There’s no question that wine tasting lends itself to a lot of nonsense. We have all seen the hyper poetic descriptions that often times sound either like a love letter between Victorian thespians or the rantings of some sicko (who the hell knows what the underbelly of a hare is supposed to smell like?!). It does not need to be that way if it’s done with a certain down to earth purpose.
The sense of smell is hugely important when tasting. It provides those nuances that go beyond pure “palate” tasting of bitter, salty, sweet, sour, and umami (savory). The problem is that in our culture we do not particularly have a vast olfactory memory bank. Beyond a few smells that have forever become indelibly forged into our minds, we typically have a hard time putting a name to a scent.
I think that it’s fun, and hence enjoyable, to work ones way through the nose of a glass of wine. But in doing so just keep it simple by coming up with a few simple descriptors such as fruits and other non-fruit aromas. For instance, red wines tend to have dark fruit aromas such as currants, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, plums, etc. White wine tends to express more of citrus, apple/pear, pit fruits, and even tropical fruits. By just being aware of this mental check box, you will not start to pick out the different aroma nuances.
Then move on to the non-fruit stuff. For example, when smelling oak one tends to identify vanilla, caramel, and toasted bread. Then there’s this other category I like to call “the funk”. Love a little bit of that “funk” which is often described as forest floor or barnyard. But be careful because too much of it may herald a spoiled wine.
Finally, there’s the drinking part. This is when it’s time to talk about structure. Is the wine dry (means no perceptible residual sugar) or off-dry (there’s sugar alright!)? The trick here is not to confuse “fruitiness” with “sweetness”. Your brain will be tricked into it. Then there’s acidity; that mouth puckering sensation that reminds you of eating one of those tart candies. Acidity is not to be confused with tannins which are not a taste per se but a texture sensation of astringency. Tannins dry your gums of saliva to the extent that your lips rub against them. That’s why a tannic wine is often is described as “grippy”. Alcohol is that hot sensation one feels down the throat and upon exhaling. High alcohol wines (15% and up) will show like this. Finally, there’s the body of the wine. This is purely a mouthfeel sensation often described as light body (like skim milk), medium body (like whole milk), and full body (like cream).
When you put it all together, then you can render an opinion as to whether the wine feels “balanced”. If there are many factors you can identify in the wine, then it is felt to have “complexity”.
That’s the beauty of wine! While it has all these layers to enjoy, it also can be a refreshing drink to throw back without much thought except for remembering to call that Uber.
Lorenzo, the wine guy
Friends, food, and wine...I'm happy there.