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Wine Tasting Basics
Tasting Wine is not quite same as drinking Wine. Tasting Wine is an epicurean task and takes a little bit of practice before you begin to uncork myriad subtleties of the complex nature of a fine Wine.

But why should one taste Wine at all?? - Simply put, for a health and quality check and to workout for yourself if you are paying too much for the Wine you are buying. Research on Wine tastings has repeatedy shown that prices are not highly correlated with the quallity. In other words, Wine should be tasted to assess various characteristics such as aromas, flavours and age; to detect any fault; to gauge the structural elements such as alcohol, tannin and acid and to better appreciate the Wine overall, which isn't really achievable by simply guzzlilng it. Wine tasting process could be broken down into four different steps which we call four Ss of Wine appreciation. These are:
  • Sight: A close visual inspection of your Wine would reveal about the grape variety, the quality and the age of the Wine. Hold the glass slightly above or below your eye level, as convenient. Tilt it slightly and look at it against a white background. The color of the Wine can tell us a few things. A young white Wine would be greeninsh or yellowish and a mature white would be golden. For a red Wine pay special attention to the edges of the Wine. If you see a purple or violet edge, chances are it is a young red. An old red could be anything from orange-brown to dark reddish-brown. The older the darker. Experienced tasters can name the grape variety by looking at the color. Merlot is usually limpid red and Cabernet Sauvignon is deep red.
  • Swirl: Now swirl your glass vigrously (of course without spilling the Wine) to swathe the surface of your glass with a thin film of Wine. Observe the streaks (called legs) of the Wine on the glass surface. A Wine with thick viscous legs is usually full-bodied with high alcohol or sweetness. Swirling also makes the Wine breathe and unleashes the bouquet of the Wine for a better olfactory experience in the next step.
  • Smell: You have seen and swirled your Wine. Now it is time to sniff it like a true bon vivant. This is the most important step and needs firm concentration. First, look for the strongest aroma and then gradually seek to discover other subtle scents. Most notable aromas are furity, floral, spicy, earthy, cedar or oaky and peppery. More intense a Wine smells, heavy it it. You may smell cork taint or yeast contamination if the Wine has gone bad. By the way, smell of wine is called its "Nose" - funny, eh?
  • Sip: Finally take a small amount of Wine into your mouth. Feel the initial taste. swish it and roll it around your tounge. Feel the texture and the weight. A mature Wine will have a well rounded and uniform feel in the mouth. Full-bodied Wine will fell heavier than medium- or light-bodied. Keep it in your mouth for a few seconds to saturate the taste buds. Check the balance between acidity, alcohol content and sweetness. Does it taste what it smells? Chances are it would. Drink it in (or spit it out in a spittoon if you are tasting a number of them). Feel the after taste. Was it mellow and velvety or was it crisp, harsh or bitter?
It may sound gratuitous or snobbish to start with, but once you get initiated with the art of Wine tasting you will realise it is something like meditation. As in meditation, you concentrate to awaken or arouse your physical senses to be able to appreciate distinct facets of Wine at every step of Wine savouring process.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is nothing called wrong or inappropriate tasting. Wine tasting process should be fun. Don't worry if your description doesn't really match with official tasting notes. At times, even professional tasters have given two entirely different descriptions of the same Wine when served in two different bottles with different labels on them.

Pause, don't rush and take your time. Make sure you prepare your palate before tasting by eating something neutral such as a piece of bread if you have had something with a strong taste.

Updated: Wednesday, June 13, 2007, 10:34 PM

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