Wine Lecture & Tasting!
Today was our fist wine tasting class, and it was pretty exciting. We had two small tulip glasses in front of us, and one spit cup. We have to spit out everything we try (boo!).
First, of course, we need to talk about what wine is. Wine can be fermented juice from fruit, sometimes grains. Most of the time, we think of grape wine, but there are many different wines, like plum wine and rice wine, too.
There are five major flavor components to wine:
1) Sugar: this provides sweetness; the sugars in the grape berry are created through photosynthesis; this is usually the first taste that meets our tongue when we drink wine.
2) Tannin: tannin is the bitter, astringent taste we get from the seeds, skins, and stems of the grape and vine; it provides color and flavor, and can also act as a preservative. Tannin gives wine its dry taste because it binds with our saliva and makes our mouth dry.
3) Alcohol: typically, a glass of wine will have about 10-15% alcohol content. Alcohol is actually created in the fermentation process when the yeast digests the sugar (basically, it’s yeast waste). So, yeast + sugar = alcohol + CO2. Anything above 15% alcohol content is considered port or fortified wine. Alcohol contributes to the texture and mouth-feel of wine in the sense that it creates a warm, tingly feeling in the mouth and throat, sometimes even to the point of burning. However, the taste alcohol contributes is sweet (which a lot of people, including myself, don’t know).
4) Acid: The acid balances with the sugar levels of the wine. Sometimes tartaric acid is added to wine to give it more acidity. Acid is a sour taste.
5) Oak: Traditionally, wine is stored and aged in oak barrels, which give the wine an oaky, earthy, smoky, or toasty aroma, and also serves as a preservative.
There are many others things I could tell you about wine, but let’s get further into the tasting process. Now that we know a little bit about the components of wine, we want to make sure it’s at the correct temperature before we serve it, and have a look and smell in our glasses.
The first wine we tried in class was a sauvignon blanc. This is the species of the grape, also known as the varietal. In this case, it is a white grape, which produces a white wine. I don’t know the vintage (year the grapes were harvested) or the vineyard (the place the vines are grown, or the company that makes the wine). However, I know that a white wine should typically be served at a temperature of about 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The stemware we use in class is a small, tulip-shaped glass. What we are looking for in the shape and style of the glass is a clear glass to signify that it’s clean (!), a large bowl in order to swirl the wine, a thin stem to hold the glass with (so that the warmth of our hands doesn’t influence the temperature of the wine), and a tulip shaped bowl, which holds in the aroma of the wine.
Finally at this point, we all get about an ounce of white wine in our glasses. We take a flashlight and, holding the glass up, point the flashlight towards us so that it shines through the liquid. We are looking for impurities, clarity, and hue. The hue of this wine is a light olive color, and it seems pretty clear. Although I had some lint floating around in mine, possibly due to the fact that I had just polished it with a cloth napkin.
After this, we check the legs of the wine. This is probably something you’ve seen people do before, and wondering what the heck they were up to. You put the glass on a flat surface, and swirl the wine around in the glass so that it coats the sides of the tulip part of the glass (the bowl). Make sure the wine glass is no more than half full, otherwise swirling might be detrimental! Then, take a look at the rim of liquid left on the bowl, and watch the droplets of liquid run down the inside of the glass. What you see is the ‘legs’ of the wine, which you will find in any kind of liquid that has alcohol content. The thicker and slower the droplets run back down into the glass, the more sugar and less alcohol is contained in the liquid. That means that a glass of vodka will have small, skinny legs that run down the glass quickly (more alcohol content, less sugar content), and a glass of wine will have thicker, slower legs (more sugar content, less alcohol content).
Now that we’ve viewed the legs, we swirl the wine again in the glass, then put one hand over the top, closing off the air. Then, lift the glass to your nose and, removing your hand, take a deep inhale, as far down as possible to the back of your throat and beyond!!! The better your sense of smell, the more components you will likely pick up. This is something that needs to be practiced, and of course expects can pick up all kinds of smells and flavors this way. Here is a picture of all kinds of aromas a wine might have:
Amazing, right? I’m lucky if I can tell that it smells like wine! Anyway, I picked up some citrus, non-citrus fruit (others in the class said apple), a smokey flavor, and woody smell. You can try using your nostrils separately (one nostril always smells better), and also doing short, small sniffs. Basically anything to smell the wine in different ways. Our sense of smell changes throughout the day and throughout our lives, so you will always be able to smell differences depending on your hormonal state, congestion, etc.
At this point in the class, after we had discussed what the different aromas were, we finally sipped a tiny bit and spat it out into our spit glass. We quickly realized that the wine was oxidized, meaning it had been exposed to oxygen in the air, and lost most of its aromas, and also the temperature was no longer ideal. So we got a fresh taste of cool wine, and the difference was amazing! To me, it had too much acidity, and not enough sweetness, and was kind of overpowering. Plus, it was the middle of the day, and it felt weird having wine in my mouth and not being able to swallow it or enjoy it with food.
Overall a fun experience, though. Next week, we get to taste chardonnay, another kind of white wine.