How to taste a wine without making a fool of yourself in the attempt

It is one of the most parodied winelover moments: someone orders a bottle of wine in a restaurant and the waiter pours a little into a glass for them to try. Tracing circles, he moves the wine inside the glass, brings it up to his nose, sniffs it and drinks a little. And if he's fine, he tells the waiter that yes, the wine is good, he can serve the rest of the table.

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What does all this ceremonial mean? How much do you have to know about wine to complete that ritual without making a fool of yourself? What would have to happen to the wine for us to have to reject it?

looking for flaws

That initial contact with the wine is not to see if we like it, but to check that it has no defects: it may be corked. This can happen when the wine is contaminated with TCA (Tricoloranisole), a component that can appear in the cork as a result of defective drying. A "contamination" that does not make the wine toxic, but rather affects its organoleptic properties. That is why you can often see a sommelier smelling a cork that he has just extracted: it is usually the first detector that a wine may be corked, when it smells of excessive humidity. In the glass, the wine loses its characteristic aromas and the smell of cork predominates. Sometimes we hear expressions like "chopped" to describe a wine that has gone bad. In fact, it usually refers to an excess of acetic acid, a manufacturing defect that does not often occur today. Even a wine may have oxidized, from being open for too many days.

Sometimes, TCA has not been a mere mishap or a thing of some bottles: one of the most polluting causes was the treatments that were made to the wooden pallets in the wineries, which infected the cork and then the wine. Some of them even tackled major remodeling to eliminate the problem. Cork is part of the wine tradition, but there are wineries that are committed to innovating in this field as well. There are silicone corks or corks made with smart materials and some wines don't even have them: they are screwed, a closure that does not affect the quality of the wine. Outside of Europe and in many German wineries they opt for this stopper for their wines. Veneers are even used in some sparkling wines using the ancestral method.

What do we look at when we taste a wine

The language used in the field or in the winery to refer to anything related to viticulture or production is more precise and leaves no room for doubt, but when a bottle is uncorked things change: the experience is described in a different way. more literary. Beyond the tasting sheets, where a more standardized language is used to describe parameters such as acidity or aroma, tasting a wine becomes a succession of descriptors that often plays with comparisons and literary figures that, on occasion, can drive away the inexperienced consumer.

Before deciding if we like a wine, we are likely to look at its color, which speaks of its age, the grape variety or its production process. It can be brighter and with softer colors when it is a younger wine. A Pinot Noir has less color than a Cabernet Sauvignon. And if a white macerates with skins, it can give the impression that it is older than it really is. Or we can hear that it is an orange wine: attention, orange wine is something else. Once it enters through the eyes, comes the olfactory phase: the wine can present primary aromas, which come from the grape variety, secondary - from fermentation - and tertiary, a product of aging (the aroma of vanilla, for example, is the result of the contribution of the American oak from the barrels). It can have scents reminiscent of different families of flowers or fruits, but they are usually not pure and in fact, when they have very obvious or excessive aromas, it can be considered as something negative.

He fills his mouth… with adjectives

In the descriptions of a wine, all kinds of adjectives can be heard: being maderized, round, flat, fresh and, depending on the acidity, we could describe it as vertical, or even tense. A wine can even have edges and one can even talk about its minerality, a characteristic that can be defined by the soil in which the vines are planted. We can also hear that a wine is short or long, depending on the persistence of the sensation when we have already drunk it. Something different is the aftertaste, a somewhat obsolete word, which refers to the aromas that reach the nose when the wine has already been drunk. The expression “tear” is quite poetic, although it does not serve to describe a wine: it is the trace left by the alcohol in the glass, so it does not say much about the quality of what is being drunk.

Opt for a wine and decant it

In some houses it is adorned in a showcase, but a decanter has its uses: it is used to jug the wine and also to decant it, if necessary. The jarreado is a rapid oxygenation, so that the wine (it is usually done with some young people) is more expressive, it opens. For that, it is poured into the decanter quickly and forcefully. Another thing is very old wines, in which deposits can be seen. To separate the liquid part from the solid, it is poured very carefully. The grounds, by the way, are coloring matter that is detached from the liquid. We could also find bitartrates, tartaric acid crystallites that are formed by changes in temperature and that do not affect the quality of the wine either.

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