Julie Harrison - Wine Taste And Touch

Publish Date
Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 1:33PM
By Julie Harrison

Having appraised a wines appearance and aroma it is finally time to have a taste.  Firstly have a good mouthful and swish and slurp it as much as you like to help identify the different flavours you have already discovered from the wines aroma.  You will also be assessing sweetness, acidity, tannins  and looking for the savoury taste, umami.  In an ideal world these components interact with each other to create a perfectly balanced wine.

An unripe grape is very acidic but as it ripens sugar levels increase and acidity decreases.   When the fruit is ripe the grapes are picked and the juice is fermented until it reaches the alcohol and residual sugar level the winemaker desires.    Residual sugar is what sugar is left in a wine after fermentation.  A very dry wine will have very little residual sugar usually around half a teaspoon per bottle.   A bottle of medium wine will have around 5 teaspoons of sugar whereas a super sticky, sweet wine can have 30 teaspoons of sugar per bottle. All wines are acidic and have a pH well under neutral 7 (water); with most falling within a pH range of 2.5-4.5.  Interestingly Coke is very acidic with a pH of around 2.5, almost the same as lemon juice, but the huge level of sugar in Coke balances this out so you don’t notice it!   This is a great example of how sugar and acidity work together.   Riesling is a wine where the interaction of sweetness and acidity is very apparent.   A naturally acidic variety, Riesling can be made bone dry with lip puckering acidity.  Winemakers often make it in a more approachable medium style which will taste dry due to the high acid level, the sugars and acid balancing each other out.   How sweet or acidic a wine is can give you an idea as to the wines origin. Grapes from a cooler region lose less acid in the ripening process  and will tend to be light bodied, zesty and crisp whereas if a wine seems more full bodied and maybe a bit flat and flabby it is probably from a warmer area.  Fruity characters and alcohol can mimic or enhance sweetness.  A dry Pinot Gris can sometimes seem sweet due to its lush, fruity character and a dry wine high in alcohol may also taste slightly sweet.

Wines vary in their mouth feel or body.  Alcohol level is key in influencing this.   Alcohol makes wine more viscous so a full bodied wine contains more alcohol.  Warmer climates produce grapes with more sugar which results in more alcohol in the final wine.  Generally speaking warmer climate wines are more full bodied than cooler climate wines but variety also plays a part in this.  Sweetness also influences the wines mouth feel, so you would expect  a very sweet wine to be viscous and full bodied.  Some varieties usually produce light bodied wines for example Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.  Others can be light or heavy bodied depending on where they are grown and wine making treatments; a good example being Chardonnay.  A  unoaked Chablis (which is made from Chardonnay grapes) is light bodied compared to a Chardonnay from a warmer climate that has been subjected to oak treatment, had time on lees and undergone malolactic fermentation.

The tannins in a wine are very much part of touch. Tannins come from grape skin, pips and oak treatment and are mostly associated with red wines as they have lots of time in contact with these components. Tannins are astringent (think over brewed tea) and in high levels can make the wine bitter and give an impression of dryness as they seemingly sap the moisture out of your mouth.   In a balanced wine they add structure to the wine and contribute to the longevity of the wine.  Tannins are a great clue as to the variety of wine you are tasting.  Some varieties like Pinot Noir are low in tannin and others like Cabernet Sauvignon have high tannin levels.  A white wine fermented or stored in new oak will have oak tannins but they are much softer than the tannins found in grape skin and seeds and pretty hard to detect.

Last but not least is the 5th taste – umami.  Umami reflects the savoury component of a wine and not all wines have it.  Put simply, amino acids, in particular glutamic acid react with components released from the breakdown of yeast cells (ribonucleotides) to produce umami characteristics.  It is most easily seen in wines that have had time on lees (dead yeast) such as Chardonnay or Champagne.  It imparts a  savoury, creamy, mushroomy taste to the wine.  It is also seen in aged, rich, ripe red wines.

The length of a wine is a definite indicator of quality.  Length is how long the flavour of the wine remains in your mouth.   Some wines flavour disappears the instant you swallow it with others leaving a lingering deliciousness.  The longer the length the better the wine.

Getting good at wine tasting is all about practice, practice, practice and learning to pick up on clues that start to give away a wines variety, origin, age and winemaking treatment. 

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