| Appreciating a good wine means, first of all, being able to know and recognize its proper qualities, then interpreted and expressed, as an indisputable argument, by personal preferences and tastes. Therefore, appreciating wine does mean tasting wine. Wine tasting is that refined and noble art that allows a wine to be properly evaluated for its proper and real qualities without being influenced by any personal or subjective preference or taste. Wine tasting means to analytically evaluate every single organoleptic property or quality of a wine by means of one’s own experience and knowledge gained during all the previous tastings. This is a fundamental and determinant factor and requirement. Knowledge is acquired, or better, is increased, although along with ignorance, by means of practice and of evaluating different kind of wines. This practice makes the pleasing “torment” of any wine taster.
Before a good wine can be properly appreciated it means its qualities has been recognized, interpreted and expressed as an indisputable argument mostly by personal preferences and tastes. Tasting wine is also known as wine appreciation. Which means that the wine is analytically evaluated and every single organoleptic quality of a wine with the use of one’s experience and knowledge gained from previous tastings. With means of practice and evaluating different kind of wines knowledge is then acquired from the consistency.
Why Tasting Wine?
| Wine tasting is a refined art partially expressed by means of one’s own talent and partially by means of knowledge of tasting’s techniques and, lastly, by means of experience and memory. Anyone can become, with proper practice and training, a good wine taster. Anyone has the indispensable requirements needed to evaluate the quality of wine: senses. Wine tasting and evaluation is made by means of sensorial analysis and thanks to the capacity of our senses to recognize and respond to specific stimuli, that is to their good efficiency and practice, our brain is capable, after having elaborated the perceived sensations, to tell and recognize the condition and therefore we can express our results. Senses, no one excluded, as well as their good usage and training, are the key for success to enjoy the wonders and surprises of wine tasting.
Wine evaluation is determined by the taster according two distinct criteria: subjective and objective ones. These two categories also determine the type of the taster and of the tasting.
Subjective criteria are the ones expressed by an individual whom tasting end is just to determine whether he or she likes or does not like a particular wine and whether it meets his or her taste and expectations; the end of this tasting is uniquely to determine the appreciation of a wine according to personal taste.
Objective criteria are expressed by an individual whom tasting end is to evaluate the real quality and characteristics of a wine, by expressing an absolutely neutral opinion not influenced by his or her preferences and tastes, the wine is evaluated for what it is for real with no influence. This is the kind of work sommeliers and professional tasters do. An indisputable objective evaluation could be the one made by means of chemical analysis, having the purpose of determine the many components of a wine by means of universally accepted and known measuring methods.
Although this kind of evaluation is truly important, chemical analysis is an important tool used in enology, it will never be used to replace our senses, which ignoring the aridity of numbers and formulas, directly tell us the kind of pleasurability of a wine. The work of sommeliers, professional wine tasters and, last but not the least, consumers and wine lovers, wine tasters having different goals and ends, is of primary importance and highly strategic for the ones who produce wine, it tells them the real skill as a wine producer and the real quality of its wines. For this reason many sommeliers and professional wine tasters are hired by wine producers.
Independently on the kind of evaluation used in the tasting process to determine the quality of a wine, the main factor having primary importance is to know how to taste a wine.
First of all, wine is tasted for evaluating its quality and its organoleptic characteristics, that is to evaluate the characteristics perceivable by senses. A wine is also tasted for comparative reasons, to evaluate whether it is better or worse than others, or to evaluate whether it has or has not the typical characteristics of the category it belongs to.
Being able to recognize a wine and to recognize a wine that meets our expectations, being able to compare it with other wines, first of all, allows us to choose good products, the ones that fully satisfy our taste and preferences. It surely is a remarkable thing. Living in a world where our taste and preferences are highly influenced by others, being able to choose according our real taste, and only that, is also a matter of freedom. It is a remarkable thing worth of attention.
We often prefer and make use of some products, not just wine, only because someone told us about it, or because we heard of it or simply because someone having strong economical interests on those products tells us to buy it and make use of it. This is a sign of ignorance and scarce culture, last but not the least, the incapacity of being able to choose because of confusion. Being able to taste a product and being able to evaluate it, is a precious capacity and allows us to choose and select only the things according to our real preferences and, lastly, is a way to tribute the right prize to those producers which have been capable of creating a product that can give us the opportunity to have a good time and good sensations. Being able to evaluate a wine also means to determine its real economical value; thanks to our experience and to our skill to evaluate, we can realize there are other products around and they are probably better and cost less.
Conditions for Wine Tasting
| The right conditions for a proper wine tasting depend on the kind of end of the tasting. There are two main and different ways to have a wine tasting: the one achieved by a single individual whose result also determine the entire result of the evaluation, and the tasting achieved by a group of tasters, where the results and the evaluations of each of them are used to determine the final result.
Independently on the way a tasting is achieved, it is very important to know and use rules and terms recognizable by anyone who wants to know or evaluate the result of the tasting. Using a known common language and common terms is, for example, of primary importance in order to express concepts easily understandable by any other taster or by anyone who is going to determine the quality of a wine according the result of the tasting.
Organoleptic analysis of a wine is mainly expressed by means of sensorial capacities of each taster and, sometimes, it represents a problem in understanding his or her evaluation when compared to others. Each individual is capable of evaluating sensations by using his or her sense organs and this is, indisputably, the result of a process of subjective nature. For example a wine can be considered as “very sweet” by an individual whereas for another could simply be considered as “sweet”. This kind of evaluation depends on many factors, such as the threshold of sensorial perception and the tolerance and sensitivity to specific stimuli. An individual who is very sensitive to the perception of sweet taste, will probably tend to judge a wine as “very sweet” when in reality, according to a more objective opinion or according to a chemical analysis on the quantity of sugars, it should be considered as “sweet”.
Other factors that could influence the sensorial perception are the mood, the environment and time of the day. It is believed that the best time for having wine tastings is about at the end of the morning, when the appetite is stronger as well as the hunger, our sensorial capacities are more sensitive. This is, or better to say, should be, the best moment of the day for having a serious wine tasting.
We still have the problem of how to unify the sensorial evaluation according to specific stimuli. Every professional taster knows that a wine can be considered as “sweet” when it contains a specific quantity of sugar, as it could be easily and objectively determined by means of chemical analysis. Taste buds, arranged on the surface of the tongue, can perceive the intensity of a specific stimulus, however, they cannot perceive and communicate the exact quantity of sugar in a wine that was the origin of the stimulus itself. The quantity of sugar in a wine can be determined, however, by the experience of the taster. How can we finally have the capacity of expressing a useful judgment about a wine as well as reliable and comparable with the work of others? There are four determinant factors and they also are very important for every wine taster: memory, experience, practice and will to learn and study new wines with humility, honesty, without being influenced by approximation.
Very soon you will realize that memory, in particular memory for odors, is a loyal and reliable fellow for the taster’s job. While the development of visual memory, that is the capacity to recognize colors and shapes, and taste memory, that is the capacity to recognize flavors, is quite simple and easy, smell memory is the hardest work for a taster. Being capable of recognizing and telling colors is something we do on a daily basis and in every moment, it is something we do unconsciously; recognizing colors in a wine is in fact the easiest analysis of them all. Being able to recognize flavors, besides being essential for surviving, is something we usually do only when we eat, however, a conscious recognition of flavors is done only when we eat and pay attention to the stimuli coming from taste buds. Tasting requires concentration and a strong will to the work of analyzing a food or a beverage, to totally investigate its qualities, you must pay attention to the sensations of the taste buds because sometimes, stimuli are confused among others. This is absolutely true for the recognition of odors and aromas. However, during the process of recognizing smells, things get complicated because, no matter how concentrated we can be in what we are doing, after a specific amount of time spent on smelling and investigating the aromas coming out from the glass, smell receptors in the nose tend to get used to those odors and, in a sense, filter the smells that have been smelt for a long time. This can be easily experienced when we are in a room where there is a strong smell: in the beginning the smell will be easily recognizable and perceivable, after some time, usually few minutes, the smell intensity will attenuate and then it will not be perceived anymore, we simply reached the point to getting used to this odor and it will be ignored by the olfactory bulb. Every wine taster is aware of this “risk”, in fact, after having smelt a wine sample for two or three minutes, takes a break from the olfactory analysis in order to relax his or her olfactory system, in order to prevent overworking and to prevent getting used to smells.
The olfactory analysis of a wine is surely the most complicated and hard part of the whole evaluation. This analysis, more than any other else, requires a good experience and a continuous training, last but not the least, the olfactory analysis of a wine, its odors and its elegance of aromas, are what makes the tasting more pleasing and interesting. Olfactory analysis is a fundamental aspect of tasting. Complexity of this analysis is mainly dependent on two distinct factors: the first one, although it can be seen as obvious, is that one must know a smell before one can tell what aroma it is, one must be able to recognize a specific smell; the second one is that our common habits and life style made us forget to pay attention to the sensorial perceptions; among the many perceptions, the capacity of paying attention to smells is the least used of them all. As dramatic as it can be seen, a cure exists and the only effective one is to re-educate our perception to smells and this requires lots of efforts, concentration and will. Paying attention to smell perceptions is a work that requires concentration; total commitment during the olfactory analysis is an essential factor, but with good will and practice, as well as with time, the results will be amazing and encouraging. The real problem is how to recognize smells: it is impossible to identify and classify a smell when it is completely unknown to the one who is smelling it, one can, at least, classify this smell as unknown, something that will surely not solve our problem, indeed, it makes things worse.
During the description of wine’s aromas profile, or bouquet, according to wine tasting parlance, a common terminology is used in order to allow anyone to understand or realize about the type and quality of the aromas. To make olfactory description easier, the name of the chemical substances that are the origin of smells are never used, they are only used when defects and faults are being described, it is preferred to make use of common things’ names or objects that everyone usually associates to those odors, such as fruits and flowers. Despite of this simplification, the capacity of recognizing a specific smell, even though associated to a “common” thing, is not completely possible if one only knows about the existence of that thing without knowing what kind of smell it has. Everyone knows that jasmine is a flower, but not everyone probably has smelt its aroma, therefore telling that a wine smells of jasmine, it means, first of all, to being able to recognize this odor, and telling others who never smelt a jasmine flower a wine smells of jasmine is just telling them nothing. Things get more complicated when a wine has many aromas, not just one, and this is the most common and usual condition. In case a wine would have just one aroma, things would surely be easy, because this smell would be unequivocally and indisputably perceived by the nose with no error. When smelling a wine having a complex aroma, that is the union of many odors, the capacity of being able to recognize every single aroma is essential, it is of primary importance to be able to distinguish and isolate every smell from the others.
Professional wine tasting is accomplished is special rooms arranged in order to allow every taster to do its job and allow the analysis of wine samples in a proper environment and condition. Unfortunately, evaluation of wine in those tasting room is not always possible because sometimes the conditions are just casual, for example, during a visit to a cellar or a wine shop, and we need to express our judgment. However, every time a wine is being tasted, proper and basic tools should always be at hand in order to get proper and reliable results, the most important one is the tasting ISO glass, a particular glass having a special shape expressly studied for the development of aromas and to make olfactory perception easier. Another useful tool is the wine thermometer that can tell the temperature of wine in moments, this tool can be bought in wine shops. Perception of smells and aromas is strongly dependent on temperature; a warm wine will smell differently and “coarse” from the same wine tasted at lower temperature. With time and experience it will be possible to tell and determine the temperature of wine with a good approximation and without using a thermometer. This tool is certainly useful for beginners and for the ones who are learning the fine art of wine tasting, the help received from the thermometer will surely be valuable in order to relate sensations to temperature.
In order to properly evaluate colors in a wine, a white surface used to contrast the content of the glass and reveal its real colors, intensity, tonality and hue will be of help. However, to properly taste a wine and express a good and reliable judgment, it is best to have a room with plenty of light, with no odors or smells and with a good aeration. Tasting a wine in a cellar, among barrels and casks, few light and the typical smells of this environment, it is not a good idea. When the same wine tasted in a cellar is being tasted in a different room, the result of the evaluation will probably be different.
Personal mood and conditions will greatly influence the result of a tasting as well, it is indispensable that all sense organs are in good condition and health and they must not be altered or influenced by any previous event or condition, such as smoking or eating just before evaluating a wine. Besides all this, sensorial perception is very sensitive just before meals, when the appetite and the hunger are stronger, therefore it is not good to taste a wine after a meal, the result will not probably be much reliable.
Phases of Wine Tasting
| Tasting a wine is a process made of many phases, each one concerned to a particular kind of analysis and to the evaluation of specific organoleptic characteristics.
The tasting process begins with the arrangement and the preparation of the tools and the wine samples to be evaluated. Tasting glass must be perfectly clean and with no odors that could interfere with the perception of wine’s aromas; this also includes the smells of the soap used to wash the glass. In the next months we will talk about proper usage and handling of this important tasting tool, for the moment we will say that washing the tasting glass with soap should be avoided because of its smell. The best way to wash the tasting glass is to thoroughly rinse it in lukewarm water, without using any soap or dishwasher, and to carefully dry it with a clean cloth. The place used to keep glasses is important as well; in case the glass stays in places having strong smells, those smells will be transfered to the glass and they will be perceived during the evaluation of the wine.
Wine samples to be evaluated must be prepared and they must be at the right temperature before being analyzed; once again, it should be remembered that temperature greatly changes and influence the perception of the organoleptic sensations. We will discuss this subject in the next months.
As the wine sample is poured in the glass, the first analysis to be achieved is concerned the visual aspect; we will proceed in determining the color, intensity, hue and the tonality of the wine. The visual analysis is used to determine any possible defect or fault in the wine making process, to evaluate whether the wine is in good health as well as its type and its age.
The next phase is the olfactory analysis. During this phase it will be determined the intensity of the aromas, that is how strong and intense the odors are, how long they last and the overall aromatic elegance and finesse of the wine. After this preliminary analysis has been done, we will proceed with the identification of every aroma by describing the quality and the type of every smell that make up the olfactory profile of the wine. This surely is the hardest part of the whole evaluation process because, like we said, good experience and practice are needed. The recognition of each aroma is used to determine any possible defect as well as identifying the kind of grapes used to make the wine, the area where it comes from, its age and even the condition and the maturation state of the grapes at the time of the vintage. Olfactory analysis, even though it is hard because of the need of identifying aromas, is the most pleasing phase experienced during wine tasting as well as when drinking wine.
Then follows the gustatory analysis by introducing and keeping a small quantity of wine in the mouth, in this phase will be evaluated the intensity and the quality of primary flavors (sweet, acid, salty and bitter) and, factor on which the quality of a wine mainly depends, the finesse and the time the flavors last in the mouth after the wine has been swallowed or expelled. This amount of time, which is measured in seconds, determine the persistence of a wine, an indisputable factor of quality always welcome and appreciated in every wine. The gustatory analysis is also conducted to determine any possible defect or fault of the wine.
In the last phase of the tasting it is expressed the overall judgment for the wine and it is determined according to the quality of the three preceding phases. During the course of the evaluation of a wine, it is a good idea to write down some notes and impressions for that wine instead of simply writing down the notes and specifications required for the tasting session.
The need of subdividing a tasting in distinct phases, besides being a good practice, allows the taster to properly concentrate and focus to the characteristics of a particular phase only and without being influenced by the ones belonging to the others. Lastly, let’s consider tastings made by a group of tasters. In these cases it is of primary importance that every taster does his or her job in complete autonomy, without comparing its work with the one of others or even seeing what the others are doing, because he or she could be influenced by the opinions and suggestions of the other members and could end up perceiving sensation that are not perceived at all. The goal of a tasting accomplished by a group is not to let tasters compare their opinion with others, not during the analyses, but to determine an overall result made of every evaluation. Often the opinions of everyone will agree one each other, a sure sign that the wine has been evaluated in an objective way, and sometimes the opinions will disagree completely as well. The goal of a group tasting is to determine the quality of a wine based on every single evaluation, in the best objective way possible, and this judgment is, indisputably, the result of a set of more or less subjective judgments.