Guide to Appreciating Wine
While the process of appreciating wine is intensely personal and subjective, there are ways to navigating the often-complex world of fine wine with more authority. In the end, your ability to appreciate wine and develop your ability and preference lies in consistent application of a particular process, from appreciating appearance to recognition of smells and flavours, so that there is a more scientific approach to your understanding.
Pour your wine so that the glass is no more than a third full and tilt it against a white background, so that you can inspect the wine and get a clear idea of its colour. Whether mentally or on paper, cement your observations of the colour of the wine, from the centre of the glass (the ‘core’) to the edges, where it is thinner.
The clarity of the wine will assist deductions of whether there is a fault present – look for a clear colour, as dull and clouded wines are suggestive of an issue.
While some grape varietals are characteristically lighter or darker, generally speaking lighter colour wines are representative of a cooler climate.
For red wines, as a rule of thumb, the more purple and uniform the colour is, the younger it is. As the wine ages, brown/orange/tawny colours will begin to be visible. As it matures, it will also be lighter at the edges compared to the centre.
For white wines, it will generally become deeper and more golden with age.
Swirl the wine in a glass to expose it to more air – this will help the aroma develop with more clarity. With your nose close to the wine, inhale deeply. As with all elements of a wine, try to observe and define your experience. What does it remind you of? What are the notes you are picking up on? Fruity? Savoury? Nutty, floral or spicy? Look for descriptors, even if they are your own, and use these to draw comparisons between the wines you try.
An unclean, musty smell can suggest that the wine is corked.
Is the smell of the wine intense or soft? The more pronounced the aroma, the more likely it has been sourced from a hot climate – the sugar and alcohol levels developed in fruit from a warm environment will intensify the smells.
While each varietal has a breadth of aroma characteristics unique to its style, and while each wine lover brings their own individual set of preferences and comparisons, there are some rules of thumb to consider. Older wines tend to be more savoury and spicy, while younger wines tend to be more fruit-forward.
Let a mouthful of wine swirl around your mouth, so that it makes contact with all parts of your mouth – taste buds in different locations of your mouth will pick up different flavours. Try to inhale some air with the wine in your mouth, as this can give the wine an opportunity to develop more complexity in your mouth and draw out more flavours.
The sweetness of the wine – whether it is dry, medium or sweet – is tasted at the tip of the tongue and is dictated by the ripeness of the fruit.
The level of tannin in the wine – more pronounced in red wines – is derived from the pips and skins of the grapes and time ageing in oak. Tannin is felt at the back of the tongue and tastes like a bitter cup of tea or under ripe banana – it has a ‘grippy’ and drying feel on the gums.
The acidity of the wine, which occurs naturally in the fruit, is tasted at the sides of the tongue and is an important balance to the sweetness of the wine. White wines will have more acidity than red wines, but regardless of the varietal, it is important to observe if the wine has high, medium or low acidity.
How strong is the sensation of alcohol in the wine? The warming sensation, felt at the back of the throat, comes from the level of alcohol in the wine. As with the sweetness of the wine, generally speaking, the hotter the climate the fruit is grown in, the more alcohol will be prominent in the wine.
How ‘long’ is the wine? Does it linger in your mouth? Better quality wines will be longer, while lesser quality wines will be shorter.
Overall, the best wines will be perfectly balanced, combining sweetness, tannin and acidity in harmony.