Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
How can you tell what is a great glass of wine?
The obvious answer is that a great glass of wine is one that you enjoy. That may sound simplistic, but after all is said and done it is the best way for any individual to evaluate whether a particular wine is great. Beyond the simplistic, however, a number of criteria can be used to determine the validity, even the greatness of any individual wine.
Experienced tasters will always begin the tasting process by studying the appearance of a wine in the glass. This is best done by holding the glass in front of a piece of white paper or a white tablecloth. Looking into the glass the first issue is to assess the clarity of the wine. Is it clear or, perhaps, slightly cloudy? If it’s cloudy, is there any residue in the bottom of the glass that should not be there? Are there any bubbles in the wine that could be a hint of gas in the wine?
Next check out the brightness and the color of the wine. Is the wine brilliant like a star or is it dull with a kind of muddy appearance? Look at the rim of the glass and determine how the color changes. Is there a watery rim around the wine when you tilt the glass or does it hold its color all the way to the rim? Swirl the wine and look for the “tears,” or what some call “legs”, in the glass that the residue of the wine leaves on the sides. These visual clues will provide hints about the wine from its age to the variety of the grape to the level of alcohol in the wine.
The next tool for the taster is the nose. The way a wine smells may be the most important factor in helping a taster determine a wine’s provenance and quality. You have seen people swirl their wine in a glass. This is more than just pretense. Swirling helps to get oxygen into the glass and “wakes up” the aromas in a wine.
Try pouring a glass of wine, put your nose into it and see what you smell. Then swirl the wine a few times in the glass. Don’t spill, just swirl. Now put your nose in the glass and inhale. This second take should provide an entirely different sensory experience, one filled with a plethora of different scents that are, for the most experienced tasters, a road map for where a wine is from and how it was made.
First and foremost, a wine should smell clean, devoid of any hint of mold or unpleasant aromas. As wine is the product of grapes, a fruit, begin by trying to identify the smell of the fruits you may recognize in the glass. Do you smell berries or melons? If so, are they blackberries or raspberries, honeydew or papaya? See if you can smell smoke or get hints of wood. Does the wine smell like dirt or does it have the smell of stone, say maybe flint?
All of these sights and smells combine to give a snapshot of a wine. If you are able to get a basic profile of what you see and smell in a wine glass you can begin to put the elements together to create a premise about the wine before you even begin to taste it.
But ultimately what goes on in the mouth is the final arbiter of whether you like a particular wine. Tasting is the final step in the evaluation process and the reason why we all love wine. Sometimes after looking deeply into a glass and smelling it intently you’ll have a preconceived notion as to what the wine will taste like. But occasionally you’ll be surprised and you’ll get something quite different than what you were expecting.
When tasting a wine, try and use all of the areas of your mouth. Take a sip and roll it around a bit. You want to try and get the wine to the back of the mouth. Try to take in a little air through your lips. Do you feel the wine heat up? When you finish, focus on how long the taste lingers in your mouth. Does it disappear when you swallow the wine or does it linger long after the wine is gone?
There is much to learn about tasting wine. But if you stop, look, smell and taste a wine while being conscious of the individual elements in the glass, then you will be on the way to understanding some of wine’s most special attributes.
And you will appreciate the wines you like even more.
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