What constitutes the first step when evaluating a wine? Here’s how to start a tasting and assess the qualities of a glass of wine.
The first approach to a wine is always visual: you have to look at it just like you would a person.
The examination is conducted by observing the glass and its contents against the light, first by bringing it to eye level and then tilting it on a white surface at about 45 degrees (to evaluate colour intensity and nuances).
What are the aspects to note during a visual analysis?
This first phase allows us to identify the different characteristics of the wine and provide an initial assessment of the product.
- The first thing to evaluate is almost certainly the clarity of the liquid and whether or not there are any suspended particles. The presence of haze, turbidity or irrelevant elements could suggest an alteration in the wine.
- The main wine alterations are also known as ‘casse’, a French term that means ‘breakage’, linked to chemical, physical or enzymatic modifications and an excess of metal. Oxidasic casse, which alters the colour of the wine – leaving it both dark and cloudy – is linked to the action of oxygen and the oxidative enzymes that act on any slightly mouldy grapes.
- Wine can be unfiltered, as is the case – for example – with natural wines, and the lower levels of transparency, perhaps due to suspended yeast (as seen in wines that are re-fermented directly in the bottle,i.e., the so-called Pet Nats or ancestrals) do not suggest a problem: it is therefore important to be able to recognise the type of wine that we are going to taste!
- Look closely at the brightness of the colour, which indicates the ‘health’ of the wine and which is often indicative of youth and a provenance from vines grown in cold areas or with good temperature ranges.
How to evaluate the consistency of the wine
The second step precedes the evaluation of the wine’s colour, using different scales for whites, rosés and reds. The next article will be dedicated to this topic!
You will then have to evaluate the consistency of the wine: let’s swirl the liquid in the glass, making gentle yet decisive circular motions. This is determined by the presence of substances other than water, hence by the amount of ethyl alcohol, sugar alcohols, tartaric acid and fixed polyphenolic acids present. You will be able to appreciate the tendency of the liquid to stop and form on the walls of the glass in arches and tears: usually the tears will fall more slowly and the arches will be thicker when the wine is consistent, with good structure and plenty of alcohol.
The final step in evaluating a sparkling wine requires us to take account of the effervescence and note the size of the bubbles: if they are fine or coarse, if they are numerous and how persistent the perlage appears. Usually, if the wine was fermented for the second time in the bottle and spent years on lees (Champagne, Cremant, Cava, Franciacorta, Trento Doc, Oltrepò Pavese MC and Alta Langa), we can expect to see very fine ‘pinhead’ bubbles, which are numerous and persistent, whilst we will also observe greater brightness owing to the ability of the bubbles themselves to reflect more light.
What you must not forget when starting a tasting
Here are a few small tips and tricks to be observed during a wine tasting, so as to ensure that your final judgement is not altered:
- Do not wear perfumes and deodorants,which would most certainly cover the olfactory profile of the wine and could also act as an irritant to those tasting around us!
- Do not use mint-based toothpastes immediately before tasting as they alter our sense of taste
- Avoid drinking coffee or eating peppermint sweets, licorice and spicy foods as they modify our sense of taste
- Make sure that you are well-hydrated and in an optimal psychophysical state, especially if called to participate as a judge in competitions or tasting sessions for a guide!