Since there are number of new A Glass After Work readers (welcome!), I want to give a little re-introduction to Tuesday’s Tasting Tips & Techniques. I introduced TTT&T in April after a reader asked me how she could better understand wine without taking a class. The request resonated with what I’d heard from other readers, since many of them enjoy wine, but are not experts. At the time, I was tackling the first of my WSET courses, so it was also an opportunity for me to put what I was learning into practice. With that, TTT&T was born.
Up until now, TTT&T posts have been about what to look for in a wine’s appearance and in how the wine smells. Today, though, we’re taking the next big step… it’s finally time to taste the wine! So, take your glass, give it a good swirl, and take a generous sip…but don’t swallow. Instead, move the wine around your mouth, letting it flow over every part of your tongue (front, back, sides, middle, etc), as well as over your gums, through your teeth, and onto the roof of your mouth. You don’t have to do a hard swish as if you were using mouthwash (although you can if that’s your style), but you do want to make sure that your whole mouth is exposed to the wine.
Recent research indicates that the classic tongue tasting map is an inaccurate oversimplification of how humans taste, but there is a place for the traditional taste characteristics—saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and savoriness—when tasting wine tasting. These aspects provide a good framework for thinking about wine, even if those characteristics aren’t associated with a specific area of the tongue, and letting the wine swirl around in your mouth will help you identify those elements of this framework.
When you’re finished swishing, but before you swallow the wine, move it to the back of your mouth, draw in a deep breath to help aerate the wine, close your mouth, and breathe out your nose. Your mouth should be filled with flavors and aromas, giving you your first opportunity to really taste the wine. When you’re ready, swallow the wine. I will say that while you’re breathing in through your mouth, there may be a sucking or a gurgling sound, but don’t be self-conscious. You’re giving the wine some oxygen to help bring out the flavors (just like when you swirl the wine glass), which is key to the tasting experience.
The next TTT&T will be address flavors, but this one is more about overall impressions. In order to pull these impressions together, ask yourself some questions:
Do you feel a pull your gums? The strength of that pull (the astringency) can give you information about the level of tannins in the wine—the more pull, the more tannins. Tannins can also contribute to the bitterness of a wine. Obviously, there is a lot more to understanding the intricacy of tannins and their impact on how a wine tastes, but for me, thinking about the “gum pull” was the easiest way to begin. If you’re looking for more detail, I recommend visiting The Wine Anorak. There is a detailed, but easy to understand explanation by Jamie Goode.
Do you feel a slight tingling sensation in your mouth? As one of my WSET instructors often asked, does the wine make you want to cluck your tongue off the roof of your mouth or make you want to pull your lips back from your teeth? These questions often deal with the acidity level of the wine. A crisp, fresh taste and/or the desire to cluck your tongue often indicates a higher level of acidity. If the wine actually tastes creates a strong a physical reaction or is sour tasting that probably means the acidity is very high, maybe even too high. On the other hand, if the wine is bland or flat, that can be an indication of the acidity being low, maybe even too low.
Common Acidity-Related Descriptors for in Wine
How does the wine feel in your mouth—watery, thick? Descriptions for whether or not a wine is light-, medium-, or full-bodied are among the easiest to identify. However, how the body of the wine interacts with the wine’s other qualities—the acidity, the tannins, the sweetness, the alcohol, etc.—can make all the different between an “eh” wine and a fabulous wine.
When the wine’s taste framework combines harmoniously, you’re tasting a well-balanced wine. If one element dominates, it can throw off the balance and change the tasting experience. That said, having an out-of-balance wine might not indicate a flaw, but rather a sign of age (higher tannins can indicate youth, but aging potential, in a red wine), a character of the grape (certain grapes when grown in certain climates are known for high/low acidity), or an attempt to meet the demand created by popular tastes.
The key in all of this is to find an easy, accessible way to start identifying different aspects of taste. Once you can pick out which elements you enjoy and which ones you don’t, you can better explain your preferences and better tailor your wine purchases.