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The Chloé Grandpierre Column no2

Wine tasting

To taste, this is in fact talking about you. I really like this idea because it is so true and it inspired me to write an article about the experience of tasting.

There are no quick tips or techniques to taste a wine perfectly. It is not an easy exercise and to succeed you need to ask yourself good questions. Is it true to say that the quality or the exceptional nature of the senses is innate? Not quite as a fraction of the population is not lucky. They suffer from anosmia which means they have no sense of smell and/or aguesia which means a loss of taste functions of the tongue, particularly the inability to detect sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness for example. A challenge indeed for a potential explorer of wine!

Suffice to say that everyone has the same capacity to smell and to taste at first. Even then you need to 'build' your senses. The more you stimulate them, the more they become strong, fine and sharp. Our eating habits, the place where we lived, the journeys we take, everything is important in the development of our senses of taste and smell.

Sight is the first sense we use during the tasting. Hearing we can forget for the moment as it is only relevant for sparkling wines. Describing the colour of a wine is easy. The adjectives of the French language are really rich. In English it is rather different, for example red, yellow, gold, ruby, topaz, or straw.

Next come taste and smell. These are the most important senses. The sense of smell is the most difficult to describe because we use the vocabulary of the other senses to describe it. We say that the nose is round, biting, sugary, gourmand which is the vocabulary of taste and touch.

Forget what you read in books as there is no map of the tongue's tastes. Sugar on the top of the tongue, salt in the back, bitter on the sides all of which is WRONG! Everyone has their own map of tastes on their tongue.

Before tasting you have to respect some basic rules. You have to be in a perfect situation. Well, you have to try! There is a famous rule which is the P = 3P. This means that the Perception is the Person (you, me) + the Place (the place, the glass, the temperature) + the Product (the wine or the spirit). Let's see how you can control the Place, which is the only P you can affect.

The place
Ideally, you should be in a neutral area that is without smells, noise or bold colours.

To observe the colour of a wine or a spirit correctly you should have a white napkin or a white tablecloth.

Lighting is also very important. Natural white lights or halogen are the best. Hygrometry and the atmospheric pressure play a minimal role in the wine tasting, so I will not talk about them.

The glass

There are INAO glasses, famous brands like Riedel and also innovative glasses. What are the choices you have to make? A flute for the Champagne? A large glass for a Burgundy wine? A classical glass for a Bordeaux wine?

I say don’t bother with all of this. The ideal wine glass has a tulip form which is wider and rounded in the bottom. You can grasp it on the top so that the wine can be swirled without putting drops everywhere yet you can still catch the flavours. I entreat you not to take a very big glass such as a pub wine glass or the 'tastevin' of Burgundy. It is crucial to smell the glass before the tasting to verify that there are no intrusive odours.

I suggest that you choose an INAO glass as the proportions are perfect which makes it much less complicated. The size and thickness influence the wine's texture. A breath represents 300ml of air. The INAO glass has a capacity of 225ml.

I confess that I have a strong leaning towards Riedel. Everyone will have their preferred glass.

The temperature
The place must be at 'room temperature' and the glass should certainly not be straight from the dishwasher or washing up because it will heat up the wine artificially. The temperature of the wine is also really important. A white wine needs to be between 8° to 14°C unlike a red wine which ideally should be between 15 and 20°C. Champagne is best between 7° to 14°C for very nice cuvée.

To reiterate, to taste is talking about yourself which can be a very difficult exercise. The other elements of P = 3P, People and Product are completely outside of your influence. It is important to be aware that if you're stressed or unwell that will influence your Perception.

The goal of the tasting is to recognize smells, tastes, flavours and textures. Tasting is also pleasure. Because I'm a professional it is easy to forget the sheer enjoyment when tasting wine. For me the sheer enjoyment comes second. When you're an amateur the sheer pleasure is the most important thing. I strongly encourage you to have the courage to argue your corner if you like a wine and someone disagrees. Say ‘Well, I like it because …’ and stand by your opinion.

All wines have their signatures which appeal to some tasters and not others so I encourage you to appreciate a wine, drink it with people you love and enjoy the moment!

Chloé Grandpierre
Oenologist   /   Professionnel du Vin, Bailliage of France