process can be used to taste any beverage – wine, beer, cider.....I’ve even tried it with tea. Next time you’re handed a glass of wine, run through these steps to fully appreciate what you’re drinking.
Inspect the intensity of the colour of your wine - regardless of whether it's red, white or pink. With a red wine, a really dark red or purple colour would suggest that this is an interesting wine, with more flavour. But lighter reds, such as Pinot Noir, also have their own complexity which are worth exploring. White wine varies from a yellow to a much paler wine, and again the darker colours would suggest stronger flavours and complexities.
Give the wine a swirl (rest the glass on the table first if you’re clumsy like me) to aerate the wine in preparation of our first sniff.......
A good tasting glass will have sides which bow inwards towards the rim, to concentrate the alcohol aromas around the rim. When you stick your nose in the middle of the glass, the ruggedness of the alcohol is reduced making the wine aromas more distinct.
After swirling the wine to release the aromas, get your nose as far into the glass it (both nose and glass) will allow, and take a huge sniff. Give it another swirl, and repeat. Is it earthy or oaky? What fruits or other flavours are you getting (primary aromas)? Can you detect any aromas from the wine-making process (secondary aromas)? These are most commonly yeast-derived and more easily identifiable in white wines…..maybe a nutty aroma, or hops. There can also be other aromas (tertiary) detectable from aging, such as a smell of tobacco, leather or leaves. There’s no right or wrong answer, as you and I may get different aromas and flavours from the same glass of wine. With our Bacchus, I can detect gooseberries, pears and grass whereas Jon can also smell apples, asparagus and leaves.
The moment you’ve been waiting for. Take that first slug of wine, swish it around and swallow – feel the wine in the back of your throat. Breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. Some keep the wine in their mouth whilst breathing in through their mouth and out through their nose to fully release all the flavours, but I've struggled to pull off this off without dribbling. Either way, the object of this is to stimulate your "retronasal olfaction" – essentially allowing the back of your nose to smell the wine. Does this unlock any other aromas in the wine that you didn’t first observe? Are there any flavours you don’t like?
Note the structure of the wine as well. How is the texture of the wine on your palate? Is it sweet or dry? Is it acidic or tart? Does your mouth start watering after that first mouthful? This could indicate a high level of tannins in the wine, when it feels like your lips are sticking to your teeth. Does it make your tongue feel rough against the roof of your mouth?
Now you've looked, smelled and tasted the wine share your observations with others. Like discussing a new album, or theatrical performance, it’s interesting to discover other people’s thoughts and opinions to fully appreciate the experience. Did the wine taste balanced? Was it too acidic or too tannic? Was this wine unique or fairly average? Is this something you'd like to drink again? Maybe take another glass to decide!
There are new English wines coming to the market all the time (especially after the Great Harvest of 2018). The more English wines you taste, the more refined your understanding will be of this region.
If you'd like to put these tips into practice for yourself, book onto one of our vineyard tours this summer in Stratford upon Avon for a chance to walk our vines and taste our wines.