“Nosing a wine” refers to smelling the wine. When smelling a wine, the taster dips their nose into the upper portion of the wine glass (not into the wine itself) and breathes in the aromas coming off of the wine. Depending on the complexity of wine and the varietal of the grapes used in its production, a wine’s aromas may cultivate in many, deep layers of smells throughout the glass, so when smelling the wine, the taster may dip their nose deeper and deeper into the glass.
There are many different wine flavor factors and aromas that complete the tasting experience. We believe these characteristics can be simplified down to eight primary factors:
1. Sweetness – the amount of residual sugar in a wine, ranging from low (bone dry) to high (sweet).
2. Acidity – the amount of citric, malic, and tartaric acids in a wine, ranging from low (flat) to high (biting).
3. Tannins – the amount of phenolic compounds, drawn from skins and pips of grapes, which impart a sharp, bitter flavor to the wine.
4. Oak – the influence of compounds from the oak barrels used to age the wine.
5. Finish – the length and quality of a wine’s aftertaste, ranging from brief to endless.
6. Complexity – how the wine’s sweetness, acidity, tannins, and oak affect the wine’s overall flavor, ranging from simple to complex.
7. Body – how the wine’s components affect the intensity and richness of the wine’s overall flavor, ranging from weak to potent.
8. Balance – how all of the seven preceding factors balance out, ranging from unbalanced to well-balanced.
The term “flabby wine” usually describes a wine that lacks acidity.
Though “flabby” is often used for white wines, as overall, they contain higher levels of acids, it can also be used to describe red wines as well.
The opposite of a “flabby” wine is a “biting” or “sharp” wine, and refers to one whose acid content is too high to make it very palatable.
Rinsing your glass depends largely on personal preference. If you rinse, try to remove as much water as possible from the glass, as a few drops of water can adversely affect the flavor of the next wine, more than a few drops of the previous wine you tasted.
OregonWines.com staff normally do not rinse when tasting just whites, or just reds – but if we are going to taste both whites and reds in one session, we will rinse our glasses after we have finished tasting the whites, before we move on to the reds.
Mouthfeel refers to how the wine feels in your mouth. The sugars, acids, alcohol, tannins, and various other components in the wine will affect the way it coats and interacts with your mouth.
Sweeter wines, such as dessert wines, will have a softer, syrupy mouth feel more than a dry wine. A full-bodied red wine, higher in tannins and alcohol, with have more of an edge – almost a bite – as it hits your taste buds, and moves around on your tongue.
Generally speaking, wines with a softer or smoother mouthfeel tend to have a longer, lingering finish, and the wine will evenly coat your tongue, just as it will your throat when you swallow it.
A “buttery wine” refers to a wine containing lower amounts of acids, which result in a smooth, silky, even creamy feel in the mouth. This can be the result of ageing methods. For example, a Chardonnay wine, aged in an oak barrel, often imparts a buttery flavor.
As implied, a buttery wine rolls over your tongue as would liquid butter.
Wine legs and tears are caused by wine dribbling down the sides of a wine glass. They are most often visible after tasting a wine, when the glass has been tilted on its side, and then righted.
Some of the wine will have coated the inner sides of the glass, and will begin dripping back down into the bottom. This is caused by alcohol in the wine evaporating, breaking the surface tension on the upper edge of the wine, causing the watery components to fall away back into the glass.
The shape and size of the legs are a sign of the wine’s viscosity (which in turn is affected by the amount of glycerols and alcohol found in the wine).
A wine with low viscosity will have smaller, more watery legs. A wine with higher viscosity will have larger, slower legs.
The tongue is capable of tasting four distinct types of flavors: sugars, salts, sours, and bitters.
The front tip of the tongue is most sensitive to sweet flavors.
On either side of the tip are two slightly less sensitive areas that can detect salts.
Along both sides of the tongue are sensors used for tasting acids and other sours.
In the middle, at the back of the tongue, is an area sensitive to bitter flavors.
The geography and different sensitivities of the tongue give good reason to use a properly shaped glass when tasting wines.
When tasting a wine, think of “depth of color” as “saturation of color”. Simply put, a wine with a greater depth contains greater concentrations of color and substance, and allows less light to pass through it.
As a result, wines of great depth appear darker, richer in color.
Wines with less depth may appear watery or almost transparent. Depths vary greatly depending on the varietal used to produce the wine, as well as how the wine was fermented and aged.
Depth of color, when used as a measure of quality, typically applies to red wines, as they naturally contain more coloring, tannins, oak, and other components that can alter the wine’s depth.
Wine viscosity refers to its liquid consistency. Wine viscosity will may make it appear thin and watery, or may make it appear thick and syrupy.
Viscosity is affected by the levels of glycerols (sugars) and alcohol found in the wine. Generally speaking, the higher a wine’s levels of glycerols and alcohol, the higher the wine’s viscosity will be.
Wines with high viscosity tend to cling to the side of a wine glass longer, and may leave “tears” or “legs” as bits of the wine begin to drip back down into the glass.