ABBY NASH: Greetings. In this segment, we're going to cover wine appreciation basics. Moderate consumption of wine can add to our quality of life by enriching us physically, emotionally, and making food taste better. Wine's purpose is to give us pleasure.
In this segment, we learn how to maximize enjoyment of wine by taking a few tips from the pros. Professional wine bars in restaurants and wine shops evaluate wine by breaking it down into its appearance, aromatics, and palate. Then they put it back together again. They don't have any special gifts. Just a lot of experience. All that's required is powers of concentration, experience, and a desire to learn more about wine.
Professionals spit out wine because swallowing it means ingestion of alcohol. Alcohol affects our judgment, and thus our ability to best make the decisions about which ones to buy. Decisions about spending thousands of dollars should not be made by people with a buzz.
Professionals use a tasting sheet with space for comments and a wine scoring system. Nonprofessionals should use the same approach, whether they're considering spending $10,000 to add to their cellars or just shopping for an inexpensive wine for everyday drinking.
We now come to the nub of the matter. Wine evaluation or tasting is not the same as wine drinking. Wine evaluation involves dissecting wine, tasting it out of context under bright lights, without food, and then harder is spitting it out. Wine drinking is more leisurely, usually with food. Other wines may be discussed. They aren't likely to be graded, and they're not spit out.
Professionals typically taste wines blind, which doesn't mean blindfolded. It just means the identities of the wines are kept secret so tasters can't measure the wines up against preconceptions based on price, producer, packaging, et cetera.
First we look at the color using large, clear glasses in a well-lit room. We tilt the glasses so we can look at the color through a white background. Why do we look at the color, and what are we looking for? Well, wine has a vast range of lovely colors worth appreciating on their own.
But also, color tells us if the wine is young or old, lighter or fuller bodied, and more. A Young white table wine, for instance, almost always should have a pale green or greenish-straw yellow color. If a white wine shows a deep yellow color, this may be a sign the wine has aged prematurely and lacks the freshness we would expect.
Many young red table wines have a purplish color. So if the wine shows a tawny or brick color, it's likely the wine has been compromised either by its production in the winery or storage after release to the market. At several points in this section, I'm going to use a wine-speak term. And when I do--
--and the term will flash over there. You'll find these terms are very useful in the course of making yourself a better wine taster. Next, we nose the wine.
This is a very important step, because scientists who specialize in sensory evaluation tell us most of what we taste is really more about what we smell. Our nose can distinguish among thousands of scents, but our palate is said to be only able to taste sweet, salt, sour, and bitterness.
We nose wines first by swirling the wine, spinning the glass, which can take some practice. I'm comfortable with this motion. Start on a flat surface. Then lift off and you'll get the hang of it quickly. This mixes the wine with air and releases its aromatics.
This is where concentration comes into the picture. Tune out everything else. sort of a Zen thing-- and try to describe the aromatics. Keeping the wine aroma real handy helps. If you like, get yourself a bottle of the same wine I'm tasting, the Borsao 2000 from Spain. And do try this at home.
So I see a medium ruby red color, a little bit purplish, which is the correct color for a young red wine. Mm. Big nose. Rich, ripe fruits. Really, really pure. I'm getting no oak in this wine. Just an absolutely appetizing, delicious nose. I can't wait to try this wine. So first, we evaluate the wine's quantity of aromatics. That is, is there a big nose or bouquet, or is the wine somewhat muted?
The next part is more difficult. What does the wine smell like? Now qualitatively, this is one of the wonderful things about wines. There's just a range of so many fruits, even vegetables, herbs, flowers, even meaty aromas, damp Earth after a rainfall, other foods like coffee and tea, and much, much more. There are no right answers. We all perceive something different, and we're all right. So I'm getting lots of nose. Big nose--
--or forward nose.
Wine speak. Really upfront, in-your-face nose. All kinds of fruits here. Cherries raspberries, black and red plums. Very fresh, very clean. Sometimes wines are dirty smelling, and that's a flaw, but this Borsao is very light and lively and bright.
I just can't wait to taste it. But before we taste, one more thing. We evaluate both nose--
--and palate for simplicity--
--versus complexity. In other words, some wines give us many different layers of flavors, and others are more straightforward. Wines with complexity--
--along with other qualities we'll get to soon, have what it takes to make the leap from ordinary fine wines to greatness. I would characterize this wine as straightforward and somewhat simple, though none the worse for it. Well, let's taste it.
No, no, no. We don't just gulp it down. That's wine drinking, and we're evaluating wine here. We take our time, we take a sip, we roll it around our mouth, we do the wine slurp.
The wine slurp involves spreading the wine out to all areas of the mouth. to further aerate the wine, and because different tastes tend to be perceived in different places. To keep our minds clear, we would use the spit cup. We're not done yet. The wine is gone, but can we still taste it? Does it have staying power? This is called--
--length or aftertaste. I call it getting our money's worth, because even though I no longer have any wine in my mouth, I can still taste it. Or maybe I can't. When a wine disappears, we say it's short--
--as opposed to, you guessed it, long.
To me, the Borsao shows medium body as opposed to light or full body. On the palate, it's got rich, concentrated, fresh, berry, plummy fruit, just like its nose. It's low in tannin, has moderate acidity. Very nice balance. That is, nothing sticks out. No biting acidity or chalky tannin or anything else. It's seamless. I love this wine, which by the way is an absolute steal at $6 or less. More basic wine terms. Wine balance--
--is putting back together the sum of the component parts, the gestalt. There's no right answers here. Each of us decides whether the acidity-- that is to say, the tartness, the sourness, the bite we can liken to lemon juice-- harmonizes with the fruit. Too little, and wine loses its refreshing quality. Too much, and it bites us back.
Most of the time, we drink wine with food, and that acidity will cleanse the mouth and enable us to enjoy our food more. Imagine rich, fatty prime rib or beef. Sorry, vegetarians. With a red wine with a bit of acidity, the wine will brush away that fattiness instead of letting it build up in the mouth, making the next bite of beef taste even better. And this sounds a lot better to me than pairing that meat with coffee, milk, soft drinks. Yuck.
Here again, the difference between tasting and drinking comes into focus. Wines that seem too acidic or tannic without food may be just right with it. Tannin is actually another form of acidity. Naturally present in wine, it's more a texture than a flavor.
Tannin is rarely present in white wines. In white wine making, the skins, the seeds, and the stems are almost always immediately separated from the just-pressed juice. Reds are another story. The skins, the seeds, and the stems may spend days, if not weeks in contact with the fermenting juice. So some of these can be very tannic, and others, hardly at all.
Tannin helps red wines age well, providing structure. The Borsao is very low in tannin. It was made that way, since this wine is meant to be drunk when released, and not aged.
The Borsao has moderate length and good balance, though it's on the softer side since it lacks those tannins. I love this wine. It's so fruity, it would be delicious by itself, even chilled a little bit. Wines usually drunk absent food are white or sparkling.
A couple of more terms. Horizontal versus vertical tasting.
No, the difference isn't that we start out wine tasting in one position and end up in another. Horizontal tastings are encountered more often. They refer to wines across a single vintage, such as the 1990 Red Bordeaux. Vertical tastings are the same wine. Say, the Robert Mondavi Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve from several vintages. Either way, the idea is to taste apples with apples so the wines are flighted or grouped with peers.
The moral of the story is, taste wine like the pros to better appreciate it and make better decisions about buying it. Next, we delve deeper into wine's components and quality factors.
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Join Abby Nash, lecturer in the Hotel School, for the basics of wine appreciation in a 'How To' format. Starting with your basic senses, you'll learn to discern flavor through smell and taste. Moving on, you'll learn the art of buying, serving and storing wines, how to open and preserve wines, manage the restaurant experience, and select wine and food pairings.
This video is part 2 of 10 in the Wine Appreciation series.