Now we get to taste! Remember that tastes are subjective and the goal here is to remove prejudice and bias. To taste without judgement is to taste fully. The goal is also to make a claim or statement on the quality of the wine. Does it have character? Does it have something to say and does it have nuance? The best wines of the world sing with prettiness, depth, finesse, power and sheer personality. Blind tasting is the best way to judge a wine without bias.
To taste like a somm is to evaluate a wine in terms of quality and age-worthiness. Does it level up in terms of its style, quality and price?
Consider how the wine evolve in terms of: Age-worthiness decides is a wine will get better with time. Keep in mins, most of wines in our current market are destined for drinking in youth.
- Freshness of fruit
- Evolution of flavors
- Structural elements like Acidity, Tannin, Body & Alcohol
Taste: Our tongues can detect salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. All wines are going to have some sour, because grapes all inherently have some acid. This varies with climate and grape type. Some varieties are known for their bitterness (i.e. Pinot Grigio), and it manifests as a sort of light, pleasant tonic-water-type flavor. Some white table wines have a small portion of their grape sugars retained, and this adds natural sweetness. You can’t ever smell sweetness though, since only your tongue can detect it. Lastly, very few wines have a salty quality, but in some rare instances salty reds and whites exist.
Texture: Your tongue can “touch” the wine and perceive the texture. Texture in wine is related to a few factors, but an increase in texture is almost always happens in a higher-alcohol, riper wine. Ethanol gives a wine texture because we perceive it as “richer” than water. We also can detect tannin with our tongue, which are that sand-paper or tongue-depressor drying sensation in red wines.
Length: The taste of wine is also time-based, there is a beginning, middle (mid-palate) and end (finish). Ask yourself, how it takes until the wine isn’t with you anymore? What is the quality of the finish, is it fruit, oak, or bitter?
Take a look at the tasting grid for the WSET Level 2 Grid. This is the process of evaluating the structural elements of a wine’s palate. When we taste for analysis, always use a spittoon (or spit cup). Make sure to swish the wine all over your mouth, gums included, then spit the wine out.
VIDEO on tasting!
Palate– There are several structural elements to be considered on the palate and therefore should be felt for a few sips rather than just one.
Sweetness– The taste of sugars present in the wine. A ‘dry‘ wine has no or low residual sugar, and cannot be detected on the tongue. If the wine has a tiny amount of detectable sugar, the wine is considered ‘off-dry.’ Medium covers wine with a distinct presence but not sweet enough to go with desserts. Sweet covers wines that are as sweet as desserts. It’s when the sugar levels are the prominent feature in the wine.
Acidity-All wines contain acid and judging a wine is asking you to measure how much. Acid is detected on the tongue and causes a tingling sensation and cause the mouth to water. High levels of acidity and high levels of sugar can cancel each other, and in fact the sweet wines of the world have high levels of both.
Tannin- Tannins are an important structural component in red wines. They are mostly extracted from the skins of the grapes during fermentation. Tannins bind to saliva and cause your mouth to dry up and feel rough, astringent and drying. Tannins are responsible for that bitter taste in the back of your mouth and gums.
Alcohol- Alcohol contributes to the body of a wine. High levels of alcohol can make a wine seem heavier in the mouth and verse a wine low in alcohol can feel watery. At high levels, alcohol can feel hot or burning in the mouth because it triggers pain receptors. When using the SAT, use the three point system of alcohol:
-Low Alcohol below 11% abv
-Medium Alcohol 11-13.9% abv
-High: 14% abv and above
Body– Body is the over weight of a wine in the mouth using the sense of touch rather than taste. Body is not a single component, it is created by the structural components of sugar, acidity, tannin and alcohol. For most red wines, alcohol is the biggest factor to body.
*Body & Alcohol* are indicators of climate of origin- warm climate wines have high alcohol and cool climate wines have low alcohol.
Flavor Intensity– This is how powerful the perceived flavors are. The aromas on the nose will likely match the flavors on the palate. The flavors on the palate are detected mostly by the nose because the tongue can only detect taste, sweetness, acidity, bitterness, salt, and umami. Also note the main ‘condition’ ie primary, secondary, tertiary.
Finish– The finish of a wine is the sensation and flavors that happen after you spit the wine out. It is how long the flavors develop and linger on the palate after you spit the wine out.
WSET LEVEL 2 GRID
WHEW! That is a lot.