Understanding wine tasting notes can be daunting.... I know that for most people, you just "like what you like" when it comes to wine, and don't give too much thought on what it is that you actually really like about your favourite wine. I once asked my brother to smell a glass of Chianti Classico and tell me what he smelled, and his smart-@ss remark was "I smell wine". But without really knowing those characteristics about your wine preferences, you might never get to try something new and expand your wine horizons!
Let's de-mystify wine tasting notes, so when you are reading the next one on the back of a bottle, or on my blog (no shame in plugging where I can) you have a better understanding of whether it suits your palate.
Let's be clear, it take a lot of blind tasting to get to a level of identifying what wine is in your glass, and I cannot instil that knowledge through a blog post, but these key questions will help you start looking at what's in your glass and really pinpointing what you like about your favourite wines.
What colour do you see in your glass?
(The smart-@ss answer to this question might be red or yellow).... But let's get a little deeper than that.
White Wine: Is it a pale yellow? is there any hue of orange to your wine?
Most white wine is a pale yellow to straw colour- Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. If you see an orange hue at all, chances are you are drinking fortified or sweet dessert wine of some sort.
Red Wine: Is your wine ruby red or more purple in colour? Does it have an amber hue to it?
Ruby Red typically depicts Cab Franc, Merlot, Cab Sauv. If you are getting purple red, think Syrah, Shiraz, Malbec, and if there is an orange hue to your red wine, this is typical of age of your wine- for instance a Barolo that is an older vintage.
What do you smell?
I always smile when someone takes their wine glass and takes a big sniff, one of those deep inhales that should be saved for your workout at the gym. Smelling wine like that is going to leave an alcohol burning sensation in your nose, and not much else, so no wonder you can't smell what the tasting notes say are there. Remember, smelling wine isn't meant to be hard work, take small, short sniffs in your glass. This will allow you to smell the characters of the wine without burning your nostrils.
Do you smell fruit? Is it ripe? Cooked or Jammy? Break this down to 5 main characters:
Citrus: Lemons, Limes, Oranges, Grapefruit
Stone-Fruit: Peach, Apricot, Apple, Pear
Tropical Fruit: Pineapple, Melon, Passion Fruit
Red Fruit: Strawberries, Cherries, Cranberries
Black Fruit: Blackberries, Blueberries, Black Cherry
Do you smell any vegetal notes? What that means is: do you smell grass, leaves, or herbs in your wine?
Do you smell vanilla, baking spice, or coconut? This equates to oak, meaning your wine very likely spent some time in an oak barrel. If your wine is less than $15.00 at the LCBO and you taste oak, chances are the winemaker used oak chips in a stainless steel vat.
What do you taste?
Does the wine taste like it smells? I know this might sound odd, but if your wine smells really fruity, but then you don't get any taste of fruit when you drink it, that can give indication of age, or winemakers style.
Structure of Wine: The balance between these characteristics of a wine will give you a better idea of what your preference is.
Alcohol: Breathe out after you have had your first sip, do your feel your cheeks warm? If yes, the alcohol is probably around 13.5-15%. If not, it is probably a lower alcohol wine that you prefer.
Acid: How tart is your wine? Acid and Sugar can be confusing, because the more sugar in a wine, can mask how much acid is actually there. Does your wine cause you to almost salivate or dare I say drool? Chances are you like a higher acid wine.
Sugar: How sweet does your wine taste? This is relatively subjective and based on personal preference, so your idea of sweet and my idea of sweet will most likely be different.
Tanin (Red only): You know that fuzzy feeling on your tongue you get from eating walnuts? Do you get that taste in your mouth at all? If you do, chances are you like wine with tannin.
Body: Is the thickness or viscosity of your wine skim milk or whole milk? Chances are its somewhere in between the two.
This is obviously a brief introduction to tasting wine and understanding what your wine preferences are. Want to learn more?
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