The Methods behind the ‘Magic’ of Blind Tasting
Whether you’re an absolute beginner, a highly experienced master, or somewhere in-between – identifying a wine ‘blind’ can be a challenge.
It takes training and a lot of practice – that’s right, you have to taste a LOT of wine – to build an understanding of all the characteristic, structural and stylistic differences between wines, the grapes they’re made from, and all of the different winemaking choices made during production.
Thankfully, there are a few tips and tricks to you help narrow down results, but the best way to run through a wine analysis is by using a tasting grid. If you’ve ever taken a wine course, you should already be familiar with a how these grids are laid out. But in case you’ve never seen one before, the two best examples in my opinion are the ones created by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) or the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS).
Following a grid and writing down your impressions will give structure to your analysis and help you come to a conclusion at the end.
Here’s a rough outline of what you should be looking for in beginner wine analyses:
Step 1: Take a Look
The appearance of a wine isn’t something you should spend too much time fussing about, but it can reveal some helpful information about things like age, grape varietal, use of oak, etc. For example: wine will gradually brown as it ages, so keep that in mind if you have a white wine that appears amber, or a red wine that is garnet.
Don’t worry too much about the factors that make up a wine’s colour when you’re just starting out. It’s good to get into the habit of noting it, and it might help you now and then, but there are lots of more in-depth things that contribute to appearance that’ll come up as you advance in your training.
For now let’s focus on the basics of observing ‘intensity’ and ‘colour’.
Pale – Medium – Deep
How easy is it to see through?
This determines whether the wine is pale, medium or deep in intensity.
Under good lighting against a white background, hold the glass on its side and look at the difference between the rim of the wine (where the wine touches the glass) compared to the wine at the centre of the glass. You can also observe intensity by sitting the glass down and looking at it from above. Can you see through to the stem or is deep and dark? Note that using a proper ISO tasting glass and filling it up only to its widest point will help you judge a wine better overall.
White Wine: Yellow – Gold – Amber
Red Wine: Purple – Ruby – Garnet
Step 2: Swirl and Smell
Analysing the ‘nose’ of a wine is by far the most important part, so take your time and reel in all those sensory memories.
In this section we are looking for two things: aroma characteristics and intensity.
What do you smell?
Try to group the aromas into clusters like:
Citrus fruit, red fruit, black fruit, blue fruit, green fruit, tropical fruit, stone fruit, vegetables, oak flavours, spices, herbs, etc.
What condition does the fruit have?
Ripe/unripe, fresh/cooked, dried, confected, etc.
There are 3 categories of aromas to pay attention to. These are:
Primary Aromas: deriving from the grape itself
Secondary Aromas: deriving from human intervention (winemaking)
Tertiary Aromas: deriving from age
Light – Medium – Pronounced
Do the aromatics jump out of the glass or are they subtle and hard to define?
The intensity of the nose of a wine is measured by how complex and easily defined it’s aromas are. How many clusters did you identify? Are they mainly primary, or are there also secondary and tertiary aromas too?
If you just picked out one or two primary clusters like:
Cluster 1 – Citrus: lemon
Cluster 2 – Green Fruit: ripe green apple and green pear
This wine’s intensity should be identified as ‘light’.
Wines like this are fairly simple and are probably intended to be easy-drinking and made for early consumption. They’re also probably young when only primary aromas are detected. These type of wines (the 90%) aren’t suitable for ageing. This is mainly because they don’t have enough complexity or intensity of aromas to develop into anything more interesting with time – instead they will probably just fade.
On the flip side, if you identified a number of complex clusters like:
Cluster 1 – Red Fruit: sour red cherry, dried strawberry, currant
Cluster 2 – Black Fruit: dried blackberry, black cherry
Cluster 3 – Oak: clove, vanilla, toast, chocolate, coffee
Cluster 4 – Animal: leather, game
Cluster 5 – Earth: wet leaves, mushroom
Cluster 6 – Vegetal: tomato leaf
This wine is complex and well defined. The intensity should, therefore, be identified as ‘pronounced’. It’s already developed some interesting tertiary aromas like wet leaves, and dried fruit and is showing secondary oak aromas which come from winemaking (oak). This wine already has some age and is most likely suitable for further ageing.
Step 3: Taste
Take a sip and swirl it around so that it coats your whole mouth. Here we’re looking for 7 main components in red wines and 6 for a white wine where we generally don’t include tannin.
Dry – Off-dry – Medium – Sweet
Dry = not sweet at all
Off-dry = a little sweetness detected, but not much
Medium = sweet, but not viscous or cloying
Sweet = you’ll know!
Low, Med, High.
How much does your mouth water?
Low – Med – High.
Does it feel hot on your gums or in your throat?
Low – Medium – High
A lot of people get the mouth-drying sensation of tannin mixed up with the ‘dry’ description we use when measuring sweetness. That’s because tannin tastes dry and astringent on the front of your gums and middle part of your tongue.
Still not sure what tannin tastes like?
Try steeping a black teabag in water for 10 minutes and tasting it pure. THAT is tannin.
Tannin in wine comes from grape seeds, skins and stems, as well as from wood used in some forms of winemaking and maturation. It’s mainly present in red wines, but there are exceptions like barrel-aged or barrel-fermented Chardonnay (where oak imparts tannin into the wine) or Orange Wine (where white grapes are left in contact with their skins during winemaking).
These should pretty well match the profile of aromas you detected on the nose.
Light – Medium – Full
This is all about the way that the wine FEELS in your mouth. Think of skim milk vs. whole fat milk or even cream.
Light bodied wines will be crisp & refreshing, and full bodied wines will be heavier due to factors like higher levels of alcohol or sweetness that give weight to the wine. Medium bodied wines will fall somewhere in the middle.
Short – Medium – Long
How long do the flavours linger on your palate after swallowing or spitting out the wine?
go forth and TASTE MORE WINE!!
Thanks so much for reading and please feel free to leave your comments below.
Sources / Material:
Wine & Spirit Education Trust Global
Court of Master Sommeliers