Did you know that red wine contains reservatrol, which has been associated with anti-cancer properties?

Aroma, Bouquet, and Nose

“Aroma” is generally understood as the smell of the grapes, from the fresh fruit itself.

“Bouquet” generally refers to the smells that are generated after the fermentation process (and to get technical, this is called by some the secondary aroma) and after the maturation process (the tertiary aroma).

All these smells combine to create the “nose” of the wine. (Zraly, p.9, Simon, p.15)

Wine Tasting 101

Tasting Glossary

Here’s a short list of terms that you might encounter as you visit wineries. This list is not comprehensive, but it is a very adequate start as it will help you to describe what you like.

General Terms

Residual Sugar: See Dry / Sweet below.

Alcohol Content: The alcohol content of wines range from 8-15 percent and generally is directly related to the sweetness of the fruit used to make the wine. As a result, warmer climate grapes, from say California, tend to make wines of higher alcohol levels (14%) than fruit from cooler climates, like Germany – since the riper grapes have more available sugar for fermentation into alcohol.

Fermentation: Fermentation, the process of turning grape juice into wine, begins with the crushing of grapes to extract the juice and ends when all of the natural sugar in the grape juice has been converted to alcohol by yeast . Fermentation will also stop when the alcohol level reaches about 15%.

Malolactic fermentation: Technique to reduce excess acidity in wine. During malolactic fermentation, bitter malic acids are converted to milder lactic acids.

Flight(s): A flight of wine is a selection of three to eight wines presented at a tasting. A “horizontal” flight is one which compares the same wine produced by different wineries. A “vertical” flight would be a selection of wine made by the same winery made over a number of years.

Vintage: Indicates the year that the grapes were harvested from which the wine was made. “Good” vintages or years are ones with ideal growing conditions for the grape variety in question.

Basic Questions:

Which glass? Large bowled glasses permit a wine to breath and can be desirable for reds, esp. older ones. Somewhat smaller bowled glasses might be desirable for white, especially aromatic wines – like a Traminette – to maintain the aromas in the glass.

And how do I hold the glass? Generally speaking, you should hold the glass by the stem, not the bowl.

However, if the wine is too cold, cupping it with the hands may warm it slightly and allow it to breathe.

What do you mean “breathe”? When a wine is first exposed to air after having been cooped up all those years in a corked bottle it is said to “breathe”. Mostly it breathes out, letting off various scents depending on the wine. Some reds (especially traditionally made) need to get rid of musty aromas before they are at their best, this may take “decanting” (fancy word for pouring) the wine from the bottle into a wide-bottomed flask and letting it repose at room temperature and “open up” for a couple of hours. On the other hand, do this to a delicately aromatic Riesling for example and you won’t be doing the wine any favors at all. With experience, you’ll be able to take a small sip immediately after uncorking your bottle, and from that decide if, and how much you want to let it breathe before inflicting it on your guests.

What temperature do I serve wines? Red wines are generally served at room temperature. (Upper 60’s Fahrenheit, not 85 on a summer day) White wines, especially sweet ones, are generally served chilled (but again, moderation: we’re talking about 48F or so, not Frosty the beer chilled). Fortified wines, ports and sherrys, are generally served at room temperature and ice wines either at room temperature or chilled. In some rare instances, you might want to warm a wine gently – say a spiced ( or mulled) wine served during the holidays.

How long should I store wine? The majority of wine sold today is intended for immediate consumption. That said, some expensive high tannin, red wines will improve with some age. White wines and dessert wines should generally be consumed within a year. Fortified wines, like sherry and port, can be stored longer.

Tasting Terms

Clarity: That’s right, how clear or cloudy is the wine? Wine, when ready to drink, is clear.

Acidity: Refers to how sharp or astringent the wine tastes. Too much will taste sharp or sour; too little, bland. Cooler climates tend to produce wines with more acidity.

Weight/Body: Refers to the sensation of viscosity of the wine in one’s mouth – heavy, medium, or light.

Tannin: “Tannin is a natural substance that comes from the skins, stems, and pips of the grapes, and even from the wooden barrels in which many are aged. It acts as a preservative; without it, certain wines wouldn’t continue to improve in the bottle. In young wines, tannin may be astringent and make the wine taste bitter. Generally, red wines have a higher level of tannin than do whites, because red grapes are usually left to ferment with their skins.” (Zraly, p. 6)

Dry / Sweet: Dry wine is one in which all of the sugar in the juice is converted into alcohol during fermentation. A sweet wine has “residual sugar” because the fermentation is stopped before all of the sugar from the juice is converted to alcohol. Dry wines, that is, ones with no residual sugar, may still taste somewhat sweet due the flavors or aromas imparted by the fruit and/or even of the vanilla taste sometimes imparted by oak. (Oldman, p. 15)

Oak: Wine may be fermented in oak barrels or aged in oak barrels. Additionally, oak flavors may be imparted much more precisely (and less expensively) through the addition of oak chips during aging. Oak imparts different flavors, depending on the origin of the oak (American vs. French!) and range from a smoky flavor to spices, toast, or even vanilla or caramel.

Flavor & Aroma Descriptors: This is limitless – apricot, gooseberry, floral, mint, mineral, strawberry, etc.

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