Wine Tasting 101

A better understanding and appreciation of wine can definitely enhance the pleasure of drinking it. There are a lot of things to consider and recognise to fully appreciate the taste of wine. 

3 basic steps in wine tasting

1. Look

You can judge a wine based on its looks. The colour, opacity, and viscosity hint at a wine’s approximate age, the grape variety, the alcohol and sugar content, and even the climate of the place where it was grown. 

  • Age
  • White wine becomes more yellow or brown with an increase in the overall pigment as it ages 
  • Red wine becomes lighter or more transparent losing its colour as it ages
  • Grape Variety

The most widely planted grape varieties in Hunter Valley are:

  • ChardonnaySemillon, and Verdelho – whites
  • ShirazCabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot – reds
  • Pinot Noir –red or ruby-coloured, especially in cooler climates 
  • Malbec – have a magenta-pink rim
  • Nebbiolo and Grenache-based –translucent garnet or with an orange rim.
  • Alcohol and Sugar Content

The alcohol and sugar level of a wine can be determined through what is known as its wine legs. The thicker or more viscous the legs are, the more alcohol or sugar residue it contains. 

2. Smell

You can judge a wine based on its smell. The aromas in wine will indicate the grape variety, whether it was oak-aged, its approximate age, and its origin. A good nose is a plus in wine tasting. 

The aromas you smell from wine are compounds called stereoisomers which come from the evaporation of alcohol. They fall into three categories:

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Primary aromas (grape variety associated with fruit, flower, and herbal aromas)

Primary aromas tell you the type or variety of grape and the climate where it grows. For example, Barbera smells like liquorice or anise. The fruit flavours in wine are the primary aromas. 

Common primary aromas include fruit flavours (such as peach or blackberry) herbal flavours (such as bell pepper, mint, or oregano), and flower flavours (such as roses, lavender, or iris).

Primary aromas show the fruit flavours (or how they would smell) in different wines.  

Secondary aromas (fermentation associated with yeast aromas)

Secondary aromas come from the process of fermentation or yeasting. Some smells are yeasty or have an ‘old beer’ smell. An example of this is Brut Champagne with a sourdough smell. Some are similar to yogurt or sour cream. These aromas come from a bacterial process called the malolactic fermentation

Common secondary aromas include cultured cream, buttermilk, butter, beer (commonly found in wines aged on the lees), brewer’s yeast, aged cheese, sourdough, mushroom, old cellar, and the aromas which smell like a farmyard such as horse sweat, wild game, and duck crackling/bacon which all come from Brettanomyces/Brett.

Tertiary aromas (aging associated with spice and nut aromas)

Tertiary aromas come from the aging of wine. They are sometimes referred to as “bouquets”.  

The elements of aging are oxygen exposure, the use of oak, and the cooking of wine. Oxygen exposure is the most crucial element. It produces pleasant-smelling bouquets like the aromas of hazelnut and roasted peanut. The most common element, however, is the use of oak barrels which introduces the nuttiness aroma followed by the addition of other aromatic compounds found in oak. The much less commonly used element, the heating of wine, causes a reaction where acids and sugars react with each other leading to caramelisation. 

Common bouquets associated with aging or tertiary aromas include brown sugar, vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, hazelnut, walnut, roasted almond (different than fresh or bitter almond), toasted marshmallow, clove, allspice, cedar box, cigar box, smoke, dried tobacco, and dried leaves.  

3. Taste

The last aspect to consider is of course taste. You can judge a wine based on its taste, and you will be able to determine the flavour and structure of the wine.

Sweetness

The moment wine touches your tongue, you should be able to determine its sweetness. Wines have a range of between 0 and 220 grams per litre of residual sugar (g/L RS). 

Dry wines range around 10g/L RS.  As a general rule wines that are sweet are more likely to be less acidic and vice versa. Wines with high acidity taste less sweet. 

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Acidity 

Acidity can be used to determine if the wine originated from a hot or cold climate. It can also determine how long to cellar the wine.

Acidity is measured in pH.  A low pH means a wine is more acidic. Generally, acidity is perceived as the mouth-watering, wrinkling, or constricting sensation at the back of the jaw. Wines that are high in acid are often described as ‘zippy’ or ‘tart’. Acidic wine ranges from pH 2.6 to around pH 4.9. Most wines range from pH 3-4. 

Highly acidic wine is said to originate from cool-climate regions, where the grapes are picked early. 

Low acidity in wine tends to taste creamier or feel smoother. Super low acidity tastes flat.

Alcohol

Alcohol is an essential factor in considering the overall taste of the wine. It tells us the wine intensity and the ripeness of the grapes used.

Alcohol level adds texture to the wine. Alcohol levels range from 5-16% by volume (ABV). Most Shiraz are at 14-15% ABV. Dry wines range from 13.5 to 16% ABV and are intensely flavoured. 

It is also related to the sweetness of the grapes before the fermentation process of the wine. Lower ABV wines (below 11%) contain more sweetness from the sugar of the grapes which was not turned to alcohol.

Warm-climate regions produce wines with higher alcohol content due to the production of riper grapes.

Body

The body describes how the wine ‘rests’ on your palate. It is associated with the overall texture of the wine – light, medium, and full. Body may also correspond with alcohol level.   

With all the areas considered to appreciate wine appropriately, it is essential to bring them all together and use your senses to look, smell, and taste the wine, attempt to have an overall ‘taste’ of the wine.

Try your wine tasting abilities with a Hunter Valley Wine Tours!

From exploring award-winning wineries and eating at acclaimed restaurants to experiencing tasty festivals and fresh local produce of Hunter Valley. 

Hunter Valley Tours offer wine tasting tours that cover the picturesque Hunter Valley Vineyard Region. Explore the delights of Australia’s oldest wine region which is surrounded by stunning natural beauty.

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