Wine Tasting Component I: Look
The first step you have to undertake in wine tasting is visual.
1. Fill up the glass up to 1/3 of its volume; never fill it more than half;
2. Hold the glass by the stem. Initially you may find this too pretentious but there are good reasons for it:
а) by doing it this way you can actually observe the wine in it;
b) this will keep your fingerprints off the bowl;
c) the heat from your palm will not change the temperature of the wine.
There’s a good saying by one of the greatest French wine lovers, Emil Painot: Offer someone a glass of wine and you can immediately tell whether he/she is a connoisseur by the way they hold the glass.” Even though you may not think of yourself as a connoisseur, you could still learn how to hold the wine glass.
3. Focus on the color intensity and the transparency of the liquid.
a) the color of the wine, and more specifically its nuances, are best observed on a white background.
b) the wine’s intensity is best judged by holding the glass without slanting it and looking at the liquid from above;
4. Next comes the swirling of the glass. This can also seem too pretentious or even dangerous if you have a full glass or a white top. But this movement is important since it prepares you for the next step in wine tasting – the Taste. The easiest way to swirl the glass is to place it on a table or other even surface, and to swirl your hand while holding the glass by the stem. Swirl hard and have the wine almost touch the rim of the glass. Then stop. The wine leaves tiny traces with irregular shapes on the inside of the glass. Some “experts” then read them with as much zeal as coffee-tellers. The truth is however, that they are just an indicator for the quality of the wine – the more alcohol a wine has, the more wine traces it forms.
What does the color of the wine tell us? The wine’s color tells us many things about its character.
First, the color shows the grape variety. Let’s take two popular varieties as examples – cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Cabernet’s grapes are smaller, with a thicker and darker skin than those of pinot noir. As a result, the color of wines made from cabernet sauvignon is usually described as violet to dark while the color of wines made from pinot noir is associated with ruby.
Second, the color is influenced by the climatic conditions. A hot summer and dry fall result in ripe grapes, with a dark, intense color. A cold summer and rainy fall will produce undeveloped grapes with a lighter color.
Third, wine-making practices also have an influence on the color of wine. For red wine, the grapes are fermented with the skin. Since the coloring agents are in the grape skin, and not in the juice, the longer the process of maceration, i.e. the longer the skin stays with the juice, the darker the wine color will be.
Fourth, the process of wine aging also has an influence on the color of wine. The young red wines are rich in coloring agents and that makes their color denser and fuller. In the course of time chemical reactions take place in the bottle and sediment is formed at the bottom. The wine’s color gets lighter and is often described as brick or amber.
Let’s go through an example: you pour yourself a glass of red wine and after carefully observing it, you notice a full granite color, good density, and not so good transparency. What conclusions can you draw?
Well, you can safely say that the wine is:
- from cabernet sauvignon grapes;
- from a Southern region;
- relatively young;
- from a good yield;
- that the wine-maker has gone for a good long maceration.
If you know the wine, compare what you know with what you see: maybe the wine has a very full color and the yield has been bad – this speaks of a good wine-making technique; or maybe the wine is too pale for its age – this speaks for undeveloped grape or poor wine-making technique.