Author: Jim Hammond
To truly discover wine you will fall in love with, it is important to know the proper technique for sampling and tasting wine. This also applies to discovering other wines that reflect your wine palate. How do you discover what is your wine plate? Same answer; by tasting wines.
These are the same steps a sommelier uses to identify a wine’s identity. It is a variation of the Deductive Tasting Method of the Court of Master Sommeliers. Sounds imposing, but it’s based on the same logic Sherlock Holmes uses to solve a case. “It’s elementary my dear Watson.”
Check the wine’s temperature:
Every wine will taste different at different temperatures. There are many charts online that provide this information. The optimum serving temperature for a Cabernet Sauvignon is not the same as a Pinot Noir.
- Served too warm the wine may become harsh and will emphasize the alcohol over the fruit.
- Too cold and the wine closes down and mutes the flavors.
- Serving it at room temperature is not helpful when that can vary from 50 to 90 degrees.
The visual check:
Just verifying if the wine is red, white or pink is not enough. How about the clarity? A cloudy wine usually means a wine fault. Bubbles in a non-sparkling wine could mean secondary fermentation took place in the bottle.
- A sommelier can often tell the wine grape, its age, where it’s from and its alcohol level by doing a visual check.
Checking the wine’s bouquet:
Most wine exhibits a range of aromas that will either stimulate your desire to taste them or to avoid them. Often the wine’s nose is subtle and requires more concentration, which is aided by swirling the wine and giving it time to open up.
- When wine judging we open red wines for up to three hours before tasting, for example. I know; who has the patience for that? Well, planning helps.
- Tilt the glass so your nose is close to the wine, but aspirating wine through your nose is not helpful.
- Isolating one aroma from the bouquet does take practice, but the reward is a greater appreciation for the wine.
If the wine smells sherry-like and it’s not sherry it may be oxidized
Taste the Wine, Coat Mouth and Draw in Air:
Here we are detecting the wine via the five senses of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, which is the savory aspect of the wine. Coating the tongue permits all its sensors to do their job.
- Pay attention to mouth-feel. Is the wine thick, thin, grippy from tannins or velvety?
- Drawing in air over pursed lips enhances these sensations.
- The three acts of tasting the wine are the attack, the mid-palate and the finish. A very short finish is often a wine fault unless it’s a bad-tasting wine. Then it’s a plus.
Spit or Swallow:
This is the step most often ignored. As wine judges we always spit the wine out so our palate is not compromised. Most of what one can learn about a wine ends at step four except for some red wines. If tasting a 2000 Chateau Margaux, definitely don’t spit it out.
- In a tasting room there is usually a spit bucket you can use, unless Miles from Sideways (2004) just left.
Using this tasting method you will not only learn more about wines, but which ones suit you best. Then when you go to a wine shop you will not be overwhelmed by all the choices. You will know just where to go to find your wines. Naturally knowing how to read wine labels will help immeasurably, but we’ll save that for next time.
Jim Hammond, the Southwestern Wine Guy, is a sommelier, writer, radio personality and wine educator — available to help you choose the right wines for any occasion, entertain your guests with wine anecdotes and pairing tips, or educate your team on the nuances of wine that enable them to be comfortable choosing wine for any occasion. Ask about Jim’s “Hollywood and Vines” program, which is a highly entertaining look at wine in the movies, accompanied by appropriate wines and exquisitely paired hors d’oeuvres. Jim is the author of multiple books on wines in New Mexico. His latest is “Wines of Enchantment,” available on Amazon.com. His weekly radio program, “Spirits of New Mexico,” is heard Saturday afternoons on KIVA 1600AM. He is also the Albuquerque Wine Examiner on Examiner.com. Ask him about fundraising options for your favorite non-profit.