To taste wine like a professional, you must learn to listen to the wine and discover its secrets through your senses.
If you want to take your tasting skills to the next level, you need the proper setting as well, and nothing beats the sunny Portuguese wine region known as Algarve, specifically the awe-inspiring Quinta dos Vales wine estate where we gained first hand knowledge how to do it right.
Wine is a complex beverage; it’s definitely more than fermented grape juice — wine takes you to places! Few other fermented drinks are as sophisticated; a single glass of wine can offer endless pleasure through its flavours and aromas.
Of course, such complexity in wine is not easy to describe. Describing wine as a true professional is not only useful if you’re part of the wine and hospitality industries — it’s also a fantastic way to hone your tasting skills and become a better host. The better you describe what the wine is trying to say, the more you fall in love with it. Here’s how to describe wine as a true professional, without all the fuzz.
The Right Setting for Tasting Wine
Tasting wine doesn’t have to be so severe; in fact, the best approach is to taste it in a relaxing setting, preferably where the wine is made. Quinta dos Vales is not only an extraordinary destination for food and wine lovers with lots to see and do, but it’s also a place to make all your vinous dreams come true. From tasting the estate’s wine to producing your very own wine, the wine estate and its innovative owner, Karl Heinz Stock, offers numerous wine experiences abound at the sunny wine estate in Algarve, one of them even to purchase your own vineyard from as less as € 60.000.
Go trekking in the nearby Monchique mountains to stimulate your nose and awaken your palate in the many world-class restaurants in the area. Relax a little before an intensive wine tasting with the Quinta’s winemaking team, either diving or playing the neighbouring golf courses. Tasting wine is fun and an integral part of your holiday. After all, there’s no place like the wine country, and Algarve is as sunny as it gets.
Now, let’s talk about the proper wine tasting technique used by the world’s most experienced tasters and wine professionals.
The Objective of Tasting Wine
Tasting wine — why do we do it? For professional sommeliers, tasting wine is a tool that allows them to recommend the right wine to the right customer. They can also evaluate the wine’s quality and condition. This is no different for wine enthusiasts.
If you are a wine lover, tasting wine allows you to choose the right bottle for dinner; you become a better host and a more proficient gift giver. However, tasting wine is not learning to talk about it — on the contrary, tasting wine like a professional means learning how to listen to the wine through your senses.
Flavour and Aroma, What’s the Difference?
The most important thing to consider when evaluating wine is the difference between flavour and aroma — we’re used to getting them wrong! There are only five or six tastes or flavours, those which we experience on the palate: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (savoury deliciousness.) The rest of the “flavours” found in wine are actually aromas.
To describe wine as a true professional, one must learn to distinguish between its flavours and aromas. Wine doesn’t taste like cherries and vanilla, those are scents, and we can perceive them both on the nose and retro-nasally.
Aroma in Wine
Alcoholic fermentation can make wine smell like many things. Red, black and blue fruit scents are familiar in red wines, while white wines can smell like tropical fruit, apples and pears, citrus fruit and peaches.
Every wine grape has its tell tales, but the terroir also plays a role. An effective way to taste wine better is by associating ripe fruit and tropical fruit aromas with warm climates. On the other hand, tart fruit scents might mean the grapes grew in a cold vineyard.
Other scents in wine come from the winemaking and ageing process. Oak barrels can give wine brown spice and vanilla aromas. Still, wine’s aroma is incredibly complex — you can find anything, from scents of leather and damp earth to honey and flowers.
The Taste in Wine and Climate
As for the palate, what matters most is taking your time to assess the wine’s acidity. Again, wine coming from cold wine regions is often crisper, while wine from warm climates can have a more subtle edge. Acidity is essential, as it makes the wine refreshing — it’s also vital for pairing wine and food.
We can also find sweetness in wine. Today, the norm for most winemakers is vinifying the wine to dryness, but sweet and semi-sweet wines are very appealing. One must not mistake wine with a sweet scent for a truly sweet wine, which will show sugar on the palate.
Although wine’s appearance is the first thing to assess when tasting wine, it’s not the most important. The colour in wine can be deceiving, as deep-hued wines are not necessarily robust. Wine’s “tears” or “legs,” the drops inside the glass might tell you something about the wine’s mouthfeel, weight and alcohol level, but you can assess those on the palate more effectively.
Having said that, the wine’s colour can suggest something wrong with it. White wines should rarely have an intense golden or orange colour, which might be a sign of oxidation. For reds, brick and brown colours can signal the same condition.
How to Describe Wine?
Putting the information above into practice, follow the following steps to describe wine as a true professional. Remember, practice makes perfect, and everyone can become a professional taster.
1. Pour the wine at the right temperature into a crystal wine glass. Make sure you taste wine with like-minded people and have a pen and paper in hand to take notes.
2. Assess the wine’s appearance. Determine its colour, consistency, clarity, brightness and transparency.
3. Smell the wine and swirl it a little. Look for fruit aromas first — determine the fruit types and their condition. Is it ripe or tart fruit? Look for non-fruit aromas, including flowers, herbs and spices.
4. Taste the wine and assess its sweetness level. Take another sip and determine its acidity. Take a third sip and see if you can find new aromas retro-nasally. Focus on the aftertaste or finish as well; is it persistent?
5. Most importantly, determine if the wine is straightforward or complex, in good condition or past its prime. Ask yourself, what food would you pair it with? Did you enjoy the wine? Tasting wine professionally allows you to learn more about wine and yourself.
Taste Wine Where It’s Made
If you want to hone your wine-tasting skills, Quinta dos Vales is the perfect place to do it. Walk the vineyards, get lost in the estate’s barrel room, talk to winemakers and grape growers, and pair the estate’s delicious wine with local food.
Tasting wine is fun, as it allows you to explore foreign lands with your senses alone. Of course, tasting wine amongst the vines is an authentic learning experience — every wine tasting during your stay at a winery becomes a long-lasting reminder of how lovely wine can be. Are you ready to learn more about wine? At Quinta dos Vales they’re waiting for you with a glass of wine in hand. Happy tasting! And, moreover, should you have more than one glass of wine, you might want to stay a bit longer. The estate has just recently opened the first wine resort in the Algarve, called The Vines.