Okay, I’ve been going on about this wine and that, and how the aroma and taste must be both complex and balanced to signal a “good” or even a “great” wine. But what really is wine tasting, and why does one do it?
Google “wine tasting” and you get about 47.3 million sites, with Wikipedia topping the list — the latter is an excellently put-together compendium of what tasters do, but it is wonderfully reticent on the “why”.
Drinking wine is simple: just tilt the glass and swallow. Do that a few times and you’ll get a pleasant buzz; drink more than four glasses and you’ll probably end up under the table (or dancing on top of it!). Depending upon what you are having, wine makes a nice aperitif and a good accompaniment to food, so why do we need anything more than that?
Simply put, wine is all about enjoying the beverage, not just guzzling the stuff — for the latter, there’s beer. To enjoy wine, you need to understand the product: wine is a “living beverage” that keeps evolving over time in the bottle, so no wine will taste quite the same this year to the next. That wine is like people: brash and vigorous in its youth and gaining in complexity till it peaks, then a slow, inevitable decline (all that is from the movie Sideways, by the way).
Wine has a range of aromas that span the entire gamut of olfactory experiences — from fruity and floral to spicy, vegetal and others like leathery, buttery, stoney and jammy. In the mouth wine can be dry or sweet, acidic or balanced, tannic or velvety, watery or full-bodied, and the taste can either vanish quickly or have a “length” that remains on the palate well after drinking (this may be for upto a minute or even more for the best wines).
People who’ve just started on wine tend to think that the descriptions about the different aromas and tastes in wines are fiction, cooked-up by wine writers to further their readership. That’s because the palates of new wine drinkers are not developed enough, and they’ve not taken the time and trouble to try and differentiate between different wines.
The “how” of wine tasting is simple: see the colour; swirl the wine and smell the aroma; sip the wine and let the liquid remain in your mouth for a few seconds; and finally, drink the wine and savour the drink. Each indicator gives clues about the wine’s quality, and an important part of tasting is to make sure there are no faults in the wine — which is why, in good restaurants, the waiter will first pour a small portion of each wine for the host to approve.
Of course the “see-swirl-sniff-sip-savour” procedure is usually done in a flash when entertaining — it would look silly to keep doing this in company, and you would just be labelled as being pretentious.
Wines I’ve been drinking: The 4 Seasons Reserves (matured in new French oak barrels for seven months) at an impromptu tasting of the Bangalore Wine Master’s panel drew some very favourable reviews, with one wine even getting an average of 90 points! Their first vintage 9the 2008) is still several months away from release, but will be worth waiting for — with limited production, grab it when possible.