Although I am not conducting a tasting today, I do have to admit that I am sipping on a bit of our VML 2007 Sparkling Wine while writing this section of Wine Tasting 101. With the first step calling for assessment by sight, I can’t help but look at the glass before me and recall my evolution of what color VML’s sparkling wine was. As 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay, VML’s Blanc de Noir takes on a beautiful color (shown in the flute in the picture below). I distinctly remember when we first released the sparkling wine, I referred to its color as a peachy color. I am most familiar with peaches so this descriptor easily flew easily from my mouth. After a while, I began to get bored with this description so I moved on to using tangerine to describe the color. This placated me for a little while until fall began to settle in, in the Russian River Valley and it became persimmon season. We have two beautiful persimmon trees in our garden on the VML property and one day I realized that the color of our sparkling wine was more of a light persimmon color.
I thought my evolution of the color of a wine is indicative to how subjective wine tasting is. Typically, people tend to describe colors, aromas and tastes to things they can relate to or are more familiar with. Not any one person is right and not any one person is wrong. It is important to keep an open mind when tasting and evaluating a wine.
Understanding what you see is more complicated than you might think. I found that there are five different components that you should take into consideration: clarity, brightness, intensity, color and viscosity. I start off with the color because it is the most obvious. Color can give you insights to the varietal, growing climate, area of production, and age of the wine. Clarity and brightness can be assessed by holding the wine up to the light to check for any sediment and to see how vibrant the color is. A vivid color suggests that the wine is youthful and a browning suggests age. If the the intensity of color is retained on the rim of the glass, it is considered a high intensity.
One of my favorite, fun techniques to use when evaluating wine by sight is doing the swirl. I am not sure if this is a technical term for the action but I enjoy the sound of it (probably because it sounds like ‘twirl’ so it reminds me of twirling in dresses when I was a little girl), so that is what we are going to go with. To properly execute the swirl, set the wine on a flat counter top with two finger tips on the base and quickly rotate the glass in a circles. The swirl serves three purposes. It helps in the assessment of sight, smell and taste. The swirling aerates and coats the contour of the glass with wine. This aeration allows for the wine to ‘open up,’ allowing for a full range of aromas and flavors. As the wine drips down the glass, it forms what wine aficionados call ‘legs’ or ‘tears.’ Although not conclusive, the legs can give you insight to the sugar level, viscosity and alcohol content of the wine.
After taking notes on your evaluation of sight, it will be time to use your olfactory senses. The next portion of Tasting 101 will cover how to best evaluate the aromas of wine. Sometimes the aroma can give you greater insight to a wine than the taste. If you haven’t already checked out the first two sessions of Tasting 101- Drinking vs Tasting and Love. Good. Wine. click on a the link or visit our VML Blog homepage.