Tasting the wine will help to confirm what you have learned
from observing and smelling the wine. It will also give you an idea of the
structure of the wine as in the level of acidity and alcohol, the finish and,
in the case of red wines, the tannin. There probably won’t be any
surprises and any you do come across will probably be unsavory. Here’s the
check list for the palate of a wine:
How dry or sweet is the wine? The level of sweetness and or dryness can be a very important clue as to the varietal, style or origin of a wine. Also, don’t confuse fruitiness with sweetness. If in doubt, pay attention to how dry or sweet the wine is on the finish and not just the initial blast of fruit on the tip of the tongue.
The weight or mouthfeel is known as body. A wine can be light-bodied, medium-bodied, full-bodied–or something in between. Why is one wine light-bodied while another full bodied? The answer is the level of alcohol in the wine. When you finally taste a wine it should confirm what you’ve already seen in the quality and movement of the tears or legs, and in the amount of heat you’ve detected on the nose.
In tasting the wine we’re simply confirming the fruit, earth and wood that we’ve already smelled in the glass. Taste the wine again looking to confirm the primary and secondary fruit flavors you’ve already smelled in the glass. Are the same flavors there? Are there different flavors? Are the flavors more or less pronounced on the palate as opposed to the nose? From there note the non-fruit flavors that were smelled in the wine. Are they the same? Different? Be sure to confirm them.
Oak in wine tastes like sweet spices, caramel, smoke and wood–that two-by-four kind of a feeling. Oak also has a gritty, sand-paper like sensation on the back of your tongue. One tastes wood in the middle of the back of the tongue, exactly where many of the receptors to bitterness are located. When oak is used to excess, as is often the case, the wine tastes overly bitter or tannic. And that leads us to the structural elements: tannin, acidity, alcohol and the finish.
Tannins are derived from the grape skins and the barrels used to age the wine. In moderation, tannins add structure and complexity to any wine. They also are a valuable preservative that give wine the potential to age. In excess, however, tannins render wine bitter and undrinkable.
There are four primary acids in wine: tartaric, malic (tart green apples), lactic (the softer acid of dairy products), and citric. Balanced acidity is what makes a wine food friendly and keeps it from being flabby. Too much acidity renders a wine tart and undrinkable.
High alcohol wine leaves a sensation of heat in either the throat or chest cavity. A low-alcohol wine will have an absence of heat while a fortified wine like a port will produce a warm glow in the mouth, throat, and chest.
Regarding the finish or aftertaste the general rule in wine tasting is: the longer the finish, the better the wine; no matter who made it, where it’s from or how much it costs. Remember that one as it’s important.
Is there a balance between all the various elements in a wine: the fruit, the acids, the tannins. When tasting a wine ask yourself if there is harmony among all these elements? Or does something stick out like the proverbial sore thumb?
Complexity can be defined as the amount of aromas and flavors in a wine combined with how much the wine changes as it travels across your palate. For example, a simple wine will only display one or several aromas/flavors in the glass and change very little as you taste it. A complex wine, on the other hand, offers up many different aromas/flavors and will change dramatically as it travels across your palate. Once poured it will continue to change and develop in the glass revealing even more nuances over time.
Now that we have gone through the first three criteria for wine tasting we move on to the conclusion.
The Initial Conclusion is where we start to hone in on what the wine is and where it could be from. We’re not going to get picky with details just yet. The first thing to consider is the climate where the grapes were grown.
Cool vs. warm climate: is the wine light in color, low in alcohol and high in acidity? If so, odds are it’s from a cool climate where the grapes don’t get fully ripened. Or is the wine deeply colored with rich, concentrated flavors and high alcohol? Then the wine is from a warmer growing region where the grapes were able to fully ripen.
Old world vs. new world: here we’re asking what drives the wine: fruit or other-than-fruit elements. Does the wine smell and taste of earth or minerals? If so, the wine is probably from an old world country. High acidity can also be a hint that the wine is from an old world country as there are many cooler growing regions in the old world. If the wine is overtly fruity without a trace of earthiness, chances are it’s from one of the new world countries.
Grape variety or blend: here is where one has to have an opinion or at least make an educated guess. Taking everything you’ve seen, smelled and tasted into consideration: what’s the grape variety? Or is the wine a blend of several grapes? Here the fruit qualities, the earthiness or lack thereof, and the use of oak (or not) in the wine are all important clues. Hopefully, your previous tasting experiences will provide a good frame of reference. The bad news is that it takes years of tasting to form such a frame of reference. The good news is that you have to taste and drink a lot of wines to form these taste references.
Age: given what you’ve seen, smelled and tasted, is the wine young and vibrant with loads of primary fruit, or is it filled with rich, leathery, earthy secondary flavors from bottle aging? Give the age range in terms of young (1-3 years), medium (3-5 years) and old (5 years and beyond).
Quality level: this is a subjective judgment at heart, but one that can be made quickly. Is the wine a simple? Better than that? Or is it a profound wine offering a brief but life-changing experience?
Now it’s time to state your case. Given all the previous, state the vintage, grape varietal, country, region, and appellation.