Tasting a wine confronts us with ourselves: our senses, our memories, our intelligence and curiosity. After having described the aromas of wine, here is a small guide to tasting in the next phase, that of taste. Because the nectar of the gods is also and above all understood in the mouth.
Tasting wine is a multisensory experience, the result of a mix of sound, visual, olfactory, taste and tactile signals. The objective of tasting is to decipher the 'sensory impressions' that the wine gives with the sip, a bit like discussing a series with friends after having spent whole days and nights watching it all.
It is good to specify that there is a difference between technical tasting and hedonistic tasting. In both cases we talk about the universe of pleasure but the former tends to live by schemes, elaborated over centuries of skills developed in the field, the latter is more free. Our advice, in any case, is not to understand any term as a semantic cage but as an opportunity to express complex and fascinating concepts.
Here we try to take the best of technique and bring it to the horizon of a laid table, an aperitif with music in the background, a glass to accompany a book on a winter Saturday afternoon. That is to say, in the universe of enthusiasts who are not experts, a category that is today seeing exponential growth in numbers, sensitivity and competence.
Smell and taste in wine
It happens that you drink a wine and cannot find the words to describe it. This is normal: compared to olfactory analysis (in which if you know a lot of aromas you can indulge), our brain is able to decipher flavours in a more restrained manner. The categories to be searched for, however, are different, as we shall see.
In tasting, context matters
There is no point in deluding yourself: you cannot think that you are not influenced by the circumstances in which you taste a wine, whether psychological or environmental, positive or negative. More poetry than mathematics.
Objectivity and subjectivity in tastingThere is no clear-cut boundary between right and wrong in tasting, not only because wine culture is also mobile but above all because the sensations that the nectar of the gods gives resonate differently from person to person. A few examples? A 'very tannic' wine for some may be synonymous with 'personality', for others it means 'unbalanced'. Another classic is savouriness, because its perception depends a lot on how much salt you use in cooking.
Moreover, wine touches our unconscious, and one day one may be more predisposed to appreciate a light wine while others may desire a more structured one.
Knowledge and taste of wine
The two verbs perfectly express that even in assessing taste one takes time, having tasted a lot, even if only to distinguish sensations that come all at once.
Taste latency or evolution
Referring to tasting, it is the perception at different times of the characteristics of a wine. One tends to perceive the sweet taste first, then the acid and the salty (usually not very intense). Bitter is the last perceived.
Blind wine tasting
That is, with the label covered: it serves to limit conditioning and preconceptions; secondly, it is a good game to try and guess the wine and production area.
From the senses to the wine story
Tasting also means translating sensations into words, first of all for oneself but - why not? - also for others, with creativity and imagination. Talking about wine, after all, is one of the most beautiful ways to create relationships.
Taste the flavour: a small practical guide to wine tasting
The ultimate advice is to be open and curious, tasting everything without prejudice (sacred monsters and wines from emerging areas, more and less expensive labels, wines of all types...).
Humility, with two meanings: not feeling like a phenomenon and respecting the work that brought that wine into your glass.
Wine can be off-putting, and a lot of it: looking for its faults with a magnifying glass would be too convenient. 'The good critic, and the good drinker, first looks for the merits in a wine, and then for any faults' said Luigi Veronelli. Even if one could afford it, it is a pity to reduce aesthetics to mere judgement.
Fixing tasting memories with written notes.
Taste a small amount of wine, trying to pass it first on the tip of the tongue, and then on the edges and bottom of the palate. In this way you will be able to pick up, in order: the sweet flavours, the acid and salty flavours, and finally the bitter and tannic flavours. Before swallowing, it is a good idea to pass the wine through the entire oral cavity.
It is fun, perhaps in a second sip, to inhale some air: the flavours will be enhanced.
The sensations to pay attention to are:
1. acidity: which is recognisable in wine because it induces salivation, and this is a good thing. The sensation of acidity is more pronounced in young wines because during evolution the acid component tends to transform, becoming less incisive;
2. sapidity: the mineral salt content, which enriches the structure and enlivens the taste;
3. tannicity: bitterish taste accompanied by astringency on the gums, in reds, because the tannins are found in the seeds and skins of the grapes. With evolution, the tannins become softer and more pleasant;
4. alcohol content: the sensation of warmth that is generated in the throat when swallowing and which also contributes to making the wine softer;
5. softness: the softness of a wine: it is perceived as a sensation (pleasant to most) that rounds off the taste;
6. sweetness: how much residual sugar there is in the wine, i.e. how much sugar has not been converted into alcohol.
Acidity, savouriness and tannicity (1, 2, 3) are the so-called 'hardness'; alcoholicity, smoothness and sweetness (4, 5, 6) are the 'softness' of wine. The classical discipline seeks the perfect balance between the two.
In addition, (7) body (whether light or structured), (8) intensity of flavours and (9) overall quality are assessed. Finally, attention must be paid to (10) persistence, i.e. how long the flavours, and aromas, linger after swallowing.
CREDITS, FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO GO FURTHER
There are many ways and levels to evaluate a wine.
Below are some evocative images to define the classic descriptors with other criteria. Everyone can find their own.
1. acidity: a cold lemonade at mid-August in Milan
2. sapidity: a barbecue with friends
3. tannicity: being the only one in disagreement at a meeting, saying it, and being right
4. alcohol content: the first experience with grappa, at 12 years of age
5. softness: the bedtime story told by mum, after a day of games
6. sweetness: the first love
7. body: after a year at the gym
8. intensity: the smell of the sea in winter
9. quality: our closest friend
10. persistence: our dearest friend, in difficult times.
For perfect wine-tasting comfort in a restaurant, read our little guide.