To the uninitiated, the thought of attending a wine tasting can seem daunting. We are used to drinking our wine with meals, usually in a relaxed and convivial setting. The thought of joining the professionals as they sip and spit and talk about bouquets that bring to mind tar and rotting compost may be a bit off-putting. But mastering the art of tasting is essential in order to get the most out of your wine drinking.
The good news is that not all tasting sessions are taken as seriously as you might think, and that the essential elements of tasting are easy to learn and will help you to learn about what kinds of wines you enjoy – or dislike – and why. As time goes by and you gain more experience, you will grow more confident in your assessment of the wines you taste. Some people have a remarkably good memory for tastes, and can sometimes even pinpoint the origin of a wine as well as the variety of grapes that have been used to make it.
The important thing to remember is that anyone can be a good taster, as long as they have an unimpaired sense of smell and taste, and are prepared to concentrate.
While the majority of tastings - which take place on a daily basis all over the world - are for professionals, there are plenty of opportunities for enthusiastioc amateurs to taste wines. In their efforts to attract and keep customers, many supermarkets now run tastings. In doing so, of course, they are following in the footsteps of the more established wine merchants like Oddbins or Majestic – who often provide their customers with the option to try something new before they buy.
Another alternative is to join your nearest wine society - have a look in the local newspaper. Visits to wine regions the world over also provide plenty of opportunities to sample the products of the individual winemakers on site. This is a great, if biased, way to taste, as the producers are often keen to give detailed information about their wines to any visitor who shows a modicum of interest. Finally, you could get a group of like-minded friends together and start regular wine tasting sessions. Although these evenings tend to be fairly unstructured, they're also great fun.
The ideal conditions for tasting are easy - a quiet room and good lighting. The glasses should, of course, be clean, and of the correct shape to allow you to indulge fully in both the aroma and taste of the wines.
Keep notes as you taste – this will provide you with an invaluable source of reference when it comes to buying wines. Professional tasters keep their notes for years – Bordeaux expert David Peppercorn has tasting notes going back to the late 1950s.
Looking at the wine
Examining a wine will tell you a number of things, even before you smell or taste it. Hold the glass, ideally against a white background, and take a look. Colour depends on a wine's age, its sweetness, its degree of oakiness and, of course, the grape variety from which it's made. MORE
Smelling the wine
Smell is absolutely crucial to taste. Your nose can tell you a great deal about a wine before you even taste it so put your nose well into the glass and sniff. Does the wine have little aroma or a powerful one? What can you smell - fruits and what kind, herbs, minerals, spice, wet dog? MORE
Tasting the wine
Take a mouthful. Swish it around your mouth and between your teeth. Does the wine just have a simple flavour or does it have different flavours that change in your mouth? Is the texture light like water or does it have roundness and body? Does the wine feel sensuous, or is it harsh? MORE
Always spit out the wine you taste - any taster who didn't would become incapable after half an hour. You should spit the wine firmly and accurately in a single jet through pursed lips. Practising at home beforehand in front of a mirror can often help. MORE
If you are tasting a lot of wines, it can help to take notes. Jot down your impressions as you taste - the look, the aroma, the taste and, then, an overall impression. Is wine simple and easy drinking? Is it complex with different layers of flavour? Is it ready to drink? Does it offer good value? MORE
Spotting wine faults
Most wine faults come from poor winemaking or from faulty materials, especially corks. Faults vary in intensity - some lessening the potential pleasure from a bottle, others making it undrinkable. Tasters can be sensitive to corked wines, while others notice too much sulphur. MORE
By Jim Budd and Natasha Hughes http://www.decanter.com/