With many volumes written on the subject, the newcomer can easily become overwhelmed. However, here are a few guide lines to get you on your way to becoming a wine connoisseur.
There are essentially five steps to the tasting of wine: observing its appearance, swirling to release its "bouquet", smelling it to determine its aroma, tasting it, and finally, savouring it. The appearance of white wines will gain colour with age, as red wines will lose colour. Different grape varieties will produce a difference in colour as will aging the wine in wood. White wines will range from pale yellow-green to gold to tawny; red wines range from deep purple to bright red to amber hues.
Swirling the wine to aerate it releases the wine's fragrances. This will give the wine taster the opportunity to savour its bouquet and aroma. After you've sufficiently swirled the wine, watch how it adheres to the sides of the glass, creating rivulets or "legs". This will give you an idea of the wine's texture and weight, for example, whether it is full bodied or light.
Smelling, or finding a wine's "nose", is an important part of wine tasting. When smelling wine, take note of its characteristics. Does it smell fresh, mature, bitter, earthy, grapey, nutty, vanilla, fruity? There are hundreds of words to describe a wine's fragrance.
Now for tasting, it is important to taste the wine from all areas of your mouth, before swallowing, to get the full range of taste. Tastes to be aware of are: sweetness, fruit and varietal characteristics, acidity (white wines), tannin or astringency (red wine or wood aged white wines), and aftertaste. A high quality wine will have a long, pleasing after-taste or "finish".
After tasting, sit back and savour the sensations. Is the wine light, medium, or full bodied? With white wine, how was its acid balance? With red wine, was the tannin firm, too soft or just right? How long did the after-taste stay with you? Was it pleasing? Do you like this wine and would you have it again? Once you have decided you like a particular wine you may wish to learn more about it. Who produced it? What is unique about this wine? What variety of grape was used in its making? Was it aged in wood or stainless steel tanks?
Remember that experience is your best teacher, so the more varieties of wine you have the pleasure of tasting, the closer you are to becoming a connoisseur. But do remember, tasting wine is highly subjective and it is up to you to decide for yourself whether or not the wine is to your taste.
A NOTE ABOUT SULPHITES IN WINE
The addition of sulphites in wine prevents oxidation by binding with the oxygen molecules rendering both molecules inert. Measurement of sulphite in wine has 2 components: the total amount added, and the "free" or unbonded and hence still active amount. Some sulphite is naturally formed by the yeast in wine-making as a by-product of fermentation.
In Canada, the maximum level of "free" sulphite allowed in wine is 75 parts per million, whereas British Columbia organic standards specifies a limit of 30 parts per million. To put these amounts in context, most dried fruits for example have levels of free sulphite in excess of 200 parts per million.
In those people with sensitivity to sulphites, difficulty in breathing is the most common symptom and tends to be experienced by those who suffer from asthma. Other possible symptoms include chest tightness, nausea and hives. For those who do experience sensitivity to sulphites, an organic wine would be the best choice, or (sadly), abstinence altogether.
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