The Approach: a glass is a glass is a glass?

OK, so you want to have a go at identifying a wine ‘blind’. What’s the first step? Well, to begin blind tasting you need three things other than wine, a nose and tastebuds: namely, an appropriate glass, a white background, and good lighting (you don’t need a blindfold – it’s hard enough as it is!).

An ‘appropriate’ glass – what does that mean? Surely any old wine glass will do? Well, any wine glass is better than a coffee mug, say, but a long-stemmed tulip-shaped wine glass is ideal for blind tasting.   The reason being a tulip-shape allows the aromas of the wine to develop and concentrate inside the glass without them escaping too much. This shape also lets you tilt the glass significantly to observe it without spilling the wine everywhere. The appearance of a wine in the glass gives away great clues as to the climate the grapes were grown in, the age of the wine, elements of the wine-making process and even the grape variety itself. It should thus go without saying that the glass should be clear. However, I’ve seen hideous black champagne glasses in department stores!

The glass makers Riedel have built an entire market on matching glassware to the individual character of wines (their selection is truly amazing). However, ISO tasting glasses are an ideal (and inexpensive) glass to use for tasting purposes.

A white background is useful for comparing the appearance of wines objectively. Paper, tablecloth, shirt cuff: all will do the job.

Lighting can be tricky. Natural daylight is best, but not always available. You want lighting as close as possible to daylight, without being too direct that the light creates unwanted reflections off your glass. This gives the best possible conditions for seeing the true colour of the wine.

Finally, pour the wine. (We’re assuming the bottle has been obscured from you so the identification is masked.) You don’t want too much wine in the glass (despite how tasty it might be!). About 2cm depth is ideal. Too much volume and the wine could slosh everywhere and take longer to release aromas; not enough and you won’t get a good idea of the colour.

Now you’re ready to begin!

[This post is the first in a series of three on the appearance of wines. The next post will look at how to analyse white wines, and the third will deal with reds.]

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About James

James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. He has competed for the University in international blind tasting competitions and won several awards. In addition, James is a wine educator and wine writer, most recently co-authoring "The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting". He also writes for the international gastronome site "The Rambling Epicure", and can be contacted for wine consultancy and educational courses through the "Oxford Wine Academy".
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3 Responses to The Approach: a glass is a glass is a glass?

  1. Pingback: The Approach: White wine in the glass | The Oxford Wine Blog

  2. Pingback: The Approach: Red wine in the glass (Part I) | The Oxford Wine Blog

  3. Pingback: Appearance follow up | The Oxford Wine Blog

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