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Tasting Wine

The Taste of Wine

  • The taste of wine on the palate is broken down into two broad categories: the fruit and the structure. In most cases, the fruit on the palate is similar or the same as that on the nose. The structural characteristics, however, can be either in balance with this or at odds. The structure of a wine is composed of the alcohol, the acid, the sugar, the tannin and the body. Alcohol is referred to as low, moderate or hot. Acidity can vary from biting to crisp to balanced to soft. Sugar varies from dry to off-dry to medium dry to medium sweet, sweet and luscious. Tannins are often described in terms of their texture. This can be astringent (or hard), firm but balanced, supple (or silky) or soft. The body of a wine is characterized as light, medium or full.

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  • Several overall characteristics help us judge the quality of a wine. These are the wine’s balance, length, intensity and complexity. The ideal is for a wine to be well balanced. This happens when all of the elements from the nose and each of the structural components are in harmony and none dominates the overall impression of a wine.

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  • In addition to the balance, the length of a wine is another important element. The length or finish is produced by the concentration or intensity of a wine; the more flavor it contains, the more persistent it will be on the palate. This impression can range from non-existent to moderate and long. The complexity or depth of flavor of a wine is a difficult parameter to judge. This occurs when a wine has different layers of flavor and this can be the result of ripe fruit character coupled with secondary aromas arising from the terroir and the effects of aging all taken together.

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  • Each wine matures in different ways. Some show well in their youth and quickly fade while others are accessible when young but grow in complexity and depth. Still other wines will be hard, tannic and closed in their youth, but open up after some bottle age. The least fortunate type of wine is that which is overextracted and never has enough fruit to support the levels of tannin gained in aggressive maceration. Evaluating a wine involves assessing its maturity and future potential. This comes from weighing all of the various elements that go into a wine.

    It is true that the reputation of a vintage will greatly affect the saleability of a wine, but a wine from a lesser vintage will drink well earlier in its evolution. This fact, combined with a generally lower price means that the value to the consumer who will drink the wine immediately is much greater.

    If you master these techniques of tasting for style, quality and maturity, you will become an expert.

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