How often have you been around people sniffing and sipping wine while looking focused and thoughtful? What are they thinking? What should I be tasting? How can I describe this wine so that people will understand what I mean? Read on to discover some of the things you might be tasting and how to describe them.
Fruit vs. Other Stuff
The first thing you should taste in most wine is fruit – also called “primary flavor.” While these fruit flavors might seem vague and generalized – especially at first – you’ll learn with practice to detect differences between wines. For example, in one wine, you might taste peaches, apricots, and lemons, while in others, you’ll taste blackberries, plums, and cherries. The terms you can use to describe fruit flavors are endless and personal. If you think a wine tastes like crushed gooseberries or candied passionfruit, go ahead and say so with confidence.
In addition to fruit flavors, most wines also taste like other stuff – also known as “secondary flavors.” Some examples of secondary flavors include oak, baking spice, black pepper, butter, slate, and chalk. These flavors often result from the winemaking process as in the case of baking spice flavor which comes from oak aging. They can also come from the vineyard; the French for example, believe that flinty mineral flavors in wine comes from flinty soils.
Acidity In Wine Is a Good Thing
If you notice a sharp, mouthwatering sensation on the sides of your mouth, you’re perceiving acid in the wine. We in the United States often have negative associations with the word “acid,” but in the wine and culinary worlds, acid is a good thing. Crisp fruits like lemons, limes, granny smith apples, and cranberries are loved partially because of their high acidity, which adds freshness and liveliness to a dish. In the same way, higher acid can bring brightness and invigoration to a wine, but it should always be more acidic than the food it’s accompanying. In general, wines from cooler climates tend to be more acidic than wines from warm climates.
Why Is This Wine Drying My Mouth Out?
If you find yourself puckering your lips and licking your teeth after a sip of red wine, you might be tasting tannins. Tannins are flavorless compounds found in the skin of wine grapes and in oak barrels. They are detected through the sense of touch rather than taste and coat your gums and teeth. Tannins are also found in tea. If you’ve ever steeped black tea too long, you’ll be familiar with the mouth drying sensation. Tannins, like acid, can be a good thing because they add ageability and make the wine pair well with fatty foods like steak and cheese. Sometimes people confuse tannic wine with dry wine, but the word “dry” refers to a lack of sweetness and is unrelated to tannin. We’ll explore the word “dry” in more depth later on in the article.
The alcohol content in various wines varies from about 9% to about 16%. This wide variation means that sometimes the alcohol is barely noticeable and sometimes it burns. Wines with higher alcohol come with a fuller body and a sense of sweetness along with the burn, so some people prefer higher alcohol wines. If the wine has too much of a burn, consider chilling it slightly – alcohol is more volatile and therefore more noticeable at higher temperatures.
Sweet vs. Fruity
This distinction is one of the most difficult to grasp for beginning wine lovers. When we taste fruit in most contexts, it’s sweet. In wine, we can taste fruit flavors even when there is no sugar in the liquid. A beverage is called “dry” when it contains only minimal amounts of sugar. It’s common to have wines that are both dry and fruity at the same time.
When trying to determine how sweet a wine is, think about a glass of lemonade. Lemon and water together make a very fruity drink that’s not sweet – you have to add sugar to lemonade. So, imagine your wine is fresh lemonade; would you add sugar or not? This kind of an approach should help you sort out fruity vs. sweet when evaluating a wine. Both dry and sweet wines come in all levels of quality. One isn’t better than the other – they’re just different styles.
The Experience Doesn’t End With a Single Sip
If you taste a wine once, make a judgment about it, and move on with your evening, you’re probably missing a lot of the experience. Most wines smell different than they taste and the flavors change after swallowing the sip. Not only that, but wines taste different right out of the bottle than they do after sitting in the glass for a while. When trying a new wine, sniff the wine for a while before you taste it, take a sip, and continue to think about it after you swallow. The aftertaste left in your mouth is called the “finish” and can be one of the most interesting aspects of a particular wine. Comparing different aspects of a wine over an evening can really enhance your experience and enjoyment.