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Wine Selection Guide

What are wine aromas?

Depending on origin, storage, age or weather conditions during the year of cultivation, every wine develops its own aroma. Together with climate, the location and soil also plays a role in giving the aroma its typical authentic character.

In the first instance the metabolism of the vine is a decisive factor for the wine aroma. This is the source of the primary aromas. Differences in ripening conditions produce different development of the substances in the grapes, resulting in different aroma qualities depending on the seasonal and weather conditions. The secondary aromas are formed by the processing of the grapes, the treatment of the must and in particular in the fermentation of the alcohol. The tertiary aromas develop in the maturing of the wine in the barrel and during ageing and storage in the bottle.

Can I train my sense of smell?

Since the tongue can differentiate between only four basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter), the nose is also indirectly decisive in differentiating the various aromas. Therefore, the sense of smell determines some 80% of our pleasures of the palate.

Mind you, in order to perceive aromas in wine, the nose or the olfactory memory must be able to identify the scents. Frequently we recognise an aroma without being able to name it. However, it is possible to train your ability to recognise and identify aromas. Olfactory tests have been specifically developed for this purpose, which help you to learn to distinguish more easily the different aroma (not only in wine) and to refine your sense of smell.

In 1981 Jean Lenoir produced and distributed throughout the world an aroma collection under the label of "Le Nez du Vin". This comprises a selection of 54 aromatic substances, which frequently occur in wine. The samples are contained in small bottles; each individual aroma is presented in detail and discussed on a coloured index card. The enclosed brochure provides information on bouquet and taste. The "Aromabar", a collection of 60 wine aromas, also presents a similar range.

Wine tasting: how and why

Wine tasting makes it possible to identify wine with its many facets and nuances. It aids in making purchasing decisions, makes it easier to select wine for particular dishes and events and makes it possible to select wines, which store particularly well. In order to obtain reliable results, wine tastings are based on defined specialist basic principles.

In general, wine tasting fulfils a different purpose for the wine consumer than for the wine specialist. In many respects lay persons perceive wine tasting sessions as an entertaining experience, where the special and distinctive features of the wines are noted, discussed and commented on. In these tastings the taster’s individual judgement on quality takes priority.

In contrast to these "private" wine-tasting sessions where personal favourites are investigated, the aim of specialist wine tastings is the inspection and evaluation of the wine by means of precise tasting methods. These include determined framework conditions, special tasting glasses and standardised testing procedures.

The prior condition for maximum objectivity in the wine tasting is the neutral presentation of the wine. In this process the bottle is covered, so that the wine label and the cap are not recognisable.

In addition, blind tastings among wine consumers offer high entertainment value. For example, with friends you can organise wine tastings on various themes, in order to assess the wine from a variety of viewpoints. Blind tastings, at which the tasters have to identify the wine according to a theme, are instructive and offer an element of surprise: "Wines from a grape variety from different growing areas", “A wine from every continent", or "Which aroma can be particularly clearly detected here (raspberry, pepper, gooseberry, etc.)?"

Using a completely black DIN wine tasting glass, which totally absorbs the light, makes it possible to taste the wine without identifying colour and clarity. There is also a black spittoon, which is particularly useful in hidden and blind tastings.

Professional tasting

Specific preconditions must be met in professional tasting:

  • Odours in the area of the tasting (e.g. from food, herbs, flowers, perfume) must be avoided, since they affect judgement.
  • The glass should not present any musty odour caused by being stored for a long time in a wooden cupboard or by careless washing and drying.
  • The temperature of the wine to be tasted conforms to the respective recommendations for the temperature at which it is customary to drink the different types of wine. Discrepancies of only a few degrees Celsius are the cause of errors in assessing bouquet and taste.
  • Decanting (pouring wine into a decanter) of certain wines from the bottle. In this case the aroma and taste do not develop immediately on being poured into the glass. The ingredients in young, tannic or slowly maturing wines can retain a sealed effect and not reveal themselves until they have been in contact with the air for a relatively long time.

Assessments

The value judgement of a tasting may be expressed in different ways, either in the form of points and/or descriptions of the impressions received in each case. As well as this semi-professional schedule, wine guides also contain assessments using star symbols.

Tasting glasses

The shape and volume of the glass affects the development of the aroma and taste of the wine. The most suitable glasses are wine-tasting glasses specifically designed and standardised for the purpose.

Glasses, which are not specifically designed for tasting, are, depending on their size, filled to a quarter or up to a third of the volume, so that, by gently turning and swirling the wine in the glass, fragrances and aromas are released by the contact with the oxygen in the air. Once the wine sample has been poured into the glass, sniffing the contents of the glass can also release the intensity of the aroma. If the sample in the glass is exposed for a relatively long time to the effect of air and warmth, this changes the odour and taste of the wine.

In order to appraise a wine visually and to establish its colour, clarity and consistency, a colourless glass without any decoration is required. A thin-sided glass also directly affects the perception of temperature. The bouquet of a wine is intensified by swirling it in the glass. Increasing the evaporation surface allows the diversity and intensity of the aromas to develop more quickly. The bouquet of a wine can be best perceived, when the nose is buried deep in the glass.

First of all, the lips take account of the characteristics of the rim and the thickness of the glass. The viscosity and temperature of the liquid are transmitted by the sense of touch. Shortly afterwards the taste begins to develop. In this process the tongue and its taste receptors differentiate between only four different perceptions: on the tip of the tongue, sweet, at the end bitter and at either side salty and sour.

However, the intensive, diverse sensation of taste does not occur until there is interaction with the air. The mouth cavity is connected via the pharynx with the olfactory nerves; we smell and taste simultaneously. The variable taste components of a wine conveyed by the glass are fruit, acidity, tannin and alcohol. In the tasting of dry or sweet wines the interplay of fruit and acidity on the tongue is very important. The final swallowing process and the associated after-taste decide on quality and consumption. In this way the bitter components in a tannic red wine can be perceived differently through the glass as a switching point. The flavour of one and the same wine can vary from pleasantly round underlaid with fruit to green, sharp and astringent when drunk from different glasses.

Order

If different types of wine and wines from different years are tasted, the order of tasting can be decisive for assessing the wines. The basic rule, on which there are many variations, is based on the following order: white wines - rosé wines - red wines. This is to balance the intensity of the ingredients with a dominant effect on taste, in particular sweetness (residual sugar content): bone dry, dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, sweet.

Wine tastings structured in terms of content and theme, in which for example wines solely from one single year or one grape variety, known as horizontal wine tastings, are tasted, are particularly instructive. In vertical tasting sequences wines from a variety of years from one individual producer, one individual locality or grape variety are tasted.

Sensory impressions in wine tasting

Appearance

The colour of the wine is examined in colourless, unpolished glasses. As well as an adequate light source of a neutral colour (usually bright daylight), the technical prerequisites for the visual inspection of the wine include a colour-neutral, bright background, in front of which the glass is held, slightly tilted. The most suitable solution is a white tablecloth or paper.

Colour

The most striking differences in the colour of wines come from the grape varieties and in particular from the pigments in the skin of the berries. In the ripe berries of white grape varieties flavonoids are dominant; in red varieties anthocyanins dominate.

The typical colour of young white wines from the growing areas in Northern Europe varies between soft green, yellowish green and soft yellow; in wines from the growing areas in Southern Europe a pale to strong yellow dominates. White wines with high extract and alcohol values, primarily Beerenauslese late harvest choice wines and Trockenbeerenauslese dry late harvest choice wines frequently appear straw-coloured or golden yellow. White wines with an amber colour indicate a long ageing period or else the start of oxidation. Dessert wines are often a deep golden or orange-yellow colour.

Whereas white wines become darker as they mature, the process is reversed in red wines: with age they gradually become lighter. The colour of red wine is also affected by the preparation method. As red wine ages the colour tends to change increasingly. In the maturation phase (shortly after fermentation is completed) most red wines are crimson. Gradually they become ruby red. With increasing stages of maturity and depending on origin the wine, especially Italian red wines, becomes garnet red or a characteristic wine red with hints of brick-red or cherry red.

A mahogany colour in wine indicates that the wine has matured for a long time in the bottle. If a red wine's colour is similar to milky coffee and also shows cloudy particles, the wine is already well past its peak maturity and is deemed to be passé. A brown colouring appears when wine is overaged or oxidised due to exposure to air.

Clarity

For optimum clarity in white wines the wine should be clean and bright. If wine has been processed in the usual way it is clear or light.

The optical purity of a bottled wine may be impaired, especially with white wines by (tasteless) tartrate crystals. This is caused by precipitated tartaric acid, crystals of which settle, usually due to marked changes in temperature.

In red wines and port wines stored over a long period a powder-like or fine-grained sediment consisting of tannin and pigments may form. However, the tannin deposit does not affect the taste of the wine, but as soon as it is shaken up it can cause the wine to cloud. Therefore, old red wines with sediment should be decanted (poured into a decanter or carafe), so that the residue remains in the bottle.

Odour

In the sniff test in the past some 10,000 different substances have been detected as the basis of several hundred thousand notes. These are organised into aroma categories or classes to differentiate the fragrance qualities. Most classifications consistently use the features, floral, fruity and full-flavoured.

Although perceptions of smell and taste are closely linked, frequently in the language of wine only the term, "nose" is used for the identification of aromas.

Taste

In contrast to smell with its multitude of (classified) aroma classes, when it comes to taste only four basic qualities are differentiated: sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

Wines taste somewhat sweeter at a higher temperature than at a lower temperature. The taste characteristic, bitter has a stronger irritant effect than sweet, sour or salty. In addition, it is not immediate; it is perceptible only in the after-taste.

Wine faults

Microbiological modifications in the production of wine can lead to wine defects and certain chemical and physical processes cause wine faults. In both cases the quality is impaired; however, if this is detected in good time during the wine-making process, this can be remedied by taking the appropriate measures to correct it.

Cork taint is not directly a wine fault; it is transferred to the wine from corks, which have not been correctly processed during manufacture.

Certain aroma or taste notes are not deemed to be wine faults or defects, but these defects do impair the properties and condition of the product. These include firn, a note of maturation, which appears in mature wines of an increasingly dark sherry-like colour, with an aroma reminiscent of bread crust. However, in high-quality, sweet wines over-maturation is considered a criterion of quality.