Wine Tasting Tool Box
Part 1: Sight
Sight is the first tool you will use in the wine tasting process. The visual clues that one receives from looking at a glass of wine can be illuminating. One can learn about the probable age, overall condition, as well as the probable “weight” of the wine from merely studying the wine closely. The best possible way to examine wine is over a neutral, preferably white background, lit by natural lighting above.
The wineglass should not be overfilled, since it is best to tilt the glass to an approximate 45-degree angle over the background. Tilting the glass affords the best way to examine the edge, or disc of the wine in contrast to the body, or robe of the wine.
White wines grow darker and often take on a more caramel color as they age. Prematurely aged or oxidized wines are often brown and dull in appearance due to the action of oxygen on the wine.
White wines that have a more golden hue and still remain bright are likely to be fuller-bodied and have likely been aged in oak or “on the lees.”
White wines that have a more pronounced green tint were probably made with grapes picked before they were fully ripe. While not a flaw, green tinted white wines may have more acidity and more tartness on the palate. Stylistically, this may be the desired or natural outcome for certain wines.
Red wines that are brightly colored with more red pigments (as opposed to blue pigments) are apt to be higher in natural acidity. The converse: red wines that are less brightly colored with more blue pigments, generally means that a wine will have less acidity.
Red wines fade as they age. While this is a perfectly natural part of the aging process, younger wines that appear prematurely faded, may be flawed or damaged, or at the very least extremely oxidative.
It is acceptable for certain wines to throw a sediment. Full-bodied, unfiltered red wines will almost always develop a natural sediment due to aging. Full-bodied fortified wines, like Port, which are not filtered and bottled without the benefit of extended cask aging, are also expected to develop a natural sediment. In the case of wines that have a high probability of developing sediment, care in handling during transport from cellar to table, as well as care during the decanting process is essential. When visually inspecting a glass of older wine, especially in a restaurant setting, be mindful to watch for unwanted sediment floating in the wine. Perhaps the bottle was mishandled during transport, or perhaps the bottle was not decanted properly, or not decanted at all. In a word, though, sediment is NOT something anyone wants to taste. It does not mark a flaw, but could call into question the wine service at a particular restaurant, though.
Be careful not to confuse the aforementioned sediment with a crystalline deposit that can sometimes develop (especially on the end of the cork) as a result of tartrates precipitating out of solution. Typically these tartrates are harmless and have little bearing on quality. Unlike other forms of sediment, tartrates tend to adhere to the cork, which often limits their presence in suspension.
General cloudiness can be an indicator of flaws, or possibly just poorly made wine. Still table wine should always be clear and generally bright.