Wine Tasting Volume 2 TASTE
By Leonard G. Logan, Jr
This article is a continuation of an Article on wine tasting printed in my recent blog. There are three essential and different steps to tasting wines – these steps are your evaluation of a wine’s appearance, smell and taste.
Last blog we directed you to observe the wine’s overall appearance and then smell the wine.
Now we can begin to actually taste the wine.
Science has taught us for several hundred years that we taste by our tongue only sweet, sour, salt and bitter flavors. The real taste of a wine and food is obtained from vapors that reach the upper nasal cavity by inhaling or from vapors rising from behind the palate after swallowing.
The tip of the tongue is particularly sensitive to sweetness. If there is any sweetness in the wine you will taste it immediately at the first sip. The sides of the tongue and cheek area identify acidity most commonly apparent in white wines. The back of the tongue most accurately detects bitterness. Tannins are identified in the middle to back of the tongue. Tannins are mostly found in red wines or some white wines aged in wood.
Tannins can dry the palate to excess if the wines are too young or out of balance. The result is a cottony mouth feel. Fruit and varietal characteristics are tasted in the middle of the tongue.
In the past twenty years a newly discovered taste was identified by a Japanese scientist as umami – which is responsible for the deliciousness of some Asian foods. Briefly, unami is a savory taste of glutamic acid which occurs naturally in many foods, but is difficult to detect except in ripe tomatoes, parmesan cheese, cured ham, mushrooms, some meat and fish.
The wine should be tasted at a proper temperature. Generally, most restaurants and people in the United States serve white wines too cold and red wines too warm. Temperature affects our perception of a wine.
A very cold wine will release few flavor vapors. At 60 to 65 degrees most wines are capable of releasing their full flavor components. As a wine is chilled it tastes crisper, fruiter and drier – but looses fullness and complexity. A wine warmer than 65 degrees releases ethyl alcohol and as the wine warms the alcohol dilutes the flavor components and numbs the nerves.
Most home refrigerators are chilled to approximately 38 degrees to keep milk icy cold. Only the poorest jug wines should be served directly from a home refrigerator. These wines have little complexity or acidity and cold makes them appear crisp and thirst quenching while at the same time hiding their flaws.
An outstanding rich and complex Chardonnay will release best flavors between 50 and 60 degrees. For those used to wines served palate numbing directly from the refrigerator, our wines served at Elizabeth’s may appear “warm.” However, each wine has an ideal serving temperature that enhances the complexity of the wine while at the same time maintaining a refreshing tartness. We attempt to serve wines at Elizabeth’s as close as possible to this ideal temperature. Rieslings, Chenin Blancs, and some other white wines are intended to be served colder. We serve these wines and our wines by the glass at a cooler temperature. If these wines are too cold they will reach drinking temperature at your table in a few minutes.
From the earliest days red wines were served directly from the wine cellar at “room temperature.” However, “room temperature” in days of castles and stone manor houses with wine cellars is not remotely similar to our present day central heat pump homes and restaurants. The term “room temperature” means 60 to 65 degrees to most wine makers. Our wine cellar at Elizabeth’s stores our fine wines at 57 degrees, enabling us to serve red wines at a recommended “room temperature” of 60 to 65 degrees.
Your First Taste
Take a small sip. To get the wine all over the tongue’s taste buds you should gently swirl the wine around in your mouth. Some people also bring a little air into their mouth after the first sip to help release all the flavors of the wine. (Don’t gargle.) Hold the wine in your mouth for about 10 to 15 seconds and try to identify the following.
A Bad Wine: is usually immediately apparent. You generally will have discovered a bad wine when you sniffed it in the glass. You may sip a tiny amount of the wine to confirm your nose of the wine that is corked, has become oxidized or materized (all discussed in the previous article), or become vinegary.
Body and Mouth Feel is the weight and texture of the wine in your mouth. Weight -light to heavy and variations in between- an extremely important sensation when we discuss wine and food pairing in subsequent articles. (Think of a glass of skim milk contrasted to a John’s Drive-in Milk Shake.) Mouth feel- Textural impressions – velvet, satin, harsh, (also has an influence on our perception of balance.)
Taste and flavors: Your sip may confirm or expand your initial discovery of fruit and spices identified when you smelled the wine. Try and identify a few fruit tastes.
Acidity and tannins: Identify the level of acidity for white wines and the strength of the tannins for red wine. Is the acidity light, too much or just right? Are the tannins non-existent, strong, astringent, or pleasing for your palate? The identification of acidity and tannins in the wine will become really important when you begin pairing food with wine.
The Balance is one of the most important elements in a wine. Does every taste and mouth feel seem to be in balance – with nothing predominating when you taste? If so the wine is balanced for your palate. When we later discuss wine and food pairing sometimes a wine that may appear at first sip to be out of balance can create a good pairing with food.
The Finish – Identifying how long the flavors linger after swallowing.
Now for the most important decision – did you like the wine? If so, it is a good wine. Check the price to see if it is a wine you would drink often or only on special occasions. A future blog will attempt to assist in wine buying and cellar selection.
You should purchase a notebook, any size will do, to record your immediate impression of the wines you taste. This will help in later ordering or acquisition of wines you like.
Many restaurants are now offering wine dinners. Elizabeth’s was one of the first, twenty years ago, and now is one of the few restaurants in the United States to offer prix fixe wine dinners nightly. Wine dinners are a way for you to taste a number of different wines without having to buy a bottle.
Wines by the glass can offer a chance to taste different varietals however, check the glass list. At Elizabeth’s we try and place the best examples of a varietal on the list and often offer these wines at a less expensive price than one would pay for an equivalent number of glasses from a single bottle of the same wine. We want our guests to have the opportunity to taste a number of incredible wines that will help them discover the wines they like.
Remember the admonition – Ignore ratings and other people’s opinions about a wine. If you like a wine it is a good wine for your palate – if you don’t like a wine it is not a good wine for you.
We will continue our discussions in the next blog, Santé.
© Leonard G. Logan, Jr.