A Few Simple Sampling Techniques

Posted on 19 February, 2018 by Jack Barbour | 0 comments

The last 2 years of life has been about one thing, wine. I have lived, drank and slept nothing else except wine. It has become one of the most important factors of my life. Then again, as a retailer of organic and no added sulphite wines, what else really would you expect?

Over this time I have learnt exactly how wine really comes to be, understood the processes and most importantly gotten to know where this love and passion for fermented grape juice really comes from.

It has not been an easy journey for me, given that around 5 years ago I never understood the joy of wine as I never drank any! Although, coming from a hospitality background I have always been around wine. I remember many wine training sessions in the back of a restaurant, giggling, swirling and just making a mess.

The one question that someone would always ask, was very simply ‘why does everyone that's sampling wines seem so ponsy?’ The only comparison we could every add to that was they are not Ainsley Harriott and this is not Ready, Steady, Cook!

Over time, a few sample bottles later and a much more grown up and business minded approach, I had to start paying more attention to what tasting wine really entails. With so many phrases constantly thrown around like tannins, acidity and minerality, to name only a few. Experts seem to know exactly how to label these. 

Working through the WSET levels for myself, has helped me understand what these words and phrases mean. So i thought, why not simplify? So this is how I approach wines to analyse them and hopefully it can help you too.

The Wines Appearance

This is easily broken down into clarity and colour. Wines which are lighter in colour and generally going to be lighter in tannins, body and more likely to have a shorter finish. Natural and unfiltered wines will generally tend to have a cloudy and almost murky appearance. This is normal and almost standard.

The Wines Bouquet

Sadly not bouquet of wine bottles, but a way of describing what the wines smells like. At this point, this is where you would swirl the glass to help all the aromas come alive so when you stick your nose into the glass, you can then talk about the sweet smelling orchards and flower beds.

This is an easy part and there is not ever a wrong answer to what you think you can detect. Everyone is different and will pick ups different scents. Thats why professionals will do this a few times over. For me the fruit tones are always easier to pick first. Normally its working out the colour of the fruits, red, black, green etc and then narrowing it down to raspberry, gooseberry and so on. 

You will get the scents of red and black fruits like strawberries and red currants and tropical fruits if the wine smells sweeter and more acidic wines will have citrus fruit or zest and gooseberry (often described as green notes).

Oak is something that will come up, generally this comes in the form of vanilla.

Intensity is something else that will come up here. This is a relatively self explanatory I suppose. The lighter the intensity of scents the less intense the wines flavours will be. When it comes to sampling the wine, the less intense the smell, normally does mean the less intense the actual flavour. But you should be warned and dont judge as that is not always the case. There are a few very talented wine makers out there can can completely disprove that! I have misjudged many wines like this, but you do end up with an incredible surprise.

The Wines Tastes and Flavours

This really has so many names, palate, on the tongue etc etc. Looking at what the wine tastes like is relatively simple. Again for me the fruit flavours will show themselves firstly. After that you might get some others, which is usually described as the wines mineral or earthy flavours. This will become the flavours like liquorice, tobacco, green peppers and sweet spice and generally the most common and easy for me to discover.

So lets get to the rest of the wines characteristics. A wines sweetness can be measured on how much you mouth waters when you swirl and ‘discretely dispose’ of your tasting sample and the acidity can be determined by how little you salivate.

The wines body can be calculated on how big your mouth swells when you try our sample. Bigger and bold wines will make you cheeks expand and almost want to exhale. 

Tannins, only for red wines, can be accessed with the most commonly known method of swirling then glass and then watching how slowly the glide down the side of the glass. The slower the legs run down the higher the tannins. However, like judging a white wines acidity, wines with a higher tannin level should leave your mouth dryer.

Finally, the only thing you have lefty to access is the finish of the wine. If the wine has a long finish you will have a lingering of flavours for up to 5 seconds after sampling. The shorter the linger, the shorter the finish. But dont ever discuss the actual time, thats just not cricket dear fellow! 

The only thing to add to the finish, sometimes theres an after bite. Occasionally, I have discovered that sometimes when I sample wines there is a kick at the end after the linger Its not in every wine and mostly that kick comes in the taste of some kind of heat like sweet spices and liquorice etc.

So maybe not as short as I would have liked, but I am known for rambling on! This is an insight into my sampling techniques and hopefully this can help you. I hope it will offer some assistance and if you have any special techniques you would like to share please make sure you comment below.

Thanks guys and happy tasting!

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