I recently presented a tasting for the Lincoln College graduate students. We covered three different white wines, three reds and a dessert wine, all tasted blind to begin with. Here’s a précis of some of the tasting information covered along with my brief notes on each wine.
A very brief guide to tasting wine
Step 1: Appearance
What is the colour of the wine? Can you see through it? Tilt the glass and examine the wine against a white background. Is there a change in colour, or ‘gradient’ along the wine?
Step 2: Nose
The aroma of the wine. Is it powerful or subtle? Complex or easy to describe? Does the aroma change after swirling the wine? Does it evolve over time as the wine aerates or warms up? What can you smell? Fresh fruits, cooked fruits, dried fruits, spices, grassy notes, herbs, wood, nuts, savoury/meaty aromas?
Step 3: Palate
We look for up to 8 components of a wine when we taste. Firstly, the flavours: are these the same as the aromas you can smell? All wines have perceptible acidity and alcohol, which give structure to the wine. Alcohol is a major component of the body of a wine, which is how heavy or viscous the wine feels in the mouth. Red wines also have tannins, which provide additional structure. Some wines have perceptible residual sugar. The evidence of maturation in oak may also be present in many white and red styles. Finally, the finish is how long the flavours and sensations of the wine linger in your mouth after swallowing.
Step 4: The Conclusion
Wine tasting is a very personal thing. No-one else can tell you whether you like or dislike a particular wine, or why you do. That said, there are certain features a professional wine taster looks for in assessing the quality of a wine (whether it suits their personal tastes or not). These include:
- Balance: is the overall perception of the wine flavours and structure in harmony?
- Length: do the flavours persist for a long time or do they fall flat and short?
- Intensity: are the flavours and aromas intense or a bit weak? Perhaps they are too intense and overwhelming.
- Complexity: is there a lot going on in the wine, or is it a bit simple and ‘one-dimensional’.
Other things to think about are: When would you drink this wine – by itself or with food? What sort of food? Is it good value for money? Is it ready to drink now? Or perhaps it will be better in a few years.
- Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett, 2010 (Willi Haag), Mosel, Germany. Classic Mosel Riesling. Citrus, apple, floral. Off-dry, light, hints of honey. Long finish. Delicious but far too young!
- Three Choirs Midsummer Hill, 2011, Gloucestershire, England. A wine that surprised many at the tasting. Light-bodied, refreshing and crisp. Cool fruit and distinct elderflower notes. Lean on the palate but with a generous ripe fruit character. A bargain at under £7.
- Trinity Hill Sauvignon Blanc, 2011,Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. Much more subtle than the stereotypical passionfruit and pizzazz kiwi Sauvignons, and thus much more to my tastes. Quite refreshing and ‘green’ nose – shelled pea and fresh grass. Full-bodied but well-balanced; not blowsy nor sweet.
- Weinert Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005, Mendoza, Argentina. The wine I was least impressed with. A nice Cabernet expression, and refreshingly restrained – fruit was not jammy or baked, which is always a worry with new world Cabernets. However, I felt the earthy savouriness of the bottle age had gone a bit too far and the wine was lacking in a balance between fruit and earth. A younger vintage would be good to try. Good if you’re a fan of the ‘old’ flavours in wines.
- Ghemme, Ioppa, 2004, Piemonte, Italy. Kind of a ‘Barolo-light’, with 85% Nebbiolo in the blend. Just approachable now after eight years. Light ruby colour, sour-cherry, slightly confected notes and a massive hit of dry, dusty tannins. Crisp acidity and long finish. I love this style of wine, though I acknowledge it’s not to everyone’s tastes. Be great with rack of lamb, or venison.
- Cornas, Les Grandes Terrasses, Paul Jaboulet Aîné, 2001, Northern Rhône, France. The grand-daddy of the night’s tasting. Such a finely poised wine. At perfect drinking age in my opinion. Nose has a wonderful earthy, black-olive, licorice root swirl of aromas surrounding the original primary blackberry and plum fruit. The palate shows balance, complex flavours, and classic rough-textured Syrah tannins. I’m going back for more!
- Château La Grave, 2009, Sainte Croix du Mont, Bordeaux, France. A sweety to finish off with. Adjacent to Sauternes, you get a classic expression of botrytised Semillon at a fraction of the price. For around £10 this is a bargain dessert wine. Lots of apricots, honey, vanilla. Lengthy and sweet.