I never did the whole “bike through Tuscany wine tour” when I studied in Florence. I didn’t go to a wine tasting in some quaint farmhouse in the Tuscan hills or take a wine course offered as an extracurricular during my study abroad. And though I grew up under the influence of my nonno, a sort-of wine connoisseur, my wine knowledge only went as far as knowing he’d probably let me have some if I asked.
I spent my time in Florence marveling at how cheap the wine was and how it seemed to be perfectly acceptable to drink it on church steps – two impossible things in ‘Puritanical’ America. Despite those, or maybe because of, my interest and preference for wine continued to grow, so I was thrilled when Marco and I were offered the chance to take Il Tempo Ritrovato’s wine tasting course in Monza.
Every Tuesday for five weeks we’ll spend two hours learning about, and tasting, wine. Though I am obviously a complete amateur (hello, taking a course for a reason) I did learn a thing or two, and thought I’d share what I learned with you.*
The degustation is “to perceive, identify and evaluate the characteristics of wine through our sensory organs.” The ‘art’ of wine tasting is meant to help you describe and analyze the parameters that identify the quality of a wine; learn the wine’s characteristics to appreciate it more and to recognize its merits and defects.
To do so we need to use a specific method and lexicon. Professionals use this as a control during winemaking, to verify the eligibility of Doc-Docg (a certification), and for wine competitions.
For us amateurs wine tasting is a way to get to know new wines, to appreciate them more and simply because it’s pleasurable. The Italians certainly know how to enjoy life and I’d say that often includes a nice glass of wine!
Wine Tasting 101:
General Rules of Wine Tasting:
- Limit smoking, strong foods and excessive perfume before tastings
- Observe the wine by inclining the glass.
- Smell without holding the glass under the nose for too long.
- Limit the quantity of wine you drink.
- Hold the wine in your mouth for a couple of seconds.
There are three main parts of the wine tasting process: sight, smell and taste or “olfactory-taste” to be more accurate. Like I mentioned, wine tasting is a sensory experience.
- Clarity – absence of particles (not to be confused with transparency)
– Tone – the tint. Is it violet-red, ruby-red, orange-red? (It seems Italian has much better terms to describe different colors…)
– Intensity – the profoundness of the color
- Frankness – the absence of any unpleasant sensation.
- Intensity – the quantity of smell emitted and how long it lasts.
- Finesse – elegance (our instructor described it more as a feeling, difficult to define.)
- Harmony – the breadth and balance of the wine’s aromas.
(I promise we’re talking about wine still, I know it’s getting a little sultry in here!)
- Frankness – same definition as smell. In practice it is the absence of defects and the “non-interference of sensations more or less unpleasant.”
- Intensity – the impact.
- Body – the structure of the wine. It’s made from all those components of the wine that can’t evaporate (ever see little flecks at the bottom of a glass of red wine?)
- Harmony – the balance of flavors.
– Softness – from residual sugar, alcohol or glycerin.
– Hardness – from acidity, flavor or tannin, a component that comes from grape skins, stems and seeds that make wine dry or bitter (the “mouth feel.”)
- Persistence – how long the taste lasts in your mouth after swallowing
- Aftertaste – caused by the expulsion of perfumes through the nasal cavity after swallowing. It’s also known as “nose-mouth correspondence.”
Wine tasting is a combination of all these factors, usually done in about a minute and then, in the professional world, judged on a scale of 0-100. Of course there are dozens more particularities to the process that professional tasters attend to, but for us looking to simply enjoy and know more about our next glass of vino, I think this will do!
*Disclaimer: I make no claims about being an expert. These are my translated notes from one, two-hour course and are meant to be used as a basic introduction and a suggestion for a fun pastime.