Friday, March 7, 2008

Exploring Wines: Part 5- Key Attributes of Wine

When I got home Thursday night, there was a case of wine waiting for me from Zina Hyde Cunningham Winery, one of the wine clubs we belong to. I realized that it had been a few months since my last installment of the Exploring Wines series, so I decided to resume the series. I do not profess to be an expert on wine, but I live by one cardinal rule: "Drink what you like!" But for those of you interested in learning a little about wine, I'd suggest starting with the basics. So let's start with some terminology about how to taste and describe wines. I recycled some of the photos below from prior Exploring Wines posts, because I was busy watching American Idol and didn't have time to take new pictures.
There are three key attributes that you should look for to define a wine: sight, nose and taste.
Let's start with sight.

First, pick up the glass by the stem or base, and hold the glass up to light, or near a candle on the table. There are two things to evaluate: color and clarity.

Color: Try to evaluate how intense the wine's color is and what it conveys about the character of the wine. A light, pale white wine will usually have less body and flavor compared to a golden wine. Similarly, a pale red wine will typically have less body than a deep, dark colored red wine.
Clarity: This term refers to the absence or presence of particles or sediment floating in the wine. Similar to a diamond, usually people will evaluate clarity as brilliant, clear or cloudy. Brilliant means absolutely no sediment and crystal clear. Clear means no sediment but not brilliant. Cloudy, of course means you can see sediment or particles, with a muddy look.
To evaluate the "nose" of a wine, swirl the wine in the glass to release the aromas. Hold the glass close to your nose and inhale. Don't be afraid to put your nose deep in the glass! Try to evaluate the aroma and bouquet. Aroma, similar to coffee, are smells that are directly related to the odor of the fresh wine grape. Bouquet refers to smells that come from the fermentation or aging process. You can also use the term bouquet to describe it's overall smell.
This one seems easy enough, right? But it's the one people struggle to describe. Start with a small amount of wine in your mouth, breath in some air through your nose, and then swallow slowly. As the wine passes your tongue and glides down your throat, try to evaluate the body and the finish of the wine.
Body is usually described in three ways: Light-Medium-Full
  • Light = watery, or thin (think skim milk)
  • Medium = fuller than light, but not too heavy in texture (think regular milk)
  • Full = Very robust, rich, and mouth-coating in texture (think heavy cream)

Finish (or "Aftertaste")

Typically people describe finish as either short, long, clean, or unpleasant.

Short = Very little aftertaste, the wine's flavors disappear quickly.

Long = Lingering aftertaste; the wine's flavor is noticeable for some length of time.

Clean = Pleasurable finish, free of any unpleasant taste. It can be either long or short, or course.

Unpleasant = No surprise here: It's unpleasant, caused by bitterness, overly sweet, tart, or just bad flavors.

All these terms will help you create an overall impression. Don't be afraid to try this at home. So on your way home, go to Trader Joe's, Costco or your local wine store and pick up a few bottles of wine, relax with a few glasses and have some fun with these terms.
-Rick Rockhill


Rhodester said...

Trader Joe's? Rick, let's stop by and pick up a case of "two buck chuck". :-)

Canadian flake said...

I have never been able to acquire the taste for wine...I assume because I have never been able to afford anything worth drinking...lmao.

Very informative post.

lime said...

i like wine but i have very little knowledge of all this sort of thing. thanks for the primer. :)

Seamus said...

I find it absolutely fascinating the scope of subtlety regarding wine.

Steven said...

Very informative post on the testing of wines. I was wondering if you ever heard of swirling the wine in a counter-clockiwise direction? My brother claims the aroma releases "better."

snowelf said...

Thanks for the tips, Rick! I love having an inside track so that I can act like I know what I'm talking about. hehehe! ;)


Ann and Ray said...

Great job on the wine teaching, Rick! Sorry we missed you guys when we were in the area - maybe we could come this month or next for the great blooming of the desert flowers? Miss you,

Tea N. Crumpet said...

What a great article! I got tossed by a horse when I was 22 and lost my sense of smell. It's pretty weak. I make wine every year with Alaskan red currents. It's very good but I think it tastes like fruit juice until I stand up!

G Cracker said...

Whoa, they sell wine at Costco?? I had no idea!

Note to self: hit up Costco as part of celebrating my 21st. :P

Diane J Standiford said...

Thank you, I'm ready to impress my friends now.

Olivia said...

I held my own wine tasting session with my old roomie a couple of years ago when she was visiting me here in London.

I used to buy a bottle of white and red every couple of weeks but in the past year or so haven't found it so exciting though... Gosh, I need to pull my socks up and get back into it!

Thankfully I am still a sucker for a well-crafted cocktail!

BGarmon said...

I'm not normally a wine enthusiast, preferring beer or scotch on the rocks. However I recently went on a wine kick and tried some of my company's ( brand wines. I enjoyed:
Les Deux Rhones Chateauneuf-du-Pape especially.
Five of our own brand wines, including several Napa Family varieties, recently won award from a NoCal competition.

Marlupe said...

I need to learn more about glad you resumed these informative posts again rick


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