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A wine to your taste?

There are very often strong opinions expressed about what makes a good wine. At a simple level, a good wine is one that you enjoy drinking. But why do you prefer one wine to another? Read what a professional wine taster says on the subject.

What do wine tasters look for in a glass of wine? Balance is probably the easiest answer. But balance of what with what? That is the tricky thing.

First of all, to judge a wine there are three basic senses that have to be employed: the sense of sight, the sense of smell, and the sense of taste. Of these three, taste is by far the most complex, but sight and smell are powerful. The wrong colour or the wrong smell enable a wine to be discarded without taste even being involved.


So, take your glass, tilt it against a white background in a bright room, and look at the colour. All right, it is red or white or rosé; but far more important is how clear and bright the colour is. A young wine that does not have a vibrant, sparkling colour is almost certainly bad. An old red wine will often have gradations of colour at its rim, from deep plum-red to brick-red; this is a sign of how it has been aged in wood. Generally, if the colour looks healthy, then the wine is likely to be healthy; wine is, after all, a living and constantly evolving product of nature.


Then take the glass, put it down on the table, and, pressing down on the base, make a circular movement to swirl the liquid around. This coats the sides of the glass in the wine and therefore allows the aromas to come from a greater surface area when you take your first deep sniff at it. A note about the shape of the glass here. The tulip shape is best; the aromas are concentrated at the top of the glass. This is the shape of the International Standard tasting glass.

So, having taken a deep whiff of the wine's aromas, or bouquet, what are you looking for? Again, healthiness. The two most common defects in a wine are the sour woodiness imparted by a defective cork (a "corked" wine is what waiters are trying to detect by sniffing the cork on the end of the corkscrew), and the volatile acidity caused by oxidation (contact with air at first allows the wine to develop, and then destroys it). At this stage your first sniff of the wine should tell you something about the grape varieties used in its make-up. The language of wine may be full of hyperbole and personal preference, but every wine taster will recognise the blackcurrant leaf smells of Cabernet Sauvignon, the perfumed lychees of Gewürtztramminer, and the honeyed richness of Chardonnay.


Finally, the taste. Sip the wine, but do not swallow it immediately. Swirl it round the mouth and suck in air to oxygenate it. This somewhat noisy process is vital to intensify the tastes. Here you can begin to judge that all-important balance of the wine more closely. The colour should be right, the bouquet should be right, but it is the taste that is the confirmation of its worth.

The most important elements of the taste are fruit and acidity, and, in red wines, tannin too. Taste sensations can be felt at the front of the mouth, in the mid-palate, and as an after-taste. Typically, a young wine, red or white, will have a bright acidity, obvious berry-sharp fruit, and finish with the mid-palate. The taste will explode and die, not much will linger on. An older wine, a nine year old Bordeaux, for example, will have more complex tastes: layers of fruit, a long finish, high tannins if it needs to age longer, and round vanilla flavours if it has been in contact with young wood in its ageing process.

Having examined the wine, you can now get on and drink it. But try and remember your conclusions, for it is only by building up your own personal taste bank memory that you can progress as a wine taster. It is not difficult, and it is great fun. Cheers!

Reading for meaning

When you read an article, you can often guess the words you do not know from the context.

Find words in the text of the article above which have the following meanings:

a. not easy or straightforward
b. rejected
c. full of life
d. the edge
e. imperfect
f. not stable and liable to change suddenly and often
g. to stay for a long time

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