Wine Tasting vs Wine Drinking
The difference between wine tasting as opposed to wine drinking is that the former involves concentration, contemplation and consideration. Both are enjoyable, however they serve two completely different objectives, and are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
The Composition of Wine and its Various Components
Wine consists of a complex myriad of substances including water, alcohol, acids, sugars, polyphenols & phenolic compounds, salty substances, dissolved gases and aromatic substances. Each of these components affects the way we perceive the wines total composition.
Wine composition can be broken down into four major parts, as perceived by the senses:-
Our Taste Senses
- Appearance and colour - characteristics observed by light
- Odour - volatile compounds detected by the nose
- Aroma - volatile compounds detected retronasally (from within the mouth)
- Taste - non-volatile compounds that contribute to the tactile sensation of the wine in the mouth
The four primary taste senses that are perceived physically in the mouth, as opposed to flavour perceptions that are detected in the nose and in the retronasal passage include sweetness, bitterness, saltiness & acidity. We are just starting to learn more about a fifth sense known as umami.
Also important in wine tasting is the other tactile mouthfeel sensations of astringency, the warmth of alcohol, and the tingle of bubbles.
Communicating the various perceptions obtained during wine tasting is, for many people, one of the most difficult aspects of tasting, and finding the right vocabulary is only part of the problem. The correct use of the terminology to clearly communicate those impressions is also important to avoid misinterpretation.
A tasting vocabulary should be clear, concise, unambiguous, and with the ability to make the recipient understand the interpretations of the taster.
Note: The Essential Wine Tasting Guide© is the most precise and extensive vocabulary list ever compiled.
Too often, wine has been carefully crafted by the winemaker, nurtured in the cellar, and then thrown out of balance due to an inappropriate serving temperature by the consumer. It seems a shame for the wine to have come so far, yet be compromised in the last few moments.
White wine is generally served too cold ie: straight from the refrigerator. This has the effect of subduing many of the volatile aromas which are responsible for the smell of the wine, as well as affecting the tactility ie: acids become more noticeable while sugars/ alcohol become less noticeable. These components affect the balance of the wine by decreasing the body.
Red wine is generally served too warm ie: off the rack which is kept in the kitchen, bedroom etc. When served too warm, red wine becomes perceptively more alcoholic, especially on the nose as alcohol is very volatile. The wine also releases other aromatics too quickly, therefore not allowing the taster to discern the plethora of aromas, but rather be inundated with an aromatic overload that is less than pleasurable, and undecipherable.
The tactile perception of the wine also suffers as tannins become harsher, sugars and alcohols become more pronounced, and acidity seemingly diminishes. Again the balance is negatively affected.
(NOTE: The old rule of red wine at room temperatures originally based with the cellars of Europe in mind, and doesn't work so well in most parts of the new world. It is also fair to say that the art and science of wine appreciation has progressed to a new level over the last 20 years and the 'room temperature' guideline is probably not suitable for many parts of Europe either.)
Decanting is a useful process that can reduce the reductive aromas associated with aged red wine stemming from sulphides like mustiness, while slowly oxidising and releasing other more subtle aromas like fruit and spice.
In a young red wine, it has the effect of softening youthful tannins, thereby rendering the wine more approachable at an earlier age. It also reduces the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide.
Decanting can also create expectations associated with the wine, for better or for worse.
For some people, the glass they chose to taste or drink from makes all the difference, for others it makes none. However it is the opinion of the author that whether it is a serious wine tasting or a casual drink, the style of glass you chose can, and ultimately will, influence your overall perception and appreciation of the wine.
This isn't to say that every wine demands, or even deserves good stemware, but an average wine will seem better when consumed from it and a top quality wine will seem less when tasted from inferior stemware. Characteristics of good stemware include:
Professional Vs Amateur Tastings
- Stem with which to hold and swirl wine, also avoids excessive warming of wine from bodyheat
- Cut lip for smooth delivery of wine onto palate
- Tulip shaped bowl decreasing into a narrower opening for concentrating aromas
A professional tasting, by necessity usually has an objective, whether it is to analyse, produce, judge, blend, classify, or market a wine, the steps are usually similar - it is the focus that changes.
An amateur tasting, need not be as discriminate,but can follow a similar set of guidelines that will quickly enhance the tasters ability to perceive more, evaluate those perceptions, understand the evaluations, and to ultimately increase the overall enjoyment when tasting wine.
Factors affecting Tasting
Many factors will affect the way you perceive a wine and therefore the degree to which you will appreciate that wine. These factors include:-
However, no factor will influence your ability to discern a wines quality as much as your wine tasting proficiency!
- Your immediate surroundings ie:
- Location eg: sterile laboratory or dank cellar
- Nearby odours/aromas eg: perfume, coffee, food,
- Degree of lighting,
- Noise and other outside distractions
- Air current movement ie: diverts aromas from the nose
- Both the ambient temperature and the temperature of the wine
- Colour of surroundings ie: affects mood
- Differences in personal perception
- The time of day
- Your expectation (this is exaggerated if you have seen the label, cork, bottle-shape etc)
- Your general health
- When you last ate and what it consisted of
Wine tasting is a skill and is intended to be fun! With increased knowledge and experience, your wine tasting will become more rewarding as you gain proficiency.