Wine Tasting 101
Wine tasting is not complicated at all, and yet it is very complicated. You see to taste something you just put it in your mouth and your natural instincts do the rest, simple, if you like it you will like it and if it’s horrible you’ll spit it out immediately and involuntarily.
I once met a man who insisted that to truly taste something you must completely remove all sensory stimulants from your immediate environment – including and especially all smells. His philosophy is sound – when you are tasting something, your perception is influenced by an exhausting list of variables – temperature, colours, your personal frame of reference, your life experiences, sounds, smells, knowledge of wine, your mood, how much sleep you’ve had, the weather, humidity and so on ad-infinitum.
But with all these variables, many of which cannot be controlled easily if at all, it is nigh on impossible to actually taste anything without your subconscious getting in the way. So what we return to is simply this – we are imperfect tasters, period.
There are however a few things you can do to help the wine work its way through the fog to your taste buds.
1) Taste all wine at room temperature – too warm and fresh fruit aroma is dulled, too cold and the volatiles will not react with the air to give off any aroma.
2) Volatilise the aroma compounds – shake it up, swirl it round or generally give it a good slosh about to help the aroma leap from the wine to the air above it in the glass.
3) Take a sip – not a gulp, not a guzzle, don’t swallow it right away and don’t take too little. You need enough to coat your mouth, and no more.
4) Maximise the contact area and aromas in your mouth – suck air through the wine in your mouth, slosh it around to contact all the surface area of your mouth and hold it for a good 20 seconds.
5) Spit out the majority, swallowing only a tiny amount – a small amount ingested will not get you drunk, and dull your senses.
6) Repeat as many times as you like, with 20-30 second intervals in-between each sip to allow your taste buds to recover each time.
This method is pretty well accepted as the ‘right’ way to taste wine, and most cellar doors will encourage this with small tasting quantities, neutral environments and easily accessible spittoons.
And that’s it – as for what you taste, how you describe it and what you enjoy/hate – that is up to you. Keep an open mind and don’t taste on an empty stomach. Be generous with your love and sparing with your distain.