Wine tasting with all Senses
Explore wine's well-travelled path from grape to glass; something of a unique sensorial pleasure as most of our senses connect when we're intrigued enough about the wonder of being able to taste where it all came from...
Tasting a wine's well-travelled path
It's indeed quite true that we eat and drink ‘with our eyes first’, noting a wine's colours and radiance. We then (ignore the ‘snob’ factor here!) swirl and sniff to make an initial note of the aroma and bouquet, preparing the palate, and then sip and savour the taste. Our sense of touch appreciates the body of a wine, its viscosity, any tannins or perhaps a velvety finish. Other aesthetics that appeal to touch even include holding different glasses to suit and enhance the wine or beverage they contain, according to a specific style. We also engage in a rather tactile ritual of how we uncork wine and decant it, and even nestle the bottles in decorative wine buckets. It could also be said that even our sense of hearing is quite delighted by the sound of wine gently pouring into a glass, alerted and excited by the pop of a champagne cork or that the clink of glasses in cheers is a sound that resonates with human happiness and camaraderie.
A wine, or any tasting experience, can therefore be one of synergy, as when all these senses engage, the mind is truly intrigued or curiosity piqued by other worlds of different cuisine, culture and travel, for example, as they carry the imprint of the place from which they originate.
It is all this that surrounds the hedonistic pursuit of these glorious and characterful ambrosia liquids, making each discovery capable of rendering endless interest and fascination...
This does not rest exclusively on how expensive a wine is, as there are many factors at play.
For centuries, fine wines have captured people’s imagination – along with their senses – because from grape to glass, their essence inspires great stories behind the labels. They have a peculiar diversity that lends itself to a fascinating provenance – the narrative around origin and the path travelled to reach those five senses. It's known as terroir but here's a Sip Savour Explore summary:
Wine tasting is carried out in a sequence of logical steps, according to certain principles – appearance, clarity, smell etc, in order to give some structure to a wine’s description, characteristics and style. Judging wine has a very practical use in terms of understanding harmonious wine-and-food pairings, writing informative wine lists and for essential cellar notes for storage; for example. A simple overview is (WSET, 2015):
Sight: Appearance of Clarity, Intensity and Colour
Smell: Aroma and Bouquet
Taste: Sweetness/dryness, Tannin/Oak, Acidity, Weight or Body, Alcohol, Fruit, Length, Balance
Aroma is often noted as the primary smell of a young wine, while bouquet denotes a more matured wine displaying more detailed characteristics. Finally, always consider:
quality in terms of provenance,
age and maturity potential,
the value for money when weighing these factors up against actual price, and weighing up the overall combined factors.
Primary, secondary and tertiary wine characteristics:
Acidity is often dominant and noticeable in Sauvignon Blanc... it’s what makes your cheeks pucker and that feeling of squidgy salivation. Tannin is not common in white wine (only a bit in Chardonnay) but prevalent in red wine. It’s a chalky grittiness that can coat the palate in a drying and slightly unpleasant way if it has not been done well. This is because it’s much more complex – there are fruit tannins and then oak tannins from when wine is aged in barrel. Fruit tannins and acidity are primary characteristics in that they are detected first – they kind of jump out. Oak tannins are secondary characteristics in that they lie a bit deeper within the wine – they are imparted but not inherent in the wine – as they have been passed into the liquid as they lie in barrel.
This is where age and origin of the barrels comes into play. French oak is most often best as it is subtle and silky, sometimes even spicy. But Hungarian and American oak (can be cheaper for the winemaker) are a bit stronger and harsher, often a bit vanilla-ey. Then on good wines look on the label to see if second-, third- or fourth-fill barrels are mentioned. The more times a barrel is used, the better, as the wine softens the wood and leaves an interesting character passed on into the next batch etc. It gives ‘elegance’. Also the more the oak sits in barrel, it will obviously take on more oakey character, but, the better integrated it can become as it matures and finally gives – tertiary characteristics, where everything merges together, fruit, acidity and tannins in a wonderful symbiosis or gestalt – where the whole is now greater than the sum of the parts. It is all this that makes some people say they find red wine infinitely more fascinating – there are a few more factors at play.
It’s a good reason why people make tasting notes, which are actually a bit like a food diary – it can be immensely useful to keep a note of things you like and don’t like so you can make worthwhile purchases and enhance your tasting journey!
Old World vs New World wines
When we talk about ‘Old World’ wines, it refers to the countries that are considered the ‘birthplaces of wine, essentially Europe and the Middle East, including: France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Greece, Lebanon, Israel, Croatia, Georgia, Romania, Hungary and Switzerland…Wines tend to be lighter-bodied, more restrained, can be less fruity with higher acidity and lower in alcohol, though this is very much a generalization and not always true (Vinepair, n.d.). A notable distinction is that wine bottle labels from these places will note
and emphasise the place of origin.
‘New World’ wines refer to countries or regions where winemaking grapes were ‘imported during (and after) the age of exploration from countries that used to be the colonies, including: the United States, Australia, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand’ (Puckette, 2012). Often with warmer climates, these wines tend to be more full-bodied with ripe fruit flavour and can have higher alcohol. Wines from these countries and regions may have the origin on the bottle label but they will also specify the grape variety or cultivar.
Origins and classification
The main reason that wines from the Old World note the origin on the label is that their winemaking viticulture and vinification methods are heavily restricted, with strict guidelines all wineries must follow. ‘Each country and region of that country in the Old World has been making wine a certain way for centuries, and current winemakers are held to those old standards’ (Vinepair, n.d.) There is a great deal of heritage behind this, and important part of provenance, which can often be part of the rationale behind higher pricing.
It was the French who began the system of ‘named regions’ by way of certification – appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) meaning ‘controlled designation of origin’ – but the same principles extended to other parts of Europe. The system is based around ‘how countries categorize their wines into specific grape-growing geographical regions. An appellation not only indicates the country and region where the wine’s grapes were grown, but also the laws and regulations that dictate how that particular wine was made’ (Puckette, M., 2015)
In France, there are regions, villages, communes and then vineyards where only specific grapes can be grown – and thus, the more specific the areas of a named zone, the better or higher quality the wine. As no intervention such as irrigation is permitted, the influence of natural factors such as the soil of the region and the weather patterns of the climate impart specific characteristics to a particular vintage. As only specific varieties can be grown in these best suited sites, the origin name gives the consumer an idea of what is in the wine, e.g. Bordeaux is nearly always comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. In the Rhone Valley, Shiraz is the main grape to be found and in Burgundy, for example, it is
Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
However, as permission to put an AOC on a label comes with such strict regulations, there is also a term ‘vin de France’ meaning generic ‘table wine’, which can be made anywhere within France. In the New World sites, there are far fewer restrictions applied, and wines are labelled generally with the grape variety or cultivar, and there may be a mention of region; e.g. in the Cape it will say Wine of Origin (WO) Western Cape
Other terms to note on a label include: ‘brut’, meaning dry and ‘doux’ meaning sweet; ‘cuvée’ can be used to mean the first press of the wine juice from harvest, or a selection from special barrels; Premier and Grand Cru are a special French classification, with Grand Cru followed by Premier Cru, above the basic village appellations. The label will also give the ABV or alcohol percentage by volume.