In this article, accessible to all, we provide you with the basics of the tasting technique used by professionals, using our different senses in three stages: sight, smell and taste.
Attention, revelation: tasting a wine is not only tasting it! The colour of the wine, i.e. its colour and appearance, already gives indications about the nature and quality of the wine you are about to taste. Technical question, nothing complicated, observe the wine with a white background that will allow you to accurately transcribe its color. Lean your glass slightly (hence the advantage of not filling it to the brim), with your arm stretched horizontally, and take the time to observe the "colour of the wine".
Colour as such is not an indication of the quality of the wine. If the richness of a dark colour for a red wine can be impressive, the taste is not necessarily better. On the other hand, the intensity of this colour, the brightness of the disc (i.e. the ease with which light can be reflected on the surface of the wine) and the clarity (is the wine crystalline/transparent or, on the contrary, muddy and opaque) are all indicators of the good health quality of the wine.
Another characteristic of wine that can be perceived through visual examination is its "viscosity". Viscosity is observed by rotating the wine in the glass to widen the disc formed on the surface. The wine, as it rotates, will be fluid or, conversely, thick and fat. And the thicker the wine has a texture, the more alcohol and sugar (or similar) it contains. In reality, unless you are particularly looking for an alcoholic wine, viscosity does not allow you to deduce the quality level of a wine.
Smelling a wine is a preview of the flavour of the wine, not only the current flavour but also the future flavour of the wine. Once you get used to peeling the nose of the wine, you will see that this olfactory dimension will become more and more important.
Feel the wine without moving it, it's the first nose. Is the wine closed (you can't feel anything), discreet or open? If it is closed, you can decant it to open it. Then, turn the wine and smell it, it's the second nose. Close your eyes. What do you feel?
Like Proust's Madeleine, the scents evoke memories buried in the deepest depths - let the aromas transport you. Don't be afraid of the associations of ideas caused by these aromas, even the most unusual ones. Each flavour speaks differently to each of us. Where some will perceive the almond, others will think of the glue from the elementary school of their childhood. It doesn't matter! The important thing is to put words on sensations and then describe the wine, explain why you like it (or not) and be able to remember it more accurately than "Ah it was good the wine of yesterday! ». With experience and experience, you will be able to recognize and classify flavors by category and then even more precisely by citing the specific flavor.
A great wine often has a complex and distinguished nose, which means that there are many different aromas (or families of aromas) while keeping a high degree of precision in these aromas.
A quick point on spitting out: as you know, the professionals who taste many wines in a row spit them out in order to keep the palate and ideas clear. If you are new to wine tasting, you may have difficulty perceiving the wine if you spit it out in its entirety; at least you will probably feel that you are not fully enjoying the full range of the wine and its length in the mouth. This is quite normal. Learning to taste is not something that happens overnight and learning to spit out is part of that learning. Start by taking a few sips and spitting out more, then, as you go along, you can spit out more and more.
There are some differences between tasting a wine and simply drinking it as part of a meal. When you taste a wine you will almost "violate" it:
- for the nose, you made it spin well,
- soak your mouth in the wine (like a mouthwash) and feel free to practice feedback. Feedback is a complicated word for something very simple. In fact, your mouth, i.e. your tongue, can only perceive the 5 flavours (acid, bitter, sweet, salty and umami) but not the aromas of strawberry or toasted bread for example! All the aromas are perceived by your "nose" (more precisely your olfactory bulb). The principle of feedback is therefore very simple, it will consist in "bringing up" the aromas of the wine to your olfactory bulb. To do this, use the upward airflow during exhalation, propelling backwards from the mouth, by cheek and jaw movements, the air having been in contact with the product being tasted.
For a white wine, the balance is based on two dimensions: the acidity and fatness of the wine. Everyone is more or less used to acidity and knows how to perceive it, it makes you salivate and is felt on the sides of your tongue. On the other hand, the fatness of wine is not an easy concept to grasp. It can be defined as a certain sweetness, a pleasant, suave, round and smooth sensation (without going into detail, the smoothness is due to alcohol and glycerol in large part).
For a red wine, a third dimension is added to the acidity and fat, the tannins. The tannins have no "taste" but they are felt both when you have the wine in your mouth, like a powder in the middle of your tongue and, after swallowing, they give the impression of "dry", as if your tongue had been dried.
To appreciate the balance of a wine is simply to judge if these different dimensions are in harmony with each other. If, for example, a white wine is not very acidic with a lot of fat, we will say that it is heavy, which is neither balanced nor positive.
Of course, tasting is a personal exercise that has an important subjective dimension and everyone will notice differently the different dimensions of acidity, fat and tannins. However, when it comes to judging the harmony of a wine (or its possible technical defects), the exercise is actually quite objective.
Use the famous retro-olfaction to perceive the different aromas of the wine. Are they accurate? Pleasant? Powerful?
Length in the mouth is defined as the intensity in the mouth of the aromatic and tactile persistence that a wine leaves after swallowing it. As you can imagine, the longer a wine is in the mouth, the better it is in general.
So, you know everything (or almost everything) to taste like a professional, see you next week for the second episode of our series "Petit cours d'œnologie entre amis" which will be dedicated more precisely to "Arômes du Vin".
And don't forget, it's by tasting in the middle of the vineyards directly with the winegrowers thanks to Les Grappes Oenotourisme that we discover all the facets of wine!