Chapter 5: Tasting Oregon Wines

What are the primary wine flavor factors?

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.

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What is a flabby wine?

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.

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What is the palate?

The palate refers to your mouth, specifically, your tongue. The experience of tasting a wine and noting its flavors, mouthfeel, viscosity, aromas, and finish, are all made possible with your palate.

Tasting multiple wines in a short period of time can overload your senses, in which case your palate may become fatigued, making it difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between the subtler differences of similar wines.

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What is more important to note when tasting wines: aromas or flavors?

It is important to note both aromas and flavors — as the two are closely linked — though the nose is far more acute than the tongue at detecting what it is you are consuming when you taste wines.

The tongue detects four primary flavors: sweet, salt, bitter, and sour. Every flavor you experience can be derived down to a combination of those four components.

The nose, on the other hand, is capable of detecting several thousand separate types of scents, so it is able to identify much finer variations in aromas.

After tasting multiple wines in one setting, your tongue may become fatigued. This can make it extremely difficult to identify the flavors of a wine. The nose, on the other hand, seems capable of lasting much longer than the tongue. Therefore, when tasting wines, not only is the nose relied upon more for its acuteness, but also its endurance.

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How can I learn to identify aromas and flavors of wines?

Wine Aroma wheel Copyright A C NOBLE 1990,2002 winearomawheel.com

You may have read tasting notes describing a wine using an incredible array of complex or unfamiliar terms: “ripe cherries”; “crisp apple”; “oak undertones”; and so forth.

This kind of terminology serves a good purpose, in that it allows a wine’s flavors and aromas to be described in writing, and stored for later reference. It can also be very helpful for matching wines with specific foods.

But to the casual wine drinker, tasting vocabulary can seem a daunting proposition. Thankfully, most everyone can train their nose to detect specific aromas in a wine. With a little practice, you can learn to distinguish between aromas, in the same way your eyes can tell the difference between the colors red and orange.

In 1990, after extensive research, Professor Ann C. Noble of the University of California at Davis devised the Tasting Wheel. It divides various aromas associated with wines into 12 separate categories. Beginning in the center of a wheel, wine drinkers can identify general flavors and, moving outwards from the wheel’s center, identify more and more precise aromas in the wine. Ultimately, the taster arrives at a specific set of terms that best describe what they experienced in tasting the wine.

At the permission of Professor Noble, we have reproduced a low-resolution version of the wheel here. We would encourage anyone interested in owning a copy of the tasting wheel to visit Professor Noble’s Web site, and purchase a laminated, detailed wheel from her. Her Web site may be found at:

http://www.winearomawheel.com/

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How do I learn how to taste wines?

Start right here! Wine 101 was developed to help wine enthusiasts such as yourself get a foothold on tasting. This section has been organized to guide you from general concepts of a wine’s appearance, aroma, and flavor, on to more complicated concepts that can affect a particular wine’s dynamics.

Begin by asking yourself: what do you like about wine? Envision your favorite experiences drinking wine, what foods you may have especially enjoyed with it, and overall why you prefer wine to other alcoholic drinks. At the same time, think about negative experiences you have had. These can be just as helpful in identifying what you do and don’t like in a wine.

Other tips…

  • Read through Wine 101.
  • Try your hand at our tasting notes service.
  • Read some books on tasting wine.
  • Visit wineries.
  • Talk with the winemakers.
  • Talk with your friends – use what resources you have to make this a learning process for you and others you interact with.
  • Start small, build on these ideas, and soon you’ll be off in no time, writing world-class notes!
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How should I describe the colors in wines?

Wine colors can vary greatly, depending on the type of grapes used, how they
were pressed and fermented, how the resulting wine was aged, racked, fined, and
bottled.

The following are terms used to describe the different colors of white, blush,
and red wines.

To accurately determine the wine’s color, you should pour a small amount into a glass, and then hold the glass away from you at a 45 degree angle. This will help spread the wine over the surface of the glass, so light can more easily pass through it. Look through the core (the middle) of the wine, and note the color you see.

You can also try holding the glass up to a light, but be careful not to use too bright a light source, as this could make the wine appear lighter than its actual color.

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What is meant by “wine clarity”?

Wine clarity refers to the amount of undissolved matter floating in a wine.

A wine with greater clarity appears purer. Light passing through a wine with great clarity appears sharp and brilliant. This rule of thumb goes for all wines, including red wines with great depth of color.

A wine with less clarity may appear cloudy or hazy when viewed in a wine glass.

Clarity is commonly used as a measure of quality, as it directly relates to how much or how little a wine was fined (refined) during its production. A wine with greater clarity is thought to be purer and of higher quality.

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In what order should I taste wines: white to red, or vice versa?

The rule of thumb is taste wines in this order: white to red, dry to sweet.

By starting with lighter, dryer wines, your palette will be able to sense their gentler characteristics, and not become overwhelmed by fuller-bodied wines.

As you taste additional wines, your palette may become accustomed to the wines, even “numbed” a bit. By working from light-white, towards more potent and full bodied red wines, your palette will always have something new and additional to pick out and sense.

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What is the difference between a “sweet wine” and a “dry wine”?

The primary difference between a sweet wine and dry wine is in their sugar content.

A dry wine may contain less than 1% residual sugars, or less than .5% for a “bone dry” wine (below which a human palette can detect no sugars).

On the other hand, a sweet (or dessert) wine may contain 20% or more residual sugar. Some late harvest dessert wines contain upwards of 25% residual sugars.

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