Appreciating wine should be broken down into three parts: looking, smelling and then tasting.
Looking is primarily about colour and the wine’s depth and range of hue. Colour and shade can tell you a lot. It can be an indicator not just of the wine’s age but also the grape(s) that is made from (Cabernet Sauvignon wines throw a deeper colour than the altogether paler, thinner skinned Pinot Noir) and perhaps even tell you something of the climate and vilification method.
Red wines will typically be purple in youth and fairly one dimensional in colour. As they age the wines become more tawny like and you tend to see a greater gradation of colour from the core to the rim.
As white wines age they typically take on a deeper colour; moving from more lemon to golden for instance. Just as with reds, a white wine’s colour can give clues as to how and where it has been made. For instance, an unoaked, cool-climate Chardonnay will invariably be much paler than one which has ripened in the sunshine of Southern France and subsequently been vinified in oak, even if they are from the same vintage.
Having taken a good look, it’s now time to get your nose stuck in. Firstly give the wine a little swirl to release the aromas and then take a good, long sniff. As with the colour you are on the hunt for clues. Grapes often have fairly unique scents and these are often the ‘primary aromas’ you will identify fairly readily.
Another swirl and second sniff and you would hope to move to what are known as the ‘secondary aromas’ that come with age and complexity. As with colour gradation, a broad aromatic profile will tell you much about a wine’s history from time to bottle to the choices the winemaker made in the winery. Hints of vanilla might suggest ageing in American oak for instance.
Happily, we have now reached the real tasting stage. And, the reason you often hear wine tasters making those rather strange, slurping noises as they finally take a sip of the wine is that they are taking in a little air at the same time to help enhance the wine’s flavours. Hopefully you’ll taste much of what you have already identified on the nose.
The task now is to work out if the wine is in balance and whether it has the necessary components (fruit, acidity and tannin) to age or whether it is ‘à point’.
The more wine you taste and enjoy the greater your appreciation will become.
As with all things practice is key and whilst we ask that you do so responsibly and in moderation, we do urge you to sample as many wines as possible. Take notes of your impressions because that is truly the only way to build your own personal database of likes and dislikes which is the most important aspect of tasting wine.