Want to understand a little bit more about wine tasting?

Does it all sound a bit too serious?  Just relax.  Tasting wine is not rocket science, but if you put a bit of thought and effort into it you will find you get a whole lot more out of your day wine tasting around the Marlborough wineries.

I am always amazed at the number of folks I take on a wine tour who are seasoned drinkers of Marlborough’s wines but have never truly thought about the liquid in their glass.  Don’t get me wrong, most of the time we are simply drinking wine as part of an experience – whether that is relaxing in front of the TV, out socialising with friends, listening to music, having a meal, or whatever.  In many cases the wine is just one aspect of the event, not the focal point.  But on a wine tour it’s a bit different.  Most guests want to learn  a bit more about what they like, why they like it and, perhaps more importantly, want to be able to share their likes and dislikes with others.

So can we just agree that wine tasting and wine drinking are two very different things, each with its time and place.

tasting wine
Spy valley views

In general we are poor at putting a vocabulary to smells and tastes.  Perhaps with the bombardment of artificial flavours our palates are subjected to we have lost the ability to identify more subtle differences.  There are a dozen different forms of corn out there but could you describe the differences between them?  Often we have a meal and apart from a general comment such as “that was lovely”  or “a bit salty” we rarely discuss in any detail what we have been tasting or smelling.  But if you want to share your thoughts on a wine – with friends or with the local wine store – you need to be able to put into words what you like and what you don’t.  Then you can verbalise the differences between wine A and wine B, why you like wine A better and make your aim in selecting a new wine that suits your palate more accurate.

Having said that, we don’t want to lose the idea that tasting wine is supposed to be a fun, relaxing and engaging activity.  We are not (at present) intending to study for a Master of Wine accreditation.  So we need an introduction to tasting wine that is easy and fun.

With this in mind I have put together the Easy-As-S-Plan for tasting wine.  6 steps all beginning with S.  SIMPLE

S1 - Study

Take time to have a look at the wine n the glass.  There is no hurry to taste.  The colour of the wine can tell you a lot about it.  The juice from white wine grapes is pretty much colourless.  So if your white wine has colour to it, that comes from the wine making process.  It could be oxidation (not so good, the wine will not have the fresh, vibrant flavours that are the hallmark of Marlborough sauvignon blanc), it could be an older vintage (check the bottle) or it may be the influence of oak barrels in the winemaking process.

S2 - Swirl

Swirl the wine in the glass gently.  Don’t pour too much wine into the glass and use good quality, decent sized glasses for tasting wine.  The aim is to get some of the molecules from the wine into the air above the wine.  If a wine is too cold this is harder to do but the swirling process  helps.  In general, I recommend tasting wine at a slightly higher temperature than you may normally choose to drink wine.  The flavours and aromas are boosted when the wine is a few degrees warmer.  This is especially true if you are in the habit of drinking your wine straight from the fridge.

S3 - Smell

Get your nose right in the glass and smell the wine.  What does it smell of?  This can be hard, because again we don’t use a vocabulary for aromas nearly often enough.  Please don’t say it smells of wine, we are just a bit more sophisticated than that.  The sense of smell is closely linked with our memories and emotions.  For me some wines have such a delightful aroma I can enjoy that for many minutes before moving on to the next step.  Try to name the aroma.  I often start broadly and try to zone in.  Fruity, floral, savoury, confection?  If fruity, what colour is the fruit?  I am working my way in to naming the particular fruit.

S4 - Sip

Sip the wine.  No G for glugging  here.  Roll the wine around your mouth and think not just about the flavours but also the feel in your mouth.  Also the flavours may change, the front of your tongue will pick up very different sensations from the back of your palate.  What is left at the end, can be totally different from the sensation up front.

S5 - Suck

Now this is the tricky bit and the part of tasting wine that sometimes causes the giggles.  But give it a try, this makes a huge difference to the punchiness of the flavours.  Gently draw some air between your lips and it will bubble through the wine in your mouth.  Go easy and you should find the flavours have been boosted up, making it easier to put names to what you are tasting.

S6 - Swallow or Spit

Now here is a stage that many people find difficult.  Of course you can swallow the wine and most people do, because that is part of the fun of the day.  But if you want to continue tasting wine until the last winery at the end of the day you need to be a little careful.  Many professionals spit rather than swallow – this is wine tasting remember, not a drinking session.  It is not a crime to pour away some of the wine, rather than drinking the whole measure,  Some folk seem to find the idea of pouring away wine absolutely crazy (even wine they really don’t like), but that is what the spittoon is for.  Use it

So how about a little homework before your Marlborough wine tour with Na Clachan Wine Tours?  Its the best homework you can get – wine tasting but with all the senses switched on, the brain buzzing and the vocabulary working overtime.  Raise a glass and have a go.  Cheers