“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.
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.
A young wine is one that was recently bottled, while an aged wine may have set in its bottle for years.
Depending on the varietal, vintner, and growing conditions for the grapes fermented, a wine may be drinkable when still young, or may require additional aging prior to opening.
Young wines usually show their full aromas and flavors immediately after opening. After prolonged exposure to the air, young wines may “fizzle out”, lose their flavors, become flat and sour.
On the other hand, an aged wine may require ten or fifteen minutes of decanting to properly “breathe” and expose its hidden layers of flavors and aromas. Additional air-time will not adversely affect the wine.
Chemistry helps explain why aging a wine may enhance or inhibit its qualities. The process of bottle aging allows a wine to sit in a stationary position for a long period of time, its chemicals slowly mixing with minimal amounts of oxygen that manage to pass through the cork. For this reason, bottles sealed with Stelvin caps or rubber corks may not age in the same way as a bottle aged with a traditional wooden cork.
For red wines, bottle aging can allow some volatile compounds to lose their punch, and produce a subtler, complex set of flavors in the wine. These compounds – tannins, phenols, glycerols, and sugars, present in higher concentrations in red wine, may benefit from moderate to long-term aging.
By the same token, aging a white wine will likely not benefit its qualities at all. Its lighter concentration of chemicals could be overpowered by lengthy aging, resulting in a flat, dull wine when opened.
Regardless of varietal, all wines have a cut-off point, after which time additional aging will not benefit their qualities. The cut-off can be determined from vintage to vintage, winery to winery, and, if you are collecting wines in a cellar, is something to carefully track.
Prior to storing wine, oak barrels are toasted – their insides lit on fire, to as to produce a moderate layer of charcoal – which helps draw out qualities of the oak, seal the wood, and provide a neutral butter between the wine and “raw” wood in the rest of the barrel.
Based on how long a barrel is toasted, different qualities will show through in the aging wines it holds.
A wine barrel toast of 10 to 15 minutes will add spice to a wine.
A wine barrel toast of 15 to 30 minutes will expose sweeter, sugary aromas from the wood, such as butter and vanilla.
A wine barrel toast of 30 to 45 minutes will show darker, earthier aromas such as smoke, tobacco, and coffee.
Depending on a winemaker’s desired results, barrels of different toasts will be used to age specific wines.
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.