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Wine Tasting: A Professional Handbook is an essential guide for any professional or serious connoisseur seeking to understand both the theory and practice of wine tasting. From techniques for assessing wine properties and quality, including physiological, psychological, and physicochemical sensory evaluation, to the latest information on types of wine, the author guides the reader to a clear and applicable understanding of the wine tasting process.
Including illustrative data and testing technique descriptions, Wine Tasting is for professional tasters, those who train tasters and those involved in designing wine tastings as well as the connoisseur seeking to maximize their perception and appreciation of wine.
• Revised and updated coverage, notably the physiology and neurology taste and odor perception.
• Expanded coverage of the statistical aspect of wine tasting (specific examples to show the process), qualitative wine tasting (examples for winery staff tasting their own wines; more examples for consumer groups and restaurants), tripling of the material on wine styles and types, wine language, the origins of wine quality, and food and wine combination
• Flow chart of wine tasting steps
• Flow chart of wine production procedures
• Practical details on wine storage and problems during and following bottle opening
• Examples of tasting sheets
• Details of errors to be avoided
• Procedures for training and testing sensory skill
Tasting Process 1 Appearance 4 Odor 6 In-mouth Sensations 14 Finish 18 Overall Quality 19 Postscript 21
As befits one of life's finest pleasures, wine deserves serious attention. Nevertheless, no wine tasting procedure has achieved universal adoption. Most experienced wine tasters have their own preferred procedure. Although essential for critical tasting, those described here are too detailed for the dinner table. The difference is equivalent to score analysis versus music appreciation. Critical tasting compares one or several wines against a real or theoretical standard. In contrast, wine with a meal is intended to be savored as a liquid refreshment. Although critical wine assessment is ill designed for the dining room, due to the distractions of conversation and the interference of food flavors, the concentration involved in wine analysis can greatly enhance appreciation.
The technique discussed here (Fig. 1.1) is a synopsis of experience gained from assessing tasters, but is a reasonable starting point. No technique is ideal for everyone. Probably the most essential property of a serious taster is the willingness, desire, and ability to focus his or her attention on the wine's characteristics.
Peynaud (1987) advocates rinsing the mouth with wine before embarking on serious tasting. Where tasters are unfamiliar with the characteristics of the wines to be tasted, it can familiarize the senses to the basic attributes of the wines. However, the introductory sample must be chosen with care to avoid setting an inappropriate standard and distorting expectations. Peynaud also cautions against rinsing the palate between samples. He feels that it may alter sensitivity, and complicate comparing wines. In this recommendation, Peynaud is at variance with other authorities. Only when the palate seems fatigued does he support palate cleansing. Leaving palate cleansing up to individual tasters assumes that they can judge accurately when their senses are beginning to show adaptation. Since this is a dubious assumption, it is safer to encourage tasters to cleanse their palate between each sample. In contrast, olfactory adaptation may have an advantage. For example, it may "unmask" the presence of other aromatic compounds (Goyert et al., 2007). It is a frequent observation that the quality and intensity of a wine's aromatic characteristics change as it is being sampled. This occurs not only over the full course of a tasting (up to 30 min), but also during any particular sampling. Investigation of the complex interaction of aromatics on perception is still in its infancy (Brossard et al., 2007).
Most wines are best sampled in clear, tulip-shaped goblets (Fig. 1.2; Plate 5.11). The primary exception involves sparkling wines. These are normally judged in elongated, flute-shaped glasses (Plate 5.13). They facilitate observation of the wine's effervescence. All glasses in a tasting should be identical and filled to the same level (about one-quarter to one-third full). This permits each wine to be sampled under equivalent conditions. Between 30 and 50 ml is adequate for most tastings. Not only are small volumes economic, but they facilitate holding the glass at a steep angle (for viewing color and clarity) and permit vigorous swirling (to enhance the release of aromatics).
Except for rare situations, in which color must not influence assessment, the visual characteristics of a wine are the first to be judged. To improve light transmission, the glass is tilted against a bright, white background (35° to 45° angle). This produces a curved edge of varying depths through which the wine's appearance can be better assessed.
Visual stimuli often give a sense of pleasure and anticipation of the sensations to follow. The appearance may hint at flavor attributes as well as potential faults. An example of the influence of wine coloration on perceived quality is illustrated in Fig. 2.6. It is also well known that a deep red color increases perceived quality, even when assessed by seasoned judges. Thus, visual clues must be assessed with caution to avoid unfair prejudgment of the wine.
All wine should be brilliantly clear. The haziness often obvious in barrel samples is of little concern. It is eliminated before bottling. Cloudiness in bottled wine is another issue. It is always considered unacceptable, despite its seldom affecting the wine's taste or aromatic character. Because most sources of cloudiness are understood and controllable, the presence of haziness in commercial wine is uncommon. The major exception may involve some well-aged red wines that eventually "throw" sediment. However, careful decanting can avoid resuspending this material.
The two most significant features of a wine's color are its hue and depth. Hue denotes its shade or tint, whereas depth refers to the relative brightness and intensity of the color. Both aspects can provide clues to features such as grape maturity, duration of skin contact, fermentation cooperage, and wine age. Immature white grapes yield almost colorless wines, whereas fully to overmature grapes may generate yellowish wines. Increased maturity often enhances the potential color intensity of red wine. The extent to which these tendencies are realized largely depends on the duration of maceration (skin contact). Maturation in oak cooperage enhances age-related color changes, but temporarily augments color depth. During aging, golden tints in white wines increase, whereas red wines lose color density. Eventually, all wines take on tawny brown shades.
Because many factors affect wine color, it is often inappropriate to be too dogmatic about the significance of any particular shade. Only if the wine's origin, style, and age are known, may color indicate its "correctness." An atypical color can be a sign of several faults. The less known about a particular wine, the less significant color becomes in assessing quality. If color is too likely to be prejudicial, visual clues can be hidden by techniques such as using black glasses.
Tilting the glass has the advantage of creating a gradation of wine depths. Viewed against a bright background, the variation in depth creates a range of hues and density attributes. Pridmore et al. (2005) give a detailed discussion of these phenomena. The rim of the wine provides one of the better measures of a wine's relative age. A purplish to mauve hue is an indicator of youth in a red wine. A brickish tint along the rim is often the first sign of aging. By contrast, observing wine down from the top is the best means of judging relative color depth.
The most difficult task associated with color assessment is expressing one's impressions meaningfully in words. There is no accepted terminology for wine colors. Color terms are seldom used consistently or recorded in an effective manner. Some tasters place a drop of the wine on the tasting sheet. Although of comparative value, it does not even temporarily preserve an accurate record of the wine's color.
Until a practical standard is available, use of a few simple terms is probably preferable. Terms such as purple, ruby, red, brick, and tawny; and straw, yellow, gold, and amber; combined with qualifiers such as pale, light, medium, and dark can express the standard range of red and white wine colors, respectively. These terms are fairly self-explanatory and provide an element of effective communication.
Wine viscosity refers to its resistance to flow. Factors such as the sugar, glycerol, and alcohol content affect this property. Typically, though, perceptible differences in viscosity are detectable only in dessert or highly alcoholic wines. Because these differences are minor and of diverse origin, they are of little diagnostic value. Viscosity is ignored by most professional tasters.
Spritz refers to the bubbles that may form, usually along the sides and bottom of a glass, or the slight effervescence seen or detected in the mouth. Active and continuous bubbling is generally found only in sparkling wines. In the latter case, the size, number, and duration of the bubbles are important quality features.
Slight effervescence is typically a consequence of early bottling, before the excess, dissolved, carbon dioxide in newly fermented wine has had a chance to escape. Infrequently, a slight spritz may result from the occurrence of malolactic fermentation after bottling. Historically, spritz was commonly associated with microbial spoilage. Because this is now rare, a slight spritz is generally of insignificance.
Tears (rivulets, legs) develop and flow down the sides of the glass following swirling. They are little more than a crude indicator of a wine's alcohol content. Other than for the intrigue or visual amusement they may inspire, tears are sensory trivia.
When one is assessing a wine's fragrance, several characteristics are assessed. They include its quality, intensity, and temporal attributes. Quality refers to how the odor is described, usually in terms of other aromatic objects (e.g., rose, apple, truffle), classes of objects (e.g., flowers, fruit, vegetables), experiences (grandmother's pumpkin pie, East Indian store, barnyard), or emotional responses (elegant, subtle, perfumed). Intensity refers to the relative magnitude of the odor. Temporal aspects refer to how the fragrance changes with time, both in quality and intensity.
Orthonasal (in-glass) Odor
Tasters are often counseled to smell the wine before swirling. This exposes the senses to the wine's most volatile aromatics. When one is comparing several wines, it is often more convenient to position oneself over the glasses than raise each glass to one's nose. Repeat assessment over several minutes provides the taster with an opportunity to assess one of a wine's most ethereal attributes—development, how the fragrance changes over the course of the tasting.
The second and more important phase of olfactory assessment follows swirling of the wine. Although simple, effectively swirling usually requires practice. Until comfortable with the process, start by slowly rotating the base of the glass on a level surface. Most of the action involves a cyclical arm movement at the shoulder, while the wrist remains stationary. Holding the glass by the stem provides a good grip and permits vigorous swirling. As one becomes familiar with the process, start shifting to swirling by wrist action. Once comfortable with this action, raise the glass off the surface to a more normal height for easy smelling. Some connoisseurs hold the glass by the edge of the base. While this approach is effective, its awkwardness seems an affectation. It is simpler, and safer, to hold the glass jointly by its stem and base.
Because the escape of wine aromatics occurs at the air/wine interface, volatilization is a partial function of surface area. By increasing the effective surface area, swirling favors the release of aromatic compounds. In addition, swirling effectively mixes the wine, replenishing the surface layer with aromatics. This is important because of the wine's small surface area, relative to its volume. Diffusion of aromatics to the surface is slow. For highly volatile compounds (those with high air/liquid partition coefficients—Kal), the surface layers may rapidly become depleted of volatile molecules.
The incurved sides of tulip-shaped glasses not only help concentrate released aromatics, but also permit vigorous swirling. Other factors influencing volatilization are the equilibrium between dissolved and weakly bound aromatics, and surface tension effects.
Whiffs are taken at the rim of the glass and then in the bowl. This permits sensation of the fragrance at different concentrations, potentially generating distinct perceptions. Considerable attention, involving both inductive and deductive reasoning, is usually required for detecting and recognizing varietal, stylistic, or regional attributes. It often requires several attempts. As the primary source of a wine's unique character, the study of fragrance merits the attention it requires. Murphy et al. (1977) consider that as much as 80% of the sensory significant information about what we consume comes from olfaction.
Excerpted from Wine Tasting: A Professional Handbook by Ronald S. Jackson Copyright © 2009 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Academic Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Introduction; Visual Perceptions; Olfactory Sensataions; Taste and Mouth-Feel Sensations; Quantitative (Technical) Wine Assessment; Qualititative (General) Wine Tasting; Types of Wine; Origins of Wine Quality; Wine as a Food Beverage; Glossary