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Wine Tasting

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"He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long."
Johann Heinrich Voss

Rather than just drink wine, taste it. Learning to taste can be a bit of a challenge. You need special tools, the proper environment and intense awareness with a good memory and vivid imagination.

Do you live life in a casual way or seek out the unusual and learn new things? Everyone chooses where to spend their energy and attention. You may play music, cook seriously, tend a lovely garden. Maybe the things you love aren't vital, but they make life richer. Passion is never wasted effort.

That's why wine lovers learn to taste. They know that the effort they put into understanding and appreciating wine, as opposed to simply enjoying it pays big dividends. Really tasting wine adds an extra dimension to the basic daily routines of eating and drinking. It is pleasurable as well as fun.

So what is wine tasting all about? Like any skill, serious tasting requires a combination of technique and experience. The more you do it, the better you become.

Tips on appreciating and tasting wine.  Different techniques for wine tasting - look, swirl, color, taste, aroma.  Decanting wine - Is it necessary to decant a bottle of wine? What is the best temperature for wine when it is served?

Appreciating Wine

Blind Tasting

Here is a quick primer on blind tasting. It features an unidentified wine, an expert taster, using only his senses and his memory, attempting to pick out the grape variety, the wine's vintage, its region of origin, even the specific winery that produced it. But, that's a myth. Actually, if the wine is served at room temperature and the taster is blindfolded, most can't even tell if it's red or white. Harry Waugh, an English wine expert who has been tasting for nearly 80 years, was once asked if he had ever mistaken Burgundy for Bordeaux. "Not since lunch," he replied.

Blind tasting can be great parlor game. It is the only true way to taste wines. With a concerted effort using all of his senses, and by comparing immediate perceptions with memories of other wines tasted, the serious taster can decode a wine's biography to an amazing extent, including the growing season, the approach of the winemaker and its relationship to other wines of similar type or origin. Every bottle of wine is a message, the physical embodiment of a specific place and time captured and transmitted for the pleasure of the taster. Open a bottle of 1961 red Bordeaux and even a generation later the dusty warmth of that long, hot summer floods the dining room.

Enhance Communication

Wine Tasting

Wine is a catalyst. In properly used amounts, alcohol has a cheering effect on the mind. The Bible says that wine gladdens the heart of man. It actually brings clarity and cheerfulness before it brings slowness and a lisping tongue. The effort to understand wine through tasting, and to share that understanding with other tasters, creates a common experience that builds bonds between people. The great French enologist Emile Peynaud emphasized this aspect of tasting in his landmark book, The Taste of Wine:

"Great wine has that marvelous quality of immediately establishing communication between those who are drinking it. Tasting it at table should not be a solitary activity and fine wine should not be drunk without comment. There are few pleasures which loosen the tongue as much as that of sharing wine, glass in hand. In essence it is easy to describe what one senses provided one has made a sufficient effort to notice it. What is clearly perceived can be clearly expressed."

 

Techniques

Techniques of tasting can improve your capacity to perceive wine clearly. The approach is really pretty simple and follows logically through a well-defined series of steps. Some of the procedures may not feel natural and may seem pompous to the amateur, but they've been developed over centuries to achieve specific goals. With a little experience, they can become automatic. Swirling wine in the glass to release the aromas may feel awkward at first, but it is necessary.

Consider Your Surroundings

Wine Tasting

Not all wines merit close analysis. If you're at a picnic drinking Zinfandel out of a paper cup, any effort to do any serious tasting would be a wasted effort and most likely will be perceived as arrogant. Expert tasters use a brightly-lit, odor-free room with white walls and tabletops in order to allow the wine to throw the clearest possible relief. It is the lack of a room's ambiance that improves analysis. To maximize both the enjoyment and analysis, serve wine to your friends while they sit on comfortable chairs, with warm candlelight and good food to create an ambience where the wine and your guests can express themselves. Let them relax and enjoy the surroundings and not just the wine.

Remember - tasting is not a test. Your personal response is more important than any "right answers." In the end: Wine that tastes good to you is good wine.

No matter how advanced your technique becomes, tasting is not an exact science. Preferences vary widely when it comes to flavor and aroma. These preferences are both physiological and cultural. When test groups of French and Germans were given wine with 8 grams of sugar per liter, 92 percent of the Germans thought the wine was "dry" while only 7 percent of the French did. Why? Because German whites are more sweet than French whites; so the German tasters were not as sensitive to sugar in their wines.

Do not make your goal in tasting wine to "find" the same aromas and flavors another taster is describing. If you sharpen your own perceptual abilities and develop your own vocabulary to articulate them, you'll not only get more enjoyment from the wine itself, but also be able to express yourself better to your friends who are sharing the bottle.

Look

Tips on appreciating and tasting wine.  Different techniques for wine tasting - look, swirl, color, taste, aroma.  Decanting wine - Is it necessary to decant a bottle of wine? What is the best temperature for wine when it is served?

The first step in tasting wine is to examine the wine and note its color, intensity and clarity. Just looking at a plateful of delicious food increases our enjoyment and appetite. It's the same with wine. Fill the wine glass only one-third full, never more than half way. Then pick it up by the stem. This may feel a bit uncoordinated at first, but if you hold the glass around the bowl, your hand will warm the wine's temperature and hide your view of the contents of the glass. Peynaud says, "Offer someone a wine glass and you can tell immediately by the way they hold it whether or not they are connoisseurs."

Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of wine is its color. Is it white, red - or a rose? What about the hue and clarity? Each requires a different way of looking. The true color, or hue, of the wine is best judged by tilting the glass and looking at the wine through the rim, to see the variation from the deepest part of the liquid to its edges. Intensity can best be gauged looking straight down through the wine from above. Clarity - whether the wine is brilliant, or cloudy with particles - is most evident when light is shining sideways through the glass.

Every element reveals different aspects of a wine's character and quality. But don't forget simply to enjoy the wine's color. No other liquid is as vivid and variegated, or reflects light with such joy and finesse. There's good reason wine's appearance is often compared to ruby and garnet, topaz and gold.

Swirl

Wine Tasting

This can also feel unnatural, even dangerous if your glass is too full and your clothing is brand-new. But besides stirring up the full range of colors, it prepares the wine for the next step, the olfactory examination. The easiest way to swirl is to rest the base of the glass on a table, hold the stem between thumb and forefinger, and gently rotate the wrist. Right-handers will find a counter-clockwise motion easiest, left-handers the reverse.

Move the glass until the wine is dancing, climbing nearly to the rim. Then stop. As the liquid settles back into the bottom of the glass, a transparent film will appear on the inside of the bowl, falling slowly and irregularly down the sides in the wine's "tears" or "legs." They are an indication of the amount of alcohol in the wine: the more alcohol, the more tears. Remember that when you're considering whether to open another bottle.

Wine Tasting

 

Smell

The sense of smell and the sense of taste are so closely intertwined that one could not exist without the other. For this reason, much of what we think is taste really comes through our noses. Agitating the wine vaporizes it, and the thin sheet of liquid on the sides of the glass evaporates rapidly; the result is an intensification of the aromas. If the glass narrows at the top, the aromas are further concentrated. Stick your nose right into the bowl and inhale then absorb the odor.

There's no consensus about the proper sniffing technique. Some advocate two or three quick inhalations; others prefer one deep, decisive sniff. The goal is to draw the aromas deep into the nose. With practice, and keen attention, you'll learn how to maximize your perception of aromas, and then how to decipher them.

The world of smell is vast and bewildering. First of all, our olfactory equipment is incredibly sensitive; we can distinguish aromas in quantities so small that laboratory equipment can scarcely measure them. Second, our analytical brain is extraordinary. Some scientists estimate the number of different smells humans can identify is up to 10,000! Finally, wine has a staggering number of fragrant elements. In their exhaustive study Wines: Their Sensory Evaluation, Maynard Amerine and Edward Roessler, both professors at the University of California, write that "Identified in wine aromas are at least 181 esters, 52 alcohols, 75 aldehydes and ketones, 22 acetals, 18 lactones, six secondary acetamides, 29 nitrogen-containing compounds, 18 sulfur-containing compounds, two ethers, 11 furans and 18 epoxides, as well as 30 miscellaneous compounds. Many of these are modified in various ways by aging and cellar treatment, and they can and do react with each other or have additive, masking or synergistic properties."

Serious wine tasters love to identify smells. "Chocolate!" cries one. "Burnt matches!" insists another. "Tea, tobacco, mushrooms and a bit of the old barnyard," cries a third. Are they just playing word games? No, smell is very important to the wine taster.

Bit there are more smells in wine than just grapes. Analysis of its volatile components has identified the same molecules that give many familiar objects their distinctive scents. Here are just a few: raspberry, rose, iris, cherry, peach, honey and vanilla. Who's to say that some of the more imaginative descriptors - from road tar to cat's pee (that sour acid smell) or gym socks and smoked bacon - aren't grounded in some basic chemical resemblance?

As with color, wine's aromas offer insights into character, origin and history. Because our actual sense of taste is limited to four simple categories (the well-known sweet, sour, bitter and salt), aroma is the most revealing aspect of our examination. But don't simply sniff for clues. Revel in the sensation. Scientists say smells have direct access to the brain, connecting immediately to memory, emotion and mood. Like a lover's perfume, freshly-mowed grass that brings to mind a special summer memory or the scent of cookies from childhood. The same is true for wine.

Taste

Now comes the best part. Learning how to taste wines is a straightforward adventure that will deepen your appreciation for both wines and winemakers. You can be mesmerized by wine's flashing colors and hypnotized into a dreamy trance by its stimulating aromas.

You might think it's the easiest part, too. After all, you learned to drink from a cup when you were 2 years old and have been practicing diligently ever since. But there's a huge distinction between swallowing and tasting. It's like the difference between simply hearing and truly listening. Once again, correct technique is essential to full appreciation.

Tips on appreciating and tasting wine.  Different techniques for wine tasting - look, swirl, color, taste, aroma.  Decanting wine - Is it necessary to decant a bottle of wine? What is the best temperature for wine when it is served?

With the aromas still reverberating through your senses, put the glass to your lips and start with a small sip and let it roll around your tongue. You need to have enough volume to work it all around your tasting apparatus, but not so much that you're forced to swallow right away. You don't want to swallow, not just yet. It takes time and effort to force the wine to divulge its secrets. Keep a pleasant wine in your mouth for 10 to 15 seconds, sometimes more.

After gathering your initial impression of the wine, allow a small breath of air in through your lips and allow the wine to mingle with the air (called swirling). This will allow you to taste flavors more fully. This creates a bubbling noise children find immensely amusing. It also accelerates vaporization intensifying the aromas. Second, chew the wine vigorously, sloshing it around in your mouth, to draw every last nuance of flavor from the wine. Roll the wine all around your mouth, bringing it into contact with every part, because each decodes a different aspect of the liquid. Wine provokes sensations, too: The astringency of tannins is most perceptible on the inner cheeks and the heat of the alcohol burns in the back of the throat.

Don't forget the finish. The wine's finish is how long the flavor lasts after it is swallowed. So, after you swallow, exhale gently and slowly through both your nose and mouth. The retronasal passage, which connects the throat and the nose, is another avenue for aromas, which can linger long after the wine is finally swallowed. You'll find that the better the wine, the more complex, profound and long-lasting these residual aromas can be. With great wines, sensitive tasters and minimal distractions, the finish can last a minute or more. It's a moment of meditation and communion that no other beverage can create.

Wine tasting offers us the best route to understanding the messages hidden in the bottle. You can think of them as poetic, or autobiographical.

Poetry comes easily to sensitive palates confronted with great wines. It's harder work to tease out the facts that create these feelings. After all, as Emile Peynaud puts it so bluntly, "Considered from a chemical point of view, wine is a hydro-alcoholic solution containing 20 to 30 grams of substances in solution, which constitute the extract and give it flavor, and several hundred milligrams of volatile substances, which constitute its odor." An attentive taster can learn a great deal about the wine they compose by deciphering these diverse substances

Every wine is a complex web made up of natural and man-made components. The final taste is determined by forces as non-negotiable as the number of hours of sunlight during the grapes' growing season, and decisions as personal as whether the grape juice should macerate on its skins for 10 days or two weeks or a month. While no introductory guide can even attempt to link all the ways flavor reflects the particular history of a wine, the more of them tasters can identify, the more complete their appreciation will be.

Wine tasting is not just like art, it is an art.

Clues From Color of the Wine

Wine Tasting

The color of wine comes from the skin of the grapes and not the juice. The juice that comes from nearly every variety of grape when pressed is white or clear. This is true of red grapes as well as white wines. The color or pigments of red grapes are found in the skins of the grapes. In order to make a red wine from red grapes, it is necessary to keep the skins with the juice during fermentation. When the skins are placed in the fermenting 'must', pigments leech out of the skins and color the wine. Longer skin contact results in a darker color. When red grapes are pressed and the skins are taken out of the juice, the color of the wine remains white and is considered a 'blanc de noirs' (a white wine from red grapes). Rose wines are more often produced by adding a specific amount of red wine to an already finished white wine.

Many clues are given by the color of the wine. It can help you gauge the wine's condition, quality, age, and even style. In general, the less intense a wine's color is, the more delicate the flavor and body will be. The color of any good wine should be clear. As wine age their colors change. White wines become darker, often with traces of amber; red wines begin to fade and often assume a tawny, red-brick cast. A change of color in a young wine is an indication of premature aging.

Color reflects the specific variety of grape (or grapes) from which the wine is made. Take two common red grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. Cabernet berries are typically smaller, with thicker, darker skins, than Pinot Noir. As a result, wines made from Cabernet grapes tend to show darker colors, leaning toward more intense purple or black, instead of the ruby or garnet tones associated with Pinot.

In addition, color is influenced by growing conditions in the vineyard. Warm summers and dry autumns produce grapes that are fully ripe, with a high ratio of skin to juice, thus resulting in deeper colors. Cool summers or a rainy harvest can result in unripe or diluted grapes. This will show up in colors with lighter hues and less intensity.

Wine Tasting

Vinification techniques can also affect color. When red wines ferment, the grape skins are left to macerate in the juice, just like a tea bag steeping in warm water. The elements that create color, the anthocyanins, are found in the skins, not the juice itself (most grapes, even red varieties, have clear juice), so the longer the skins steep, the darker the color will be. Even after fermentation is over and the skins are discarded, some solid material remains in suspension in the wine. Some winemakers choose to remove this material, through fining or filtering; others believe the wine benefits from a little residual deposit.

The time in bottle, know as "aging", also has an impact. Young red wines are full of anthocyanins (color pigments), and so their colors are deeper. With maturity these coloring elements evolve, lightening to colors described as "brick" or "amber," and slowly combining and falling out of suspension in the wine, creating a sediment in the bottom of the bottle.

So when you pour a glass of red wine and look at it closely, you may find a deep garnet color, with good intensity but not brilliantly clear. You might reasonably conclude that the wine is made from Cabernet Sauvignon grown in a warm climate, that the winemaker chose to extend maceration and to filter only lightly, and that it's from a recent good vintage. If the tasting is not blind and you already know what the wine is, you can compare its color with what you might expect. Possibly it's unusually dark for a weak vintage, indicating good grape-growing or wine making abilities, or maybe it's already pale for its age, suggesting that the grapes lacked concentration, or the winemaker was unable to extract the concentration that allows wines to mature with grace and complexity.

Clues From Aroma

Our sight enjoys the color of the wine and our sense of smell enjoys the aroma.  Much of a wine's character is revealed only through the aroma it radiate.  This adds richly to the dimensions found in wine. Every step you take during tasting will add more details to the equation, perhaps modifying the conclusions you're drawing so far about the wine. Aroma is the most multifaceted element, and the most informative to the knowledgeable taster. Some critics divide the aromatic components into several classes:

  • those produced by the grapes themselves
  • those introduced by the chemical processes of wine making and, finally
  • those that result from the evolution of the wine over time in the bottle

Occasionally the first two classes, which are most distinguishing when the wine is young, are called the "aroma," while the third, which emerges only in maturity, is called the "bouquet."

Just like color, grape variety and growing season are influential factors in aroma. Pinot Noir typically smells of red fruits like cherries and raspberries. Cabernet Sauvignon, like its color, tends to have darker aromas, typically black currents, black cherries or plums.

The methods of wine making considerably affect aromas. The yeasts that cause fermentation are sometimes chosen by the winemakers and added to the juice purposely because of the aromatic and flavor nuances they create. Cool fermentations yield lively, fruity smells; warmer ones have more spicy and earthy notes.

After fermentation comes the biggest aromatic influence, when the wine is racked off the skins and held for clarification and maturation before bottling. Some Cabernets are simply pumped into large vats, usually made of stainless steel, epoxied concrete or old wood. The large volume of the liquid and the indistinct nature of the container accentuate the fruit character inherent in the wine. Other wines, those generally more ambitious and expensive, are racked into small, 60 gallon oak barrels. If the barrels are old, they too will be principally neutral, adding very little in the way of flavor or aroma. However, if the barrels are new, the wine absorbs elements from the wood that can add aromas and flavors of vanilla, smoke, toast, coffee or even chocolate. The character of the aromas depends on the barrels – their origin (French or American), how much the inside of the barrels have been charred, or "toasted," and what percentage of the barrels are new.

Wine Tasting

Aromas are influenced by the amount of time in the bottle. Young red wines smell of fruit. When they age, their bouquet evolves into complex perfumes that blend cedar, tobacco, tea, mushrooms and spices. Our diverse cultures favor one stage over the other. The French drink their reds vigorous and fruity, while the English fancy the softer, more earthy aromas of established wines. Although young wines can be enjoyable. a great wine aged to ideal maturity is an experience to be celebrated, and once sniffed will never be forgotten.

When you smell Cabernet and find scents that remind you of plums or blackberries, joined by aromas of vanilla and toast, you can logically suppose the wine is young, made from ripe grapes and aged in a high percentage of new barrels. This is the formula that most often results in concentrated, age-worthy wines. If there are herbal, vegetal or other "green" notes, you may assume the growing season was cool or short, precluding the grapes from fully reaching maturity. However, if the fruit smells "cooked," ripe and sweet like jam or even raisins, overripe fruit from a long, hot summer is a likely cause.

Clues From Taste

At last you taste the wine, and all the last evidence falls into place. The human tongue has four basic classes of taste receptors: sweet, salt, acid and bitter. In truth, all four tastes can be perceived anywhere on the tongue, or even on the roof of the mouth. But certain zones have receptors that are more sensitive to particular attributes:

  1. Sweet (sugars) [on the tip of the tongue]
  2. Saltiness (salts) [flanking the sweet zone]
  3. Acid (sour): low pH, acidic foods like lemon juice or vinegar [along the sides of the tongue]
  4. Bitter (bases): high pH, alkaline foods like baking soda or unsweetened chocolate [far back on the tongue]
Wine Tasting

Most of what you "taste" is actually perceived by your sense of "smell", but taste does add basic information, particularly about sweetness and acidity. If there is any sweetness in a wine whatsoever, you'll taste it right away. Acidity is most commonly present in white wines and some lighter-style red wines. Just as important are other physical sensations perceived in the mouth, such as a wine's body, astringency and alcohol level.

The level of alcohol in wine results predominantly from the ripeness of the grapes at harvest (more sugar in the grapes equals more strength in the wine) plus, where it's allowed, from additional sugar added during fermentation in a process called chaptalization. The majority of table wines contain from 7 – 14% alcohol naturally, and winemakers generally chaptalize when needed to reach levels of 12 – 13%, although it is practically always illegal to enhance a wine more than two degrees, or percents, through added sugar). Elevated alcohol levels give wines richer textures and fuller bodies. Alcohol also provides a subliminal sweetness that's necessary to balance acidity and vinegary components unavoidably present in wine. 

The grapes naturally contain acidity, although in hot climates, and where it's legal, winemakers sometimes add some tartaric or citric acid to balance the sugar in ultraripe fruit. A process called malolactic fermentation (actually a bacterial activity, not a true fermentation) can also influence acidity. This process happens after alcoholic fermentation, almost always in red wines and selectively in whites, consistent with to the winemaker's vision of the wine. It converts rather harsh malic acid, like the kind found in green apples, to softer, rounder lactic acid, like the kind found in milk. This yields softer wines that, especially whites, often show marked buttery or creamy flavors. 

Tannins, perceived as astringent, are elements extracted mainly from grape skins (and so found mostly in red wines), but which can derive from stems or seeds, and also from oak, especially new oak barrels. Young red wines meant for lengthy aging are pumped full of tannins by extending the maceration period or otherwise enhancing their extraction. This is done because tannins act as a preservative and their chemical evolution toward softer, silkier textures is part of the maturation of great wines. 

Tips on appreciating and tasting wine.  Different techniques for wine tasting - look, swirl, color, taste, aroma.  Decanting wine - Is it necessary to decant a bottle of wine? What is the best temperature for wine when it is served?

Once the wine is in your mouth, you may notice an obvious astringency, plenty of fruit and very little tartness. When you swallow, there's a warm feeling in the back of your throat followed by a extended aftertaste. Thus you can logically suppose that the wine is made from ripe grapes, probably grown in a balmy climate, and that the winemaker emphasized extraction to produce a long-lived wine. If the wine is too alcoholic and lacking in acidity, the grapes may have gotten too ripe before they were picked. If the tannins are too severe, the winemaker may have left the juice on the skins for too long, with a goal to make a super-wine but instead ending up with a bodybuilder, notable in youth but not likely to maintain its form. 

Don't stop your focus when you swallow, though. The finish, that taste that lingers for seconds, sometimes minutes, after the wine is gone, is the wine's parting. If it's short, the wine is simple and probably meant for early drinking. The longer the finish, no matter what its age, the better the likelihood you have a winner. 

Tannins soften with age and the wine, which may have been a collection of notable but contrasting impressions in its youth, will become more harmonious and complex. One of the most significant, but least confident judgments a wine taster makes is when a wine will reach its peak, the time when all its elements come together creating a seamless web of color, aroma and flavor. A good reason to invest in a wine by the case is to follow its progression through the years. Your chances will be maximized of catching the wine at its very best. 

Hence our hypothetical tasting is over. Given an unidentified red wine, we've determined that it has a deep garnet color, lively aromas with flavors of blackberries and toast. It is full-bodied and firmly tannic on the palate, with a long, clean finish. We can presume it to be a young California Cab from a quality vintage that's been made to develop with age and that, while it's appealing to drink it now, it will be become smoother and more complex after two or three years in the bottle. Ahh, but don't be surprised if it turns out that the wine is from Bordeaux or Australia or even from some completely different grape! 

If we recognize that the wine we're drinking is, say, Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve 1992, we can concur that it delivers on its promises and contentedly put our other bottles safely in the cellar to use later for a special dinner with friends. 

More often than not we drink young, simple wines. What you taste is what you get. They may be flavorful and refreshing and they don't require comprehensive analysis. All the same, it can be amusing to taste them blind, to try to reach back through the wine into its components: the grape variety, vintage quality and wine making techniques. 

Friends come over, wine corkscrews found, wine glasses passed out, wine racks fill and empty and fill again. However, if we're paying attention along the way, our memory and knowledge is raised and every addition adds meaning and value to each wine we drink. Here's Peynaud again, nearly 70 now, reflecting on a lifetime of wine drinking: 

"The world of wine is infinite," he writes. "How could I possibly commit to memory the thousands of wines that I have tasted from all over the world? The rate at which I taste now has gone beyond the limits of memory, it is wasteful in effect. Nonetheless, I still have the notes of all my tastings and every now and again I leaf through them; the experience is like looking at the pictures in a travel album which can take me back in time and space." 

We can expand our experiences of eating and drinking using this wine tasting technique. But it can also be a fun and rewarding practice that enhances our perceptions and strengthens every aspect of the sensory world. That's a bold claim for a ordinary activity, but those who know wine well know it to be true.

Temperature

Also important to serving wine also includes the serving temperature, proper opening and pouring methods, the decision whether or not to decant the bottle and appropriate wine stemware. It might surprise you to know that you can affect the way a wine tastes almost as much as the winemaker, simply by changing the temperature at which you serve it.

Tips on appreciating and tasting wine.  Different techniques for wine tasting - look, swirl, color, taste, aroma.  Decanting wine - Is it necessary to decant a bottle of wine? What is the best temperature for wine when it is served?

Ultimately, the "correct" temperature, like so many details in wine tasting, is a matter of personal preference. There are those who simply cannot drink a beverage without ice. But if you know that wine temperature influences wine flavor, that is a good reasons to follow practices that have been proven effective over time.

You get no aroma and no flavor if you drink a wine ice cold. It simply tastes like cold water. Cold temperatures also enhance sensitivity to bitterness. If you drink a wine steaming hot, all of the alcohol vapors are released, and the wine tastes like straight alcohol. Warm also increases the impact of sweetness. Somewhere in between is the true nuances of a wine's flavor.

According to French enologist Emile Peynaud, "The same red wine will seem thin and hot at 72° F, supple and fluid at 64°, full and astringent at 50°." So a powerful tannic red should be poured warm enough to minimize its astringency, but not so warm as to emphasize its alcohol. Well chilled sweet white wines are chilled to keep their sweetness in balance.

To say it simply:

  • Chill white wines, before serving, for 30 minutes to an hour, to a temperature of 45° to 50°. If too cold, its taste will be dulled. Serving it much warmer than recommended can also dull its flavor while emphasizing the taste of the alcohol. A wine chiller will instantly chill your wine to the correct temperature.
  • Red wines should be served at room temperature, although if your home is particularly warm the wine may need to be chilled slightly.

Remember too that the wine will warm up in the glass, since most dining rooms are heated to 70° or more, so it's better to serve them a couple of degrees too cold than too warm.

Opening the Bottle

Tips on appreciating and tasting wine.  Different techniques for wine tasting - look, swirl, color, taste, aroma.  Decanting wine - Is it necessary to decant a bottle of wine? What is the best temperature for wine when it is served?

Normally the way you open the bottle doesn't affect its flavors, but as part of the ceremony of wine it helps put the tasters in a receptive mood. The first thing to do, if the cork has a capsule that covers the neck of the bottle, is to cut it cleanly below the protruding lip and remove the top portion or simply take the whole thing off. Next, wipe the neck of the bottle to remove any mold or mineral salts that may have accumulated. Choose from wine corkscrews that feel comfortable in your hand, pull the cork out slowly, trying not to agitate any sediment in the wine, and wipe the inside of the bottle neck before pouring.

The Wine Decanter

Is it necessary to decant a bottle of wine, that is, poured from the bottle into a different container for serving? Decanting is traditional practice in wine circles and restaurants, and involves nothing more than pulling the cork and transferring the wine to another container. But it is a controversial topic.

Decanting - Yes, decant if the wine has thrown a heavy deposit. Vintage Port and full-bodied, mature reds are the usual culprits here. But, decanting is useless if the sediment is floating throughout the wine. It is good to stand the bottle upright for a day or two before opening.

Yes, also for young red wines that haven't had a chance to fully mature in the bottle, decanting triggers oxidation and evaporation and allows the wine to release its flavors by exposing it to the air. Allow the wine to sit up to one hour before serving. However, no scientific evidence supports this point of view. It is true that wines change with exposure to air, but mostly for the worse. Old wines, for example, may deteriorate rapidly after opening.

Wine Tasting

And, yes, if you want to show off an heirloom crystal wine decanter or hide the identity of the wine.

Nearly any wine looks more enticing in stylish crystal decanter. In all other cases, decanting is futile at best, harmful at worst.

Wine is exceedingly complex. It contains literally hundreds of compounds, but the fruit character that provides much of a wine's appeal comes from just a fraction of them. Unfortunately, these essential compounds oxidize easily. An oxidized wine will be stale and flat, lacking richness. A wine's response to aeration depends upon its fruit concentration, as well as factors (such as pH and temperature) that mitigate oxidation.

Other compounds in wine can hinder the expression of fruit character. For example, Sulfites are added during the production process to prevent oxidation and inhibit microbial activity, but in excess they can impart a burnt matchstick character. Sulfides, a different class of compounds, can form naturally during wine making and in the bottle, revealing unfavorable traits such as rotten egg and onion skin aromas. The ideal is to have decanting allow undesirable compounds to evaporate faster than the fruit oxidizes.

However, decanting is advisable in certain instances. Older reds produce a natural sediment as color pigments and tannins bond together and fall out of solution. Decanting is simply the process of separating the clear wine from the sediment.

Before decanting, the bottle should be upright for at least 24 hours for the best results. Remove the capsule and cork, and with a light under the neck of the bottle (a candle or flashlight works well), pour the wine into a clean vessel using even rate of flow of wine in a slow and steady motion until you can see the sediment reach the neck of the bottle. The wine is now ready to serve.

Champagne and sparkling wines have a different closure, and must be handled carefully since the contents are under pressure and could cause injury. With your thumb covering the metal crown to prevent the cork from ejecting, remove the foil and loosen the wire fastener. Without removing the wire, grip the cork firmly and with your other hand turn the bottle, slowly releasing the cork. If the wine is well chilled, this process is easier.

 

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