So! Class one. Exciting stuff!
On day one of my WSET I think one of the best things that I walked away with is the wine tasting and evaluation technique. I kind of went over this when I talked about the foundation course, but this is a more in depth way of breaking it down. You can of course go much further than what I’m going to talk about here, but it’s a great way of distinguishing it from just red white or pink.
How do we break it down? It comes in 3 stages once it’s in the glass: how it looks, what it smells like and how it tastes.
It starts with a look. Regardless of red or white wine you’re going to be looking at the wines clarity, intensity and colour. With clarity you need to take into account if it’s clear or hazy (turbid). The best advice I was given with this is to put the glass of wine over some writing. Can you see through it? Yes, ok, if it’s an inky wine it’s going to have too much tannin in it but use your best judgment. Next is intensity, is the colour pale, medium or deep intensity. This one is hard to describe in words, but try to think of it like this. Grammas dusty rose couch vs. generic pink vs. electric Barbie lipstick pink. Each one is its own distinct intensity of the same concept of pink. Finally in the glass we see the colour of the wine – red, white, and rose. Colour can indicate age in a wine, but that’s another topic for another day. Each one can be broken down further. In white we range from lemon to gold to amber, in rose we get pink to salmon to orange and in reds we get purple to ruby to garnet to tawny. There are of course a MILLION other options in addition to these, but I feel that WSET and I try to use the same lines when analyzing a wine. KISS – keep it simple, stupid.
Next up we have the nose, how does the wine smell? Does it smell clean, clear and identifiable? Or does it smell muddled and off? How’s the intensity? Is it light and reserved in the glass? Do you need to swirl the crap out of it to make the wine come you? Medium where it comes to you or pronounced where the sucker hits you from across the table with big fruit, floral, spices, vegetables, or oak aromas? This is also where we are going to find our first real fault; cork taint. WSET estimates that between 2-5% of bottles with corks has cork taint. That seems really low to me. I would guess that more than that are off, but people just don’t know what the wine they are drinking should taste like. Cork taint is most easily identifiable by the wet cardboard smell. Not pleasant.
Finally we have the palate. How do we break down all those flavors into the good, the bad and the ugly? WSET recommends that you do it like this. Start with sweetness, is it dry, off-dry, medium or sweet. Sugar is first registered on the palete at approximately 4grams of sugar per liter, which with all things considered it a fair amount of sugar, so sometimes when we think we taste sweetness in a wine it may just be the fruit. Acidity is next; this is the balancing force with sugar. We describe acidity in a range of low, medium and high. A good indicator is how your tongue feels after the wine has left your mouth. Does your mouth water along the sides? If so how much, acidity makes a wine feel bright and refreshing and it makes your mouth water. Next we have tannins and like acidity it’s measured in a low to high scale - but this isn’t just for red wine. Because a lot of white wines are oaked they gather tannins from the types of oaks they are fermented or aged in. Keep this in mind when tasting some buttery chardonnays.
Next we have body, this can be described as light, medium and full. This is the key to most food pairings and is why a light body red can go just as well with a fish as a big oaky white will stand up to red meat or heavy sauce.
Next we have flavors but lets do this with length, which is just as important. We can get hints, memories and nuances of almost any flavor, good or bad, on a wine. Some wines are going to be true to there varietals or regional flavors while some blends will leave you guessing and reaching in all directions for a hand full of different flavors. But what matters is narrowing it down, going from fruit to stone fruit to peach. Build up your own flavor and memory banks, try new things; you’d be amazed at the way it comes out in a wine. And length ties in to this a lot. So you taste peaches on a wine, so what if it’s gone in less than 5 seconds? (That would be a short finish) what if it tastes like dirt and it lasts for over 3 minutes? (That would be a long finish) the length of the wine should reflect the wine itself, specifically the quality. As far as measuring a length of time, I would say it’s mostly instinctual, but a 1-2 minute finish is where I like my wines because I typically try to pair food.
Before any of this can really be done, rather, before it can be done accurately, you need to make sure you’re in the right circumstances to taste. You need to not be sick, or have coffee breath, and please don’t have a smoke before you taste. Yes after a time these flavors become part of the back ground and you can say they wont impede your tasting and flavors. But what if you’re tasting a 1992 Freemark Abbey, where it’s got that gentle tobacco finish? It’s going to get lost ‘cause you’re used to that taste of cigarette tobacco on your pallet. Or espresso in a merlot after a tall triple shot mocha latte, or anything that offers small wisps of animal or telling the differences between cooked and stewed fruit when your sick and your senses are dulled. Not judging, just sayin’. I’m not to say don’t do have your cigar or your banana nut muffin, everyone’s got their own vice, but maybe don’t mix those vices with the wine.