Tasting: the more you do it the better it gets
After digesting wine literature, recommendations from critics and friends, it is time to decide for yourself whether you like the wine in question. Tasting is a way to assess a wine using your senses. It is a good way to broaden your knowledge and decide your personal style and taste. As with any hobby or skill, the more you taste, the better you become - whether done solo or with a group of friends.
It is not necessary to rush out and buy the most expensive, hand-blown crystal glasses in different shapes and sizes. An ideal glass is tulip shaped with a bowl at the bottom leading to narrow tapering at the top. This allows the volatile aromas to be trapped at the top of the glass. A commonly used tasting glass is the ISO (International Standards Organisation) glass. It's small and reasonably priced. If you store your glasses in boxes, give them a good rinse before use; otherwise, wines can taste musty from the cardboard. Likewise, when washing, avoid using too much detergent, as this can leave a residue that affects the taste of the wine.
The basic rule is to serve whites and roses chilled and reds at room temperature. White wines served too cold may smell neutral: the ideal is eight to 10 degrees Celsius. On the palate, the coldness will numb your taste buds. Likewise, if reds are served too warm, they will lose their volatile aromas and heighten the perception of alcohol. Serve reds at 15 to 18 degrees, and use an ice bucket if necessary.
If it is a young white wine, the colour will range from a pale to deep lemon, and the wine should be clear. Very young wines will have green tints. Mature whites will develop a deeper lemon. Red wines will range from pale ruby, deeper ruby to deep dark purple. Mature red wines will become lighter in colour, developing a mahogany hue with time.
Swirling the glass will release the aromatics of the wine. There are two schools of thought: some people prefer to smell the wine before swirling the glass, and others after. You can swirl while keeping the base of the glass on the table. This will stop you spilling it on yourself. Take a sniff and let the wine reveal its character. For whites, do you have impressions of flowers, citrus or tropical fruit? For reds, are the notes like dark berry fruit, earthy or spicy?
Take a small sip but do not swallow immediately. Swirl the wine in your mouth and suck in some air to enhance the taste. You will taste sweetness, acid, bitterness and tannins. Tannins - derived from the skin of the grape, seeds, stems and oak - will give your mouth a perception of dryness. After you swallow, is there a lingering aftertaste or is the finish cut off abruptly? The longer the aftertaste, the higher the quality.
Now it is time to conclude whether you like the wine. It may take a few seconds or a few minutes to make up your mind. Some wines need time to open up. Some aeration and a further tasting may be necessary.