We have finally arrived at the best part of the wine tasting series- TASTING! If you’ve been following the wine tasting series, we’ve had an overview, discussed appearance, and reviewed aroma. We’ve finally reached the part that most people think of when they think about wine tasting.

As we talked about last week, the aroma of the wine is actually an important part of fully tasting the wine, but this week we’re going to talk about what all you perceive when you take that first sip or two. There’s actually a lot more going on than just the flavor of the wine! We’ll break this into two categories: structural characteristics, and flavor.

Structure

There are four different structural characteristics to consider. All of these contribute to how the wine both tastes and feels in your mouth. All of these components work with each other to create the body of the wine.

  1. Acidity– All wines have some degree of acidity, which is perceived by the amount and length of time your mouth waters when you take a sip of wine. If it waters just a little, the wine is low acidity. If your mouth waters like you took a bite of lemon, it is high acidity. Your mouth may also tingle due to the acidity, but this could also be caused by alcohol. The real tell-tale for acidity will always be how much your mouth waters. In terms of body, acidity makes the wine seem lighter bodied. It can also balance a high level of sweetness in a wine.
  2. Tannin– Tannins are extracted primarily from the grape skins, so they only factor into the body of red wine. They bind to your saliva and make your mouth feel dry and can also taste bitter in the back of your mouth. Higher levels of tannin contribute to a fuller-bodied wine.
  3. Sweetness– Sweetness is determined by the amount of sugar in the wine. This can range from dry (no residual sugar) to sweet, where sugar is the prominent feature of the wine. Sweetness increases the body of the wine. The perception of sweetness may be off-set by a high level of acidity.
  4. Alcohol– Alcohol is perceived as a hot, burning sensation and adds to the body of the wine. The burning sensation can be mitigated by chilling the wine to the proper serving temperature.

It’s important to remember that everyone perceives these structural characteristics (and really, everything about wine) a little differently.

Full of Flavor

Now let’s transition over to the flavor of wine, which is what most people think of when they think of taste. Most of the time, you’ll taste the same characteristics as the aromas, but warming the wine in your mouth may help some of the subtler flavors stand out. The flavors you taste will be fruity, floral, herbal, herbaceous, or spicy. You may also taste some of the secondary and tertiary characteristics we discussed last week from the winemaking process and aging, like bread, dairy, caramel, wood, earth, or smoke.

Flavor intensity can be light to pronounced and is affected by the temperature of the wine. At very low temperatures the flavors will seem muted, while the alcohol will overpower the flavors at higher temperatures.

Sadly, our wine tasting series is almost over. Next week we’ll discuss how to evaluate wine, and then you’ll be ready to set out on your own!