In addition to developing a wine vocabulary for how to describe the smells and tastes of a wine, there is a whole terminology associated with the analysis and tasting of wine. First things first, there is a bit of a process to wine tasting, an order of events that is common throughout the wine community:
See - look at the color and clarity
Smell - stick your nose way down in the glass and take a big sniff
Sip - see if the flavors match the aromas, check the balance of the wine, judge the weight and finish.
Each step has its own language associated with it, so let’s start at the beginning.
When tasting, you first look at the wine to judge the color and clarity of the wine. To describe color you’re better off consulting a color palate, so we’ll skip that part. Clarity ranges from cloudy to brilliant. Clarity is desirable as cloudiness is a sign of winemaking mistakes and often indicates an unpleasant taste. A hazy wine is generally clear with a slight particulate content when viewed against the light. Occurs most often in unfiltered or unfined wines. A clear wine has no obvious particulate and is well…clear. A brilliant wine is exceptionally clear, almost sparkling.
The rim is the edge of a wine’s surface seen when the glass is held at an angle over a white background. It can be used to evaluate a wine’s age – if it is pink, ruby or purple the wine is likely young, if it is orange or brown the wine is likely older. The legs refer to the liquid rivulets that form on the inside of a wineglass bowl after the wine is swirled and help to evaluate the alcohol concentration present. Usually the higher the alcohol content, the more impressive the rivulets appear because of reduced surface tension effects. Not a good indicator of quality, but mesmerizing to watch.
You often hear nose, aroma and bouquet used interchangeably. All of these terms do refer to the scent of wine, but they’re a little different. Nose refers to the aggregate of all of the scents in a glass of wine, the way the wine as a whole smells. Aroma refers to one specific scent in a wine, like the aroma of vanilla. Bouquet is the set of secondary aromas that develops as a wine ages, or as it opens up (becomes more fragrant) in the glass.
Once the wine is in your mouth you evaluate the balance, weight and finish. A wine’s balance is measured by the relative sensations of sugar, acidity, alcohol and tannin. In a well balanced wine, none of these characteristics stands out. Tannins are naturally occurring substance in grapeskins, seeds and stems. They are responsible for the bitter or astringent component in wines. Think of holding an aspirin tablet on your tongue - that is tannin. Tannins act as a natural preservative. It is considered a fault when they are present in excess. Tannins have no aroma, so feel free to laugh at the posers who claim that, “this wine smells really tannic.”
The weight is a measure of the body of a wine. When thinking of the body of a wine think about milk a light bodied wine feels like skim milk in your mouth, a medium bodied wine feels like 2% milk and a full bodied wine feels like whole milk in your mouth.
A wine can be described as austere, indicating that it is dry, relatively hard and acidic, lacking depth; round indicating that it gives a feeling of completeness with no dominating characteristic; soft indicating that it has low acid, tannin, or alcohol content, and subsequently has little impact on the palate; or hot indicating that it is overly alcoholic, and has a bit of a burn.
The finish of a wine refers to the taste it leaves in your mouth after swallowing. If you stop tasting it immediately, it has a short finish. If the taste lingers for 30 seconds to a minute the wine has a long finish.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does highlight some of the more notable wine tasting terms. Now go find one that is nice and round, full bodied with great legs – a wine that is.