Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wine Tasting: The Five S's

Wine tasting differs profoundly from wine drinking.  To truly taste wine there is a clear and definite process you can follow that enhances all aspects of the wine experience.  This process is known as Wine's Five S's.  These five simple steps can help you more fully enjoy wine and to deepen your ability to communicate your experience to others. Wine tasting is both a solitary and social endeavor.  The Five S's can heighten your enjoyment in both areas.

The Five S's

You've probably seen people very pretentiously holding wine glasses up in the air, swirling the glass, making sniffing noises and pontificating about their wine.  They, in their own way, are using the Five S's.  Putting aside the pomposity, the Five S's are truly helpful steps to enjoying wine tasting.  The Five S's are:
  • See
  • Swirl 
  • Sniff 
  • Sip 
  • and Savor.  
All are very simple and doable.  When done properly the Five S's open up a vista of enjoyment and camaraderie you may not have contemplated.  Let's get started.
Pour some wine into a clear wine glass.  It's important that the glass is clear and allows a full, unencumbered view of the wine.  You are looking for clarity and color.  The color of a wine can tell you much about the wine.  It may indicate its age.  The color of wine changes over time.  Take a moment to look at the wine. If it's a white wine  it may be gold, straw or watery white in color.  If the wine is red it may be ruby, purple or garnet.  Wines can vary widely in color depending on the grape varietal and its age.


This is one of my favorite steps.  Take the glass in your hands, holding it by stem or the base.  Your wrist needs to be held stiff.  Now swirl or rotate the glass.  The wine will swirl around the glass leaving what are called legs, long streams of wine.  The swirling allows more oxygen to mix with the wine allowing it to breathe and open up its aromas.  It may also give some hint as to the age of the wine. 


After you have swirled the wine place the glass at your chest and breathe in.  What do you detect?  Next, bring the glass to your chin and breathe in again.  What do you sense now?  Finally, bring the wine glass to your nose and take in a very full breath.  If you noticed an aroma at the chest level, the wine could be classified as highly aromatic.  Some wines are barely aromatic at all and are classified as neutral.  Red wines generally show earthiness, red berries, chocolate. vanilla and spice.  White wines present  apples, pears, melons, gooseberry and strawberries.   

Now you are ready to sip.  Pick up the glass and imbibe a good but modest amount of wine.  After the wine enters your mouth breathe in some air.  This will send oxygen to the wine opening up its flavors and aromas even more. Let the wine curl around your mouth.  Your taste buds will take care of the rest.  

As you are swirling the wine around your mouth, begin to savor it.  Note your sensations.  Are you picking up sweetness?  Is your mouth dry?  What about fruit and other flavors?  Do you get a sensation of fullness or lightness?  And what of the finish?  Does the flavor of the wine stay with you for a brief time or much longer?.  Is the finish sweet or bitter?  Did your savoring differ from what you sniffed?  You may notice layers of flavors in a good wine.  In fact, a good wine will change as it sits.  Watch for these changes.  

If you take some time with the Five S's, you  will begin to connect with the wine in very unexpected ways.  You may be surprised at what you experience.  I remember the thrill of picking up a strong whiff and taste of pineapple in a California Sauvignon Blanc.  Keep in mind, at the beginning you may not be able to pick up many aromas and flavors or you may find it difficult to distinguish one from the other.  Do not despair, it takes time.  But with some effort you  will grow to fully enjoy the wonderful world of wine tasting.  


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