Wine enjoyment is to drink a glass of wine for pleasure without any serious thought. In contrast, wine appreciation is the sensory analysis of the different components in wine, which fall into three broad categories – Appearance, Aroma and Palate.
In order to properly assess wines, you need to create the right setting:
Lighting – The lighting should be bright and white (not yellow).
Noise – The room should be free of noise and other distractions.
Glassware – The glassware should be clean, with no detergent residue. Use proper tasting glasses (ISO XL5) or tulip shaped glassware to preserve aroma.
It is important to ascertain whether the wine has any faults, be they a mistake or intentional. The most common faults that can be detected visually are:
This implies that the wine may have gone through an unwanted secondary fermentation in the bottle. However note that some wine makers may choose not to filter their wine before bottling in order to preserve aroma and detail leaving the wine distinctly cloudy but still fine to drink.
This can also imply that the wine has gone through an unwanted secondary fermentation in the bottle. However this is different to the slight spritz that you might experience in a young wine after opening as this comes from the carbon dioxide that is added during the bottling process to keep the wine fresh.
The colour of a wine can tell us several things about the wine. It can indicate both:
A white wine goes darker with age and a red wine goes lighter with age.
Varietal and Winemaking
Just like the flesh of an apple goes brown when exposed to air, white wine will go brown when exposed to air during the winemaking process – both before fermentation and during the barrel maturation process. Chardonnay is often made using this technique as are some French Sauvignon Blanc and dessert wines. Therefore rather than indicating that there is something wrong with the wine, a golden coloured wines may indicate that the wine is a Chardonnay that also has some oak characters due to barrel maturation. However if the wine is brown and it is not an aged dessert wine, then this will most likely indicate that there is something wrong with the wine.
‘Legs’ or Tears
If you swirl the wine in the glass and observe ‘legs’ or tears running down the sides of the glass, this indicates either residual sugar or high alcohol.
Rim versus Core
The core is the wine at the centre of the glass and the rim is the wine at the edge of the glass. If the rim extends gradually for several millimetres towards the core from watery to dark, then it is an indication of age. If the rim stops abruptly, this is an indication of a young wine.
The first thing to consider is whether there are any faults in the wine. The main faults that are found in wines under cork are cork taint and oxidation. For more information, see Wine Faults.
The next thing to consider is the intensity of the aroma. A wine can either be weak and insipid – indicating lower quality; or more intense – indicating a higher quality wine. However note that often the aroma of fine wines will be closed when young and needs more time to develop.
Young wine have primary aromas from the grapes and wine making. With age, these aromas soften and become more harmonised. Secondary aromas begin to develop giving the wines more complexity and subtly.
The easiest way to identify aromas in wine is to split them up into their broad categories – fruit, vegetal, herbaceous, floral, oak and wine making influence. You can say that a wine is fruity, with some floral notes and has a lot of oak character without being any more specific.
The next step is to identify the different subcategories within each category. For example, fruit characters in white wines are green fruit, citrus fruit, stone fruit, tropical fruit and dried fruit. After smelling a wine, you might go onto describe it as a wine that has a lot of citrus with stone fruit characters.
Finally if you really want to hone your analysis, you can break each fruit category in its subcomponents:
Green fruit – apple, gooseberry, pear
Citrus fruit – lemon, lime, grapefruit
Stone fruit – peach, apricot, nectarine
Tropical fruit – melon, pineapple, kiwi, lychee, passion fruit, banana
Dried fruit – dried peel, marmalade, dried fig, dried apricot, prune, sultana, raisin
With red fruit, the main categories are red fruit or black fruit. So you could say that a Pinot Noir has a lot of red fruit characters whereas a Cabernet has a lot of black fruit. If you want to break each fruit category further, just refer to the colour of its skin:
Red fruit – strawberry, redcurrant, red cherry, raspberry
Black fruit – black cherry, plum, blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberryFor more information on the various categories and subcategories of aromas, you can look up an Aroma Wheel on the internet.
Although most people focus on a wine’s aroma, wine show judges actually pay more attention to the palate of the wine to ascertain its quality.
Residual grape sugars are first tasted on the tip of the tongue. The sugar needs to be balanced with the acid.
Acidity is felt on the sides of the tongue. High acid will make your mouth water, whereas wines too low in acid will appear flabby and unattractive.
Tannins come from the skin of the grape and give the wines texture in your mouth. Young wines will often have more firm tannin than older wines. Tannins can have different characters depending on the grape variety and the easiest way to understand tannin is to compare it with cloth.
Pinot Noir will have more satin-like, silky tannins, Shiraz has fine tannins similar to cotton and Cabernet has coarse tannins when young like a woolen jumper. To feel tannins in a wine, run your tongue around the sides of your mouth and observe the texture difference.
Although white wines have minimal tannins, they can be astringent. Astringency is a drying, puckering sensation in the mouth that can come from both tannins as well as high acid levels.
Bitterness is felt at the back of the mouth and comes from the extraction of tannins from the skins and seeds. In low levels bitterness can give length and complexity to the wine, whereas in high levels it can be unpleasant and make the wine feel imbalanced.
The body of a wine gives the impression of weight in the mouth. A wine can be light, medium or full bodied. Factors that contribute to body are alcohol, fruit concentration, tannin, sugar and glycerol.
A wine high in alcohol gives the impression of heat at the back of the mouth. A wine too high in alcohol will be unpleasant and be out of balance.
Aroma characteristics are also apparent on the palate due to air that is drawn into the mouth when tasting the wine. They can confirm and enhance the initial impression gained on the nose through an understanding of how the wine tastes in the middle and back of the mouth.
After swallowing the wine, the flavours may or may not linger, enabling you to decide the wine’s length and complexity.
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Quality Evolution Structure
Balance is one of the most important factors when assessing wine quality. All of the individual wine components should be in balance with each other. That is, no one component should stand out in an unpleasant way. Instead the sugar, acid, tannin, alcohol and flavour components (including oak) should all be in harmony with each other.
The main point when assessing quality is to compare the wine to other wines of a similar price and style. To decide whether a wine is poor, average, good or great you need have an idea of how that wine style is supposed to taste. Some components of quality include balance, finish, complexity, regionality, ageing potential and how these all come together to leave you with a favourable impression.
Is the wine young, ready to drink, or past its best? A wine that is young will have higher acid and firm tannins. A wine that is ready to drink will have balance and be easy to drink. A wine that is past its best will appear dull and lacking in character. There will be little fruit character with an imbalance of excessive tannin or acid.
The structure of a wine is made up of the interaction between the fruit, acid, sugar and tannins. Wines that are high in acid or tannin but lacking fruit tend not to improve with age.