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The Science of Wine Tasting

by Staff Writer - B. Shaughnessy | February 09, 2012

Much can be written about the proper way in which to taste wine. Expert wine connoisseurs have developed their wine tasting abilities and can accurately relate wine details during blind wine tasting sessions. This is an impressive talent and can only be achieved by years of practice as well as an attention to specific wine tasting procedures. It is important to note the development of these abilities, because they fall outside the scope of this article. The main purpose of this article is to focus on the technology and procedures used by the expert wine connoisseur for the purposes of wine tasting.

Before wine tasting can begin, it is important to ensure that the wine is properly prepared and that any special equipment is available for the taster. Preparing for the tasting includes making sure that the wine is at the proper temperature, that the wine has been properly decanted and that the proper glasses are available for the taster.

With respect to the temperature of wine, the proper tasting temperature is absolutely critical for accurate wine tasting. White wines must be sampled cool at around 46deg F (8deg C) to 50deg F (10deg C). Concerning red wines, samples must be tasted at around 59deg F (15deg C) to 64deg F (18deg C). Even with these guidelines, individuals take temperatures to the extreme. It is not uncommon for white wines to be served at a cold numbing temperature while red wines are served at an uncharacteristically hot temperature.

White wines served at too cool a temperature are not suited for accurate wine tasting. The necessary aromas are not released and specific taste buds within the mouth are numbed by the extreme coolness of the wine. Conversely, white wines served to hot bring out all the faults within the wine. If one wanted to eliminate poor white wines, one could taste white wines at a higher temperature. In this instance various white wine faults would be easy to detect.

As with white wines, red wines have a specific range for tasting. When a red wine overheats, a large portion of the alcohol will become volatile and ruin the bouquet of the wine. In addition to this phenomenon, red wine at higher temperatures tends to become unbalanced.

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In addition to the proper temperature of wine, proper decanting is necessary to prepare the wine for tasting. It is recognized that upon opening a bottle of wine, the ingress of oxygen unlocks certain tastes and aromas found within the wine. Thus, the best way to expose the wine to oxygen is to decant the wine. The process of decanting involves transferring the wine from its packaging medium into a special container. Decanting the wine is used as a method of separating the wine from sediments found within the bottle. In addition to this, decanting also increases the surface area with respect to oxygen and thus aids in aeration. This can be viewed by the small surface area located in the neck of the wine bottle when compared to the large surface area of many decanters.

Perhaps one of the most amazing details concerning wine tasting is the fact that the proper glass makes all the difference. Glasses designed specifically for wine tasting present all aromas to the taster. When using the proper tasting glass, the sampled wine presents a much different image from the same wine consumed from a sub-standard glass. For wine tasting glass selection, a standard has been developed within the ISO. The ISO 3591:1977 tasting glass is perhaps the best glass for wine tasters. This glass holds 50ml of wine at the mid-point and leaves plenty of room for swirling and aroma sampling. Owning a set of the ISO 3591:1977 tasting glasses is important for the taster as most examination bodies have accepted the ISO 3591:1977 tasting glass as their standard. It should be noted that outside wine tasting, different wine glasses are available for the drinking of various wines. It is important to understand that certain wines respond better with certain glass designs. For every day wine drinking, it is important to match the wine with the proper glass.

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In addition to properly preparing wine and ensuring that the appropriate equipment is available for testing, it is important to review the various tasting styles used today. Wines can be tasted in front of the label, can be tasted by a comparative method or can be tasted blind. Each method of tasting requires practice and continued testing of one's abilities.

The practice of tasting wine in front of the label is most often seen with individuals working on developing their wine tasting skills. With this practice, an inexperienced wine taster will work with an experienced taster to develop the nuances necessary for the ultimate goal of blind wine tasting. With comparative wine tasting, specific and limited details concerning the wine are released to the wine taster. In addition to this, all of the wines sampled share these similar qualities. This results in the comparative wine tasting method being ideal for brushing up on analytical skills required for wine tasting.

The ultimate goal for wine tasters is to be able to perform a blind tasting with confidence and accuracy. Many people assume that blind tasting requires the taster to identify the wine right down to the vineyard. This is an erroneous assumption as the goal of blind tasting is to be able to provide a good description as well as an assessment of the quality of the wine. Being able to accurately perform blind wine tasting requires much practice as well as frequent wine tasting. Wine tasters must keep themselves in practice if they are to remain accurate with their wine tasting skills.

With respect to the process of wine tasting, communicating tasting results back to other individuals or recording data for future reference is an important process. It is therefore critical that note taking procedures be developed by the taster. These procedures must convey the results of the tasting in a meaningful way. Standard terms should be used so as not to confuse others as well as the taster on a later date.

One method of standardizing note-taking procedures focuses on utilizing a specific process during the wine tasting. A systematic method for tasting wine was developed by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and is known as the Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine method. In addition to providing clear and consistent wine notes, the Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine method also allows wines to be better compared against each other. In the end, by utilizing the Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine method, it becomes easier for wine tasters to describe wines and make assessments.

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