As you wait excitedly for Santa Claus, or Château de Pommard, to deliver your festive wine orders, and with Christmas Day only a few short days away, you have no doubt found yourself slipping and sipping jollily into the Christmas spirit. This is the perfect time to disconnect from the inbox and connect with the influx of friends and family who wish to spread and share their Christmas cheer with you.
However, before you sit down, dine and indulge with your festive feasting, why not spend five minutes brushing up your tasting techniques. Much fuss is made of how to taste and drink wine. Some wine snobs go over-the-top, and make a meal of it, others just glug it down, not allowing the wine to touch the sides. There is a proper way to taste and drink wine. We call it the Burgundy way, because it’s how we do it in Pommard. And it’s just right.
Wine Advisor, Marion Lisi, a wine lover born and raised in Burgundy, and a WSET-trained professional, joined us in the Tasting Room and showed us the preferred way of ensuring you make the most of your wine this holiday season.
Marion, over to you…
“Like all the best stories, wine has a beginning, middle and an end.”
Wine professionals employ four basic steps to taste wine. I call it “the Burgundy way”… because this is how everyone in Burgundy tastes wine, and I have seen many visitors taste wine differently!
The art of tasting great wines is in the ability to detect the wine’s character and its most subtle aromas and flavors – these are smells you have to search for and it is a great skill to be able to define and separate aromas and flavors.
The most revered sommeliers and masters of wine in the world make it look so easy, but they have, of course, spent years honing their tastebuds and educating their nasal passages.
When you find these subtle qualities, and they reveal themselves fully, it’s a wonderful moment that brings you closer the very thing that nature intended to unveil to you and helps enhance your wine drinking… and strengthens your wine knowledge.
So, this is how I taste wine…
1. “Don’t just look at the wine … watch it.”
Don’t rush in with lifting the wine to your nose. Take your time to observe the wine in the glass. Fill the wine to the curve of the glass and let it settle. Only your emotions should be stirred at this point!
Once the wine has found peace and quiet in your glass, hold your glass up to a blank piece of paper, or a white wall. Remember to always hold your glass by its base or stem as you do this. Watch the color; don’t just look at it. What color(s) come to light? How do you describe them? Does the color remind you of anything, or make you feel anything? Fine wine should always make you feel something – at least that’s what I always tell visitors, because that’s how I feel when I taste wine – I search for the emotions.
As you pay close attention to the color, resist all temptation to swirl the wine: let the wine wrap itself around the curvature of the glass and breathe in oxygen in order to develop deeper aromas that will float up the glass.
2. “Alternate your sniffing technique…”
More so than any of our other senses, the sense of smell is closely linked with memory. So, when it comes to smelling your wine, take your time – who knows what emotions and memories the wine could awaken!
Before all the swirling and sipping tickles your senses in all the right spots, take the time now to smell your wine. This big first “nose” will allow you to detect the primary aromas as well as prepare and direct your tastebuds for when the flavors arrive. A golden rule to smelling wine is to alternate your sniffing technique between long and deep sniffs and short and shallow sniffs. And if you want to cleanse, or neutralize, your nasal passages, sniff your palm or your forearm.
With your nose lowered deep into the glass, I always tell my Wine Experience visitors to think big to small. What are the first big flavors to come to mind? Once you have figured them out you can go hunting for the more subtle smells. When it comes to placing an aroma, it’s also a good idea to think of the broader category beforehand, such as black fruits or citrus, before trying to think more specifically, such as morello cherry. This is a great technique to help develop your Wine IQ as well as differentiate and understand the difference between primary, secondary and tertiary aromas. Primary aromas describe the fruity, herbal and floral notes and are specific to the grape varietal. Secondary aromas arise from the techniques employed by the winemaker, and tertiary aromas, usually relate to the bouquet of a wine, arise during the aging process. Savory aromas such as tobacco, leather, mushroom, spices, vanilla are tertiary aromas.
3. “Swirl the wine three times. No more.”
Swirling is a great way to observe the color, opacity and viscosity, otherwise known as “wine legs”, or “tears” of the wine, as well as actually increasing the number of aroma compounds that are released into the air. Swirling, if you think about it for too long, can get quite technical.
Firstly, never over pour the wine: it’s better to pour a small amount of wine in the glass – up to the curve is perfect – this then makes it much easier to swirl! Obviously, your size of wine glass dictates the swirl – so ensure you have the right glass. The shape of the glass’ bowl complements the components of the wine, and allows the fruity and sweeter notes of the wine to come to the foreground. At Chiateau de Pommard, we recommend and use Zalto glasses for our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
So, hold the glass by its stem and begin with gentle and wide circular moves, keeping the wrist and forearm straight – this will avoid splashing and spilling wine on your friends!
Swirl the wine around the glass gently three times and then lower your nose into the glass and take a long and deep sniff. Let the aromas fill your lungs!
This second nose allows you to detect the strongest aromas after having swirled the wine around.
Now, for the exciting part….
Swirl, Don’t Spill: A gentle circular motion should avoid splashing friends!
4. “The first sip should be just right – neither too big or too small.”
Our tongues taste wine first, so take a sip that is just the right size – not too big to overwhelm the mouth, and not too small to require taking another sip. There is no great art to sipping wine… but there is when it comes to gently trilling the wine in your mouth while sucking in a small amount of air through your lips. Practise makes perfect with this trilling technique – for the first few times you’ll cough and splutter – but after that you’ll lips will know what to do. Trilling absolutely helps the wine come alive in the mouth by quickly aerating the wine. Quick tip: placing your tongue lightly against the inside of your top front teeth will help.
Before you swallow, swill the wine around your mouth. This will help your tongue from getting tongue-tied as you will develop a keen sense of “mouthfeel”. Things to note here are – does the inside of your mouth feel heavy and dry? Or light and silky? During this stage, your tongue is working hard to perceive the texture of the wine. It is the presence of tannins in wines that tell you tongue if the wine is dry or smooth. Texture is a very important factor to establish before you swallow.
Now, finally, you are ready to swallow. Sorry for making you wait! After you have, the aromas first detected by the nose will now be transferred to the mouth. With swallowing, retronasal tasting connects the perceived aromas with the mouth and and allows you to perhaps taste different aromas than first perceived by your brain.
Now you have tasted the wine, your mind should be running wild with excitement and flavors. And you should be jotting them down for future reference. I always ask my guests to relax and just enjoying drinking their glass of wine. While it’s great to understand the art of tasting, it should never get in the way of enjoying it.
Before we finish, let’s quickly stop and talk about the length and finish of a wine. Like all good stories, wine has a beginning, middle and an end – otherwise known as a “finish”. This is the final taste in your mouth. Try your best to describe it.
Finally, before you take another generous sip of wine, stop. Think. How long did it take before the flavor of the wine disappeared? If it lingered eternally as Clos Marey-Monge Monopole 2014 is acclaimed for, we call this “length”.
11 Questions to Ask After Tasting Wine…
Did you like the wine?
What can you taste first?
What are the big flavors?
What are the smaller, subtler flavours?
How long could you taste the wine in your mouth?
How did it feel in the mouth?
How does it taste after you swallow?
Did the wine taste balanced or off-balance?
Did the wine taste too acidic, too alcoholic, too tannic?
What was memorable about it?
Did it make you feel, or remember, any emotions or memories?
Any more questions? Why not get in touch with our Wine Advisor Marion Lisi today!
Great Tasting Wines: Bourgogne Chardonnay 2013 and Clos Marey-Monge Monopole 2014