Wine tasting is a very important step in the wine purchase and consumption process, not only from the consumer point of view but also for individuals that are investing in fine wine or building a personal wine cellar. A wine can be in different stages of its life depending on its age, storage conditions, the grape blend and how the wine has been made. Sommeliers, Wine Brokers and Importers particularly need good wine tasting skills as they often need to make a selection of wine based on a client’s flavour profile and, most importantly, to detect any faults in a wine that would make it unsellable. Auction houses have wine experts inspect the condition of the wines that will be sold before the auction takes place.
In 1984 Doctor Anne Noble from the University of California Davis changed the way that people approach wine tasting with the invention of the Wine Aroma Wheel. Dr Noble created the wheel to enable people to better understand and appreciate the different aromas of wines that they are tasting and also to create a universal language for wine aromas throughout the world. The concept is very simple, and is created into three tiers – the first tier is made of main categories, the second tier divided into further categories with the final tier as a very detailed description of different aromas. There are thousands of different aromas but the wine wheel managed to isolate 119 of the most common aromas that are found in wine. Dr Noble’s work was a major breakthrough for the wine tasting world and the wheel continues to grow as the years go by and scientists continue to discover new aromas. www.wineromawheel.com
The Traditional Approach to Wine Tasting
The best way to visually examine a wine is to hold the glass of wine against a white background which makes it easier to see elements in the wine.
- Colour hue
- Colour Intensity – is there any murkiness and/or cloudiness? (if so; then the wine is unfit for consumption)
- Clarity – Cleanness of the wine
- Legs (which help to indicate the level of alcohol and/or sugar in the wine)
- Bubbles – Should the wine have bubbles? (if the wine is supposed to be still, then this is a sign of damage to the wine and it is therefore unfit for consumption).
- Smell – Aromas (both negative and positive) can tell the consumer the story of the wine. The most common negative aromas are oxidation and cork taint (this makes the wine undrinkable). There is an endless list of aromas, many more than the original 119 scents that Dr Noble published on the wine wheel. At this step in the wine tasting process one can make a good olfactory exploration of the aromas in the wine.
- Taste – The moment that the wine touches the palate, one can explore the level of tannins, sweetness or dryness, balance, lightness or heaviness and gain a true perception of the wine as the olfactory and palate create a full picture of the wine, again the possibilities are endless.
Careful examination of wine is very important, especially when it is an investment. Experts examine old vintages to ensure that the quality of the wine is still good and they also examine how much wine has evaporated over the years as well as the further ageing potential of the wine. Auction houses depend on the expertise of experienced wine tasters before certain bottles of wine are allowed to be sold at auction.
If you would like to learn more about tasting wine, the WSET Wine and Spirits Education Trust (established in 1969) which is based in London in the United Kingdom offers a very large selection of different online courses and qualifications on different aspects of wine, these courses of study are recognised worldwide. For more information, visit www.wsetglobal.com.
Above I have described the traditional approach to wine tasting. Sietze Wijma, a Dutch wine and beer enthusiast, teaches wine students and industry professionals with a different approach. His Company The Art of Tasting works extensively with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in London offering tasting to members of the public and students of the Trust.
The reason Sietze’s approach is different from traditional wine tasting is because he works with a concept that is called Wine Flavour Chemistry. Flavour chemistry is very important when tasting a wine and is essential for tracing the origins of a wine. Different compounds often appear during different steps of the grape growing and winemaking process and can affect the presence of certain aromas in the final wine.
A good wine taster can link their tasting notes to the method that was used to produce the wine. There are hundreds of different aroma compounds, and the nasal cavity can only detect a few dozen of these aromas at one time. Because we all have a unique body chemistry, the same Sauvignon Blanc may smell like Pipi du Chat (Cat Pee – common in Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley in France), to one person; elderflower to someone else, or box tree to a third person. However, these three different perceptions are produced by only a single aroma compound. Each taster will detect different flavours and aromas when tasting the same wine. Scientists have established that many different aroma compounds exist in wine as well as other sources and there is often an overlap of the chemical compound of the aroma of plums and a wine such as Merlot, which means that they share a common compound.
Sietze’s method of wine tasting is as follows : He adds different compounds to wine (for example Pyrazine which often smells like green bell pepper). This is completely safe as the compounds occur naturally in wine; they also do not affect the appearance of the wine. By adding different compounds to a glass of wine, the taster has the ability to experience different aromas (One glass has the compound and is then compared with a second glass of untreated wine.
This approach to wine tasting is so interesting because instead of having to wait for months to come across a bottle with cork taint for example, the aroma can be easily re-created with the addition of TCA to the sample. By using the added compounds in the wines, the taster can quickly and efficiently begin to identify different aromas and this is invaluable in the wine tasting process.
If you are interested in learning more about Sietze’s method of wine tasting visit his website www.artoftasting.nl.
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With 22 years of experience in the wine industry, Cristal held the position of wine advisor. She was part of the wine education team at a prestigious wine merchant for several years before starting her own bespoke wine tourism company in France, which caterers to top-end clients, and working on an ongoing wine research project as Head of Research. Educated by the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust), recognized in over 32 countries, she graduated with distinction. Cristal’s passion for wine started when she worked as Reception Manager in top Michelin-starred restaurants and actively assisted with their wine lists. Cristal has been writing about wine for over 15 years. Cristal is not just about wine; she is an avid rock climber in her spare time and has climbed in many different countries. She also enjoys playing piano and painting, her three cats, and traveling the world.