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From Cask to Cork

The basics of wine tasting

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April 23, 2014

When it comes to wine, nothing is simple.

Wine carries with it a complex dictionary of jargon, and the descriptions of aromas and flavors that make up a wine's profile are mind-bogglingly varied. (What exactly does red fruit smell like?)

I'm here to be your guide for sampling wine – most often Michiana wines – and making sense of them. I'll also provide you with wine history and information about Michiana wineries, and bring you helpful tips to maximize your wine drinking experience. 

However, before we get into sampling wine, we need to lay down some ground rules.

Rule No. 1: Price and quality don't go hand-in-hand.

Each wine sampled will be compared with the standard of that varietal; a range of flavors and aromas are to be expected. That is to say, does this bottle of Riesling match up to what I should expect from a Riesling, or is it surprising in some way?

There are five major areas we'll be examining with each wine:

  1. the clarity and color of the wine
  2. the aroma
  3. the flavor on the mid-palate
  4. the flavor in the finish 
  5. the balance

Wines should be free of browning and cloudiness and should fall within a certain spectrum of colors appropriate to that varietal of wine.

For our purposes, we'll describe the mid-palate as the change that takes place from your initial perception of the wine, as you take a drink, until you swallow the wine. The finish is the flavor of the wine that lingers in your mouth after you swallow the wine.

The final area is balance. Life, and wine, is all about balance. White wines maintain a balance between sugars and acids while red wines maintain a balance between sugars, acids and tannins.

So, what are sugars, acids and tannins?

  • Sugar is the actual remaining – residual – sugar in the wine, either from juice or added sugar. It gives a rounded and soft flavor like a pillow for your tongue.
  • Acid is the crispness and sharpness at the end of your palate and has a sharp, edgy quality like your taste buds are becoming excited.
  • Tannins are picked up from the skins, seeds and stems of grapes – felt on the top and back of the roof of your mouth – and may also be picked up from the oak in barrels—felt on your teeth. Tannins also have a sharp, edgy quality along with a bitter, leathery one.

A well balanced wine leaves your mouth watering and desiring more.

Most important, dear reader, is to remember that when it comes to wine, nothing is simple.

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