Tasting the wine

"Seeing the difficulties that may be encountered is an extraordinary stimulus to approach the ‘perfect tasting’, never reached therefore always more desirable"

- Emile Peynaud - 

Tasting mechanisms

What are the phases that come into play during a tasting ?

There is first a purely physical sensation when our nose is excited by a scent molecule: "I feel a smell." 
Then there is a perception that announces the presence of the sensation to the brain in comparing our memory: "I feel a smell that reminds me of my childhood." 
Finally, there is an expression that characterizes the perception through the filter of culture and language: "It smells like bitter chocolate."

Why is it important to understand each of these phases ? 

LBeing that the channeling of information is related, the modification of one of these phases would have an impact on our final assessment ! 
For example: 
- A coffee consumption before tasting will inevitably have an impact on our sense of taste.
- Fatigue can be detrimental to the effectiveness of our memory.
- A lack of ‘tasting vocabulary’ can inhibit our expression.

Working you senses to improve your testing

How to improve your tasting skills ?

We must first understand the meaning involved in the tasting to better understand its own strengths and weaknesses: the stage of understanding. 
Cut off at a young age from natural scents and tastes due to artificial flavoring and additives, we tend to lose the use of our senses. Like a blind man develops the acuteness of his hearing, it is possible for one to work to regain their optimal smell and taste: the stage of education. 
Finally, like a muscle, our senses and our memory require regular training to enhance their capabilities: the stage of training.

What senses come into play when exercising tasting ? 

Below we list the major organs, senses and perceived characteristics used for measuring a tasting : 

OrgansSensPerceived characteristics
EyeVisionColor, brilliance, fluidity, effervescence
NozeDirect olfactionBouquet
Postnasal olfaction Gustative aromas
MouthAromatic sensationsFlavor: acidic, sour, sweet
Palatable sensationsAstringency, effervescence, fluidity or density, temperature, vivacity, sweetness

Proper use of the wine glass

When was the wine glass created ?

The transparent glass crystal was born in the 17th century and its "balloon" form brought to use in the 19th century.

How to choose the right wine glass ? 

Larger glasses are preferable for facilitating olfaction and proper transition; smooth so as not to obstruct vision; very thin crystal encouraging the finest possible tasting and a significant stem to allow holding the glass without increasing the temperature of the wine.

How to hold the glass?

The proper manipulation of a wine glass is a grip on the stem, granting a firm hold of the glass without warming the wine. The stem, also, should be smooth and free of any unnecessary detailing. When swirling your glass (in order to air the wine) any part of the glass may be held; however, it is in poor taste to ever take the bowl of the glass in your hand unless it is for the purpose of warming a wine that is slightly over-chilled.

Should a wine glass be filled completely ? 

It is important to fill a glass to only one third of its capacity to facilitate agitation. This swirling motion forces the wine to the sides of the glass, thus increasing the contact surface to the air. This technique makes it possible to amplify the volatilization of aromatic molecules. A simple technique for beginners is to attempt this movement while keeping the base of the glass on the table. 

What are the “tears” of a wine ? 

The “tears” that are deposited on the glass during the agitation reflect the alcohol content of the wine and are not indicators of quality; all wines have this attribute. 

How to clean a wine glass ?

When cleaning a wine glass, it is preferable to avoid soaps (which are often flavored!) Air drying is optimal, as tissues may leave streaks or particles. Finally, when tasting several wines at a time, rinsing the glass with a light wine can promote a polished cleaning.

Examining the wine

Can the examination of a wine impact our perception of it on the palate ?

Vision is the first sense involved in tasting and it dramatically influences our perception of a wine. Tasted from an opaque glass, it is sometimes very difficult - even for an oenological expert - to distinguish a dry white wine from a rose, even a red with little tannin! There is also a close correlation between color and perceived characteristics of a wine. Thus, people regularly claim to detect aromas of berries in both red wines and white wines tinted with red food coloring !

What are the visual indicators for which one should be paying attention ?

The color can be analyzed according to several criteria. Visual examination is done by piacing the glass to a daylight, in front of a window or on a white background.
The intensity of its coloring foreshadows the structure of the wine : a wine deep and dark in color will be structured and rich in tannins, while lightly colored wine will be more supple and airy. The shade often illustrates the degree of evolution and the age of the wine. thus, red wine evolves from purple to brown to ochre whereas white wine begins as a pale yellow with nuances of green to become a darker golden yellow. The clarity and brightness depends on the way the wine has been "filtred" of yeasts inherent to its production. it is an important factor visual assessment: a wine with sediment or "crystals" will generally be less appreciated bye the amateur even though these are a perfectly natural part of the ageing process.

Does the grape variety have an effect on the color of the wine ?

Some varietals tend to endow wines with their complexion. For example, the Burgundy Pinot Noir grape naturally confers a low intensity of coloring to wine whereas a Bordeaux Merlot owes its dense, bright red pigmentation to its issuing grape.


What elements influence the smell of wine ? 

Olfaction is strongly impacted by the shape and volume of the glass, the extent to which it is filled, and the aeration of the wine, but also by the position of one's nose in the glass. Scent molecules are suspended above the wine and are more discernible when the wine is aerated and the mouth of the glass is tapered. 

Three steps to professional Olfaction techniques :

The first step is to breathe glass immediately after filling, without airing: this allows only the strongest aromas to shine through. 
The second step takes place after swirling the wine to bring out its more modest aromas. 
The third step involves the nose of the empty glass: the heaviest aromas linger.

How does one inhale properly ? 

Controlled breathing is necessary for proper olfaction and one should modify the depths of inhalation based on the intensity of the wine. 
In practice, a series of two to three inhalations for a period of two to three seconds can identify the aromatic profile. A slight pause between each set should be imposed so as not to saturate the sensory receptors. The exercise is difficult and requires great focus to employ all of oneÕs attention on the sensation and subsequent analysis.

What are wine’s major aromatic categories ?

The fragrances of wine can be separated into nine major categories : 
Animal : surprising, yet sometimes present 
- Fur, stables, game, cat urine… 
Timber : scents derived from different types of wood 
- Resin, fir, oak, sandalwood, pencil… 
Chemical : rarely a desireable attribute 
- Vinegar, oil, sulfur, disinfectant… 
Spicy : synergising various spices or herbs 
- Mint, cinnamon, cloves, thyme… 
Empyreumatic : characterized by a charred smell 
- Coffee, cigar, tar, chocolate… 
Ethereal : Honey, yogurt, yeast, soap…
Floral : suggests flowers 
- Acacia, rose, lemon, geranium… …
Fruity : notes of fruit 
- berries, exotic fruit… 
Vegetal : refers to hints of green vegetation 
- Mowed grass, dried leaves…

Do the aromas issue from the varietal, the flavors of the yeast or of evolution ? 

Aromas are often separated into three categories :

- The primary (or varietal) aromas or varietal aromas are often those of vegetation, flora or fruit 
- The secondary (or fermentation) aromas evoke the ethereal category of fragrances 
- The tertiary (or evolutionary) aromas will evoke the remaining categories of spicy, empyreumatic, timber, animal or chemical.

Which attributes affect the aroma of a wine ? 

- The grape gives the wine its fragrance through scent molecules present in the flesh of the grape: this is the primary aroma. 
Depending on the variety, the soil and maturity at time of harvest, these aromas vary immensely; this is a major source of diversity in wines. 
- During the fermentation process, yeast transforms the sugar from the grape into alcohol, which synthesizes many substances which have capital relevance for the taste of the future wine; this is the secondary aroma. 
Depending on the conditions of fermentation (state of grapes, yeast, temperature…) the secondary aroma may be significantly altered. -- Finally, we note that during the cellaring of wine, the aromas mature; this change is the tertiary aroma. 
The conditions of conservation (temperature, luminosity) lead to the duration of cellaring required to produce this bouquet.

Tasting the wine

How does one introduce the wine to one's palate ? 

There is no universal technique, but all professionals proceed in a similar manner. Of the utmost importance is that the identical techniques be reproduced for all wines in a comparative tasting. 
The volume of liquid taken in must be fairly low (around 6 to 10 milliliters). Taking too little leads to a dilution from one’s saliva; taking too much disturbs the flow in the mouth and on the tongue. Once in the mouth, the wine is gently swirled around the mucous membranes which stimulate salivation. Light deglutition occurs in order to express the after-taste of the wine.
Small and discreet inhalations and exhalations through the nose cause the wine to emulsify on the palate and warm slightly which allows for distribution to the aromatic membranes in the rear of the nose.

Should we spit the wine when tasting ? 

In a professional tasting where many wines are sampled, it is advisable to expel as much wine as possible after every mouthful. However, an amateur tasting occurs at a reduced pace and such discipline is unnecessary. One must also pay close attention to the impressions left after having expelled the wine; of utmost importance is the amount of time the sensation remains on the palate. In the interest of properly appreciating one’s next wine, it is necessary to wait at least twelve seconds prior to moving on.

Is eating during tastings advisable ? 

 With regards to food during tastings, we must focus on neutral dishes (little sweetness, no added aromas, certainly not spices…). Bread or biscuits are two examples of acceptable food to be served at a tasting. Cheese, nuts, or dried fruits must be avoided at all costs, as they alter the tannin of a wine.

What are the flavors to look for in a wine ?  

The five fundamental flavors recognized today as the basis of wine's taste are the first that one should detect: sweetness, acidity, salt, bitterness and glutamic acid. The sensitivity of these varying sensations is the following: sweetness is immediately detected but does not linger; salt and acidity, too, are quick to perceive, but much more persistent, and the bitterness appears later but remains far longer. 
There is evidence in composition of a wine of the chemical properties linked to all of these flavors. These are generally easily perceptible but the detection thresholds vary from one individual to another. Obviously, the practice of tasting refines one's perception although it does not change one's ability to detect such properties !

What are the physical sensations to look for ? 

In addition to these fundamental flavors, there are sensations corresponding to a glandular sensory response warning the body to “fight off” certain molecules. Tactile sensitivity as felt due to the bubbles in Champagne, the sensation of burning or abrasiveness by a hard liquor or astringent wine (sensations of dry mouth or roughness) are among them.

Do these sensations evolve in the mouth ? 

Three phases can be distinguished during the tasting of a red wine: 
- The “attack” is the first impression one has when taking in a wine, and is characterized by a dominant sweetness resulting from alcohol
- The “evolution” corresponds to the transformation of these first tastes 
- The “finish” is characterized by the development of bitter flavors and tannins

How does one define the palate of a great wine ? 

A great wine is characterized by a discernible attack and a slow, lengthy evolution as well as a final impression of suppleness and harmony. 
Lesser wines are short in the mouth, sometimes harsh and can develop undesirable tastes in its finish.

The notion of equilibrium in wine

Balanced or unbalanced ? 

The harmony of a wine has its source in :
- The synthesis of aromas, flavors and sensory sensations.
- The integrity of each of these attributes considered separately. 

For example, Beaujolais primeurs boast aromas of berries and bananas, a taste sensation marked by a moderate acidity and a sensation characterized by the suppleness of its tannins. The harmony of the product evokes a certain freshness. 

Another example is the renowned syrah of the Rhone region, which boasts aromas of violets and sweet spices, a taste sensation marked by a slight acidity and a feeling of tannic concentration. The harmony of the product comes from its powerful aroma and tannin.

Serving wine

What are the sediments that may be encountered in some bottles ?

There are two types of sediment that may appear in a wine. 
In young wines (white or red), a small precipitation of mineral crystals may present itself. They are natural and translucent in appearance and can be easily filtered from the wine. 
In cellared wines reds only),some sediment can be emitted from the condensation of coloring agents. If the bottle has been racked horizontally, this should correct itself as long as it is not shaken for 24 to 48 hours before serving, allowing the deposits to settle. It may be useful to decant the wine so as not to interfere with the tasting by redistributing this sediment.

Why decant wine ? ... Is this step necessary for all wines ?

The decanting of wine provokes intense oxygenation. Obviously, the more tapered the pitcher, the more oxygen will be present, thus properly allowing the wine to breathe. 
One must avoid decanting certain vintages that have been well aged, as their bouquet - the result of the long, slow process of reduction achieved by an airtight seal - may diminish with the slightest aeration. 
Concerning young wines or those with slight defects (lack of sharpness in the nose, the presence of gas, abnormal thinness…) decanting is absolutely required. 

What is the “tempering” of a wine ? 

To temper a wine is to bring it to optimum drinking temperature; either to chill or warm it. This step is crucial and should be top-of-mind. The influence of one degree (at temperatures ranging from 10°C to 20°C) can make an enormous impact on one's impression of smell and taste. Physically, thermal elevation promotes the evaporation of fragrant substances. 
Some rules can be established regarding the perception of aromas based on temperature: below 8°C all aromas are neutralized; from 8° to 12°C, they are barely perceptible to minimal; and from 12° to 18°C the taste of alcohol takes precedence.

What temperature should we serve wine ?

Quite simply, the more tannic a wine is, the higher the serving temperature (18 °) and more fruity a wine is, the cooler the serving temperature (15 °). Furthermore, the more a wine is weighty (or with a high alcohol content), the more likely they are to be served chilled in order to mitigate the flavor of the alcohol. Evidently, if the room temperature is much higher than the suggested serving temperature of a wine, it is advisable to keep the bottle temperature slightly lower than desired for drinking, as the wine's temperature will of course increase quickly based on the atmosphere !