In my blog post of January 11th, I suggested that the single most important part of the multi-step tasting protocol is the Sniff stage. In that step, one will encounter—depending on the wine’s age, type, style and winemaking methods—a variety of scents or smells that are either primary, secondary or tertiary. Also, it tends to confirm or otherwise validate the color/appearance findings as to the wine’s general condition.
However, as pointed out by others, I gave the final step, Sip and Savor, an inadequate discussion by stating that it merely “verifies and sums up the overall observation.” That is not entirely accurate. And so, onward with the principles and assumptions that underlie that final tasting step.
To be sure, it is far more than a simple, five-second, “sip and swallow,” although I suspect that is how most of us do that. Just as in the Sniff step, attentive mindfulness is essential to discovering what a wine’s underlying qualities are. And even though it is often described as a sip it actually calls for a good ounce or two, held in the mouth for several seconds, to facilitate access to most areas of the mouth and tongue.
Also, it’s one thing to be delighted by the entrancing aromas of fresh flowers and fruits, as well as the earthy scents of mushrooms and wet leaves, but thereafter one has to arrive at a conclusion about a wine’s style and overall quality level—how it tastes, and how it feels in the mouth. That’s right, how it feels.
Entry level wine enthusiasts who roll their eyes at the notion of secondary and tertiary aroma descriptors, will likely react the same with the notion of mouthfeel. But this descriptor is more than vinous bullcrap, because mouthfeel describes the physical (think tactile) aspects of a wine’s texture. For example, does it taste very sweet, moderately sweet or bone dry? Is it lifeless, crisp or tart? Is it smooth, lightly astringent, or coarse? And, is it light, medium or full bodied?
Sharp-eyed wine geeks will note that those last four questions point directly to wine’s structural components which are sugar, acidity, tannins and alcohol. They define the fabric of a wine’s texture, and a wine is said to have good structure when all those parts are in balance, without one or the other dominating. Those are the particulars that need to be addressed and judged during the Sip/Savor step.
Determining those aspects in a few short minutes can be daunting for beginning wine enthusiasts, but the effort is not totally unlike music appreciation. Certainly, the main melody as a whole can be appreciated, but one can also focus on specific instruments or sections; how they sound individually, and how they all collectively contribute. As such, just as you might have an “ear” for music, you can also develop a probing palate to appreciate wines.
And finally, once the above structural aspects have been assessed, then it’s time to draw some conclusions about how they all come together and form the wine’s general quality and style. Was it a simple, medium bodied, one-dimensional pour that didn’t offend? Or did it also not engage and/or delight you either?
Or moving up the quality ladder, was it attractive, complex and full-bodied, with intense colors and aromas? And lastly, was it well balanced, delivering a pleasing, lingering finish? If so, be sure to buy a case of it, because many consider complexity, intensity, balance and lingering finish to be the attributes of an outstanding wine.