We choose better wine at Mr.Wheeler, and it is our mission to help you choose better wine too. We want to instil in you the skills and expertise to help you enjoy a wonderful bottle. We firmly believe that the art of wine tasting is neither as obscure nor as challenging as is sometimes assumed. The next time the bottle is tilted and those glorious grapes are splashed into your glass at the table, we want you to know what to pay attention to. It is not necessary to be a sommelier to tell the difference between a quality wine and a something below par. You just need to know a few things to get you started.
Learn to read your nose
50 per cent of your taste comes from your sense of smell. Begin by swirling a little wine around in the glass before tasting, gently sniffing the fragrances released.
Things can go wrong with wine. Here are a few things to look (or sniff) out for:
If the level of reduction (too little oxygen during fermentation) is high, you’ll get the sulphurous odour of rotten eggs or boiled cabbage. Low levels will yield stony or minerally aromas.
When the wine has been exposed to too much oxygen, you’ll get nutty or toffee-like aromas, which can also smell like honey, but you will only sense weak to non-existent fruit fragrances.
- Trichloroanisole (TCA)
This is a chemical that forms when the wine has reacted with the cork or has been tainted at the winery. If you’re detecting a trace of damp cardboard, you can be certain that this has happened.
For wines that haven’t been tainted, we can differentiate between three different levels of aroma:
- Primary: the fruity and floral scents that enable you to distinguish between different varieties of grape.
- Secondary: the background flavours that come from the wine-making process as opposed to the grape, like the oaky fragrance (and flavour) of wines stored in oak casks.
- Tertiary: aromas arising from the wine’s ageing process. Wines that have been oxidised over lengthy periods in oak casks will typically yield aromas of chocolate and coffee in addition to the secondary aromas from the oak itself.
Using your palate
The overall flavour of a wine will depend heavily on the balance between three crucial components: sugar, tannin and acidity. Take a long sip and gently swill the wine around your mouth so that it sprays across your tongue, coating your gums. If you inhale a breath of air through puckered lips while tasting, oxygen is incorporated and the process of aeration will release flavour and aromas, developing the complexity of the bouquet. Allow the wine to linger a moment before swallowing.
The sweetness or ripeness of a wine depends on how much of the grape’s natural sugar has been left over after fermentation. A wine’s fruit flavours and alcohol concentration can also intensify the sense of sweetness (a wine’s acidity will usually have the reverse effect). Sweetness can be detected on the tip of the tongue.
A wine’s freshness comes from its degree of acidity. Wine acids are typically tartaric, lactic or malic. These are the ingredients that make your tongue zing and your mouth water. Acidity and sourness will be detected by the inner sides of the tongue.
The robust, complex flavours of red wines like Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon come from tannins. They are more prominent in red wines but can be present in heavily oaked whites.
The overall impression and feel the wine leaves in the mouth is known as the body. The higher the alcohol level, the higher the tannin level. Both make the wine taste more intense and full-bodied.
Finally, the finish: the pleasing sensation lingering on the palate after you’ve swallowed the wine. The better the wine, the longer the finish. Savour it. And if it’s good, order the bottle.
You don’t have to be a seasoned expert to know something valuable about what to look for when tasting a wine in a restaurant. We choose better wine at Mr.Wheeler, so you can practice and hone your wine-tasting skills with a fine wine from our selection before you are sat at the restaurant table.