• Staci Greka

The ABCs of wine tasting — and those slow, shapely 'legs'

Wine tasting 101: Breaking it down, one step at a time.

But before we get started on what wine tasting is all about, there is something important to keep in mind. You decide what a good wine is and at the end of the day it is all about what you like. Period.

OK, with that out of the way let’s dive in and explore the mysterious (and extremely fun) world of wine tasting. It can simply be broken down into three steps — appearance, nose and palate. We could take this a few steps further, but for now let’s keep it simple. Simple is good.

Appearance. White or red? There are additional colours to consider, but these two are what we are all familiar with.

Pick up a piece of white paper and hold your glass against it and slightly tilt the glass to observe the colour. For red wines, the hues range from purple to ruby, garnet, tawny or brown. Youthful wines typically are purple or ruby and as they age, they begin to lose colour and move into the remainder of the spectrum.

For white wines, the hues range from light green to lemon, gold, amber or brown. Youthful wines are typically light lemon to start and gain colour as they age and move through the spectrum.

Occasionally you may see a greenish tinge in wines that come from Portugal and Spain. Depending on the grape itself, climate (cool or warm) and production techniques the hues can range from light in colour to very intense.

Feel free to swirl your glass as well to observe the “legs,” those beautiful things that slide down the inside of the glass. The legs are not an indicator of quality, but rather a visual way to observe alcohol and sugar in the wine. Fast, thin legs indicate a higher alcohol, lower sugar wine. Slow, shapely legs indicate a lower alcohol, higher sugar wine.

Nose. This is where the fun begins. Swirl that glass again to release the esters, which are the aromatic fruity compounds formed in wine during the winemaking process. Really dig your nose in and take a deep breath.

When you are with a bunch of wine professionals, geeks or snobs and you hear them talking about the citrus fruit, tropical fruit, stone fruit, red fruit or black fruit aromas — these are the esters.

It is true that wine is made from fruit, but most wine is only made from grapes unless otherwise stated on the bottle. Other aromas that may be detected are cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and toast, which occur if the wine was aged in barrels.

An earthy aroma can come from terroir (the influence of everything from the place where the grapes were grown) and can smell like stones, fallen leaves, minerals or wild herbs.

On occasion a wine might smell funky and this can happen during the winemaking process. Aromas of leather, barnyard and a touch of nail polish remover in small doses are sometimes perceived to be complex and interesting.

Other aromas that can be detected in wine are smoked meats, flowers, butter and grass. There are many more, but these are the most common.

Palate. Finally, after considering the appearance and nose, it is time to taste. The proper way to taste a wine is to take a small amount of the liquid into your mouth and with your lips slightly open take in air slowly. Then slowly swallow or, if tasting many wines, spit. Yes, there is a need to spit at times, especially when you have 50 wines in front of you to assess before lunch.

We only taste sweet, bitter, sour, salt and umami — a savoury flavour found in soy sauce, mushrooms, tomatoes, fermented foods and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Salt and umami typically do not exist in most wines.

And what we taste in wine comes more from the aromas than just the flavours since these two things are connected. After swallowing or spitting, what you’re left with are a few things: acid (makes your mouth water and tastes sour) tannin (makes your mouth feel sticky and tastes bitter), alcohol (warming sensation) and sweetness (makes your mouth feel silky and tastes sweet).

The cool thing about the Essex County wine region is that we have such an amazing offering of wines that will appeal to many tastes and preferences.

Other things to note when tasting wines pertain to body (does it feel heavy or light?), flavour intensity (is it delicate or robust?), flavour characteristics (this is where you make the connection with the nose and palate as typically what you smell is what you will taste), texture (applies to sparkling wines — is it delicate, creamy, aggressive?) and finish. This is the final thing to note and it refers to how long the wine stays with you. Does it disappear quickly, or can you still taste it a few minutes later?

The cool thing about the Essex County wine region is that we have such an amazing offering of wines that will appeal to many tastes and preferences.

For those who like a little floral and smoked meat going on, varieties like Pinot Noir and Syrah are perfect. If the thought of buttered popcorn makes your mouth water, think Chardonnay aged in barrels. For those who prefer fresh, slightly grassy and tangy flavours, varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are perfect. If you adore red berries, black berries, and plums, think Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Personally, I love the smell after a rainstorm and for this I will always reach for Riesling.

At the end of the day, always remember that what is in your glass is the best because you love it!


Staci Greka is a certified specialist of wine (CSW) and a sales representative at Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery.

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