3 Steps to Expert Wine Tasting
The Okanagan is fast becoming a leading world destination for wine tourism and tasting due to the quality of the wines, the breathtaking vineyards and scenery of the Okanagan and the innate friendliness of the people, which should not come as a surprise!
Many who come here for our award-winning wines certainly know their stuff, but what about the average Joe who enjoys a good wine but isn’t really sure of what to do or what to look for during a wine tour? What do all those fancy wine tasting terms mean? Well, we’ll try to help sort through the terms and what you need to know to fully enjoy a wine tour like a true sommelier.
The first thing you need to know is that there are three main steps to sampling wine; look, smell and taste! Let’s consider these steps in more detail now.
First, start out by holding your wine glass by the stem to keep the wine cool and observe the color, it’s opacity and its viscosity (aka the wine’s legs). What is the depth of color, how transparent is it? White wines tend to become darker or more yellow with age, while reds tend to lose their color and become more transparent with age. When you swirl the wine in your glass look on the sides of glass to see the residual wine that runs down in rivulets. If the rivulets (legs) are thicker and take longer to disappear, the wine has more alcohol and/or more sugar in it.
Step two in wine tasting is all about the smell. Stick your nose in the glass and take a deep breath in, then think big to small. This first aroma you smell is called the “nose” of the wine, which comes from the grape variety and the climate. Is the nose of the wine fruity, does it smell like herbs or does it have floral notes? Now try a few short sniffs. After you have a good idea of the nose, give it a swirl to allow oxygen in, which brings additional aromas into the air. Wine pros can tell where the wine is from, how old it is and if it was aged in oak just from the smell. We’re not going to that level, but if you can pick out aromas of peach or citrus or a slight peppery smell, then I’d say you’re doing fine!
There is also a secondary aroma level following the nose of the wine. This is referred to as the wine’s “bouquet”. The bouquet arises from the wine-making process of fermentation and aging. Smells commonly associated with these tertiary aromas include yeasts, spice and nuts. A common example is the vanilla aroma that comes from wines aged in new oak barrels.
The third step is the fun step – tasting the wine! Now, you would think that this is a pretty simple step, we all know how to taste right? Well, with wine there’s a little more to it. The predominant tastes fall into sweet, sour (all wines have some acid), and more rarely bitter. Most wines range in the 3-4 PH level, with high acidity wines being more tart and lower acid wines tasting smoother and creamier. As with smelling, try to move from broad to more specific flavors when tasting, for example from dark fruit to plum.
Another aspect of wine tasting lies in the texture. Texture comes from tannins and from the amount of alcohol in the wine. If you’re not familiar with tannins, you can detect them as that drying sensation you get from reds. Some people enjoy the dryness in wines and others do not. Tannins come from red wine grape skins and seeds as well as from oak, which is why chardonnays aged in oak barrels tend to have tannins as well.
Alcohol levels also vary between wines, and usually contain from 5 to about 16% alcohol. Alcohol levels are dependent on the sweetness of the grapes prior to fermentation, so warmer growing regions, like the Okanagan, produce riper grapes that have the potential to make wine with a higher alcohol content. The term “body” in wine is also related to the level of alcohol. When you swish it in your mouth and compare to other wines you can detect if the wine is light, medium or full bodied.
The most important part of the tasting though, is to enjoy it! During your wine tastings you’re sure to come away with some clear favorites and developing a clear profile of the types of wines that you enjoy.
It’s a good idea to take a few notes when tasting wines too. Were any too acidic for your taste, or too sweet. Do you love fresh fruity white or rosé wines and discovered a few that you loved and want to remember so you can buy them again? If you take notes on what you liked and what you didn’t you can get clear on your preferences.
So, now that you’re able to throw around terms like the “full-bodiedness” of the wine, its bouquet, texture and nose, you’re ready to book your wine tour! Who’s the wine expert now Karen?
This is the second article of two about wine tasting in the Okanagan. Please read our “14 Things You Should Know Before Booking A Wine Tour” for some important things to consider when planning yours.
For great Wine Tours please check out GiftGator Wine Tours.