The Impact of Oak During Wine Making

By creation, April 16th, 2014, | No Comments »

Over the past two weeks (as the grapes were harvested) we focussed on Creation’s Syrah – in the vineyard and also in the cellar. This week, as the young wine is transferred into oak barrels for maturation, we look at the impact of oak on the wine.

The impact of oak on the style of any wine is one of the key factors of production, and barrel choices made by Creation Wines’ cellarmaster JC Martin impact the final flavour profile and tannin structure of the wine. Oak influences different wines in many different ways and the winemaker’s job of selecting the correct barrel and then judging the correct application is an art in itself. Oak is the only permitted flavour altering additive, and one which forms an integral cog in the evolutionary mechanics of wine. As such, it deserves close attention.

JC discussing soon-to-be-bottled 2013 Syrah with sommeliers Mike Buthelezi (centre) and Luyolo Nncqwabe (right) of the Signature restaurant group

Origin

There are three major barrel producing areas across the globe: France, the USA and Eastern Europe, and the origins of a barrel often hold important clues to its attributes.

French Oak (Quercus petraea/robur)

The craft of barrel-making was born in France, where the Gauls produced wooden storage vessels for wine known as ‘cupals’.  The craftsmen who made them were ‘cuparius’, from which we get the modern word ‘cooper’ (although the earliest recorded use of wooden storage vessels far pre-dates Christian times). French oak is typically more porous and thus a wider array of flavours can be extracted – including spicier notes and there is also noticeably higher tannin content in French oak. Oak is sourced from state-owned forests at premium prices, and must be hand split with the grain, making for some of the most expensive barrels available, prized for their quality, imbued by the workmanship and nous of a trade that takes 7 years to master!

American Oak (Quercus alba)

American oak is structurally different from European oak and tends to be higher in wood sugars as well as flavour compounds responsible for vanilla and caramelised notes. The woods tend to be privately owned and lower priced, and the straight grain means it can be machine cut (as opposed to hand split as in France) – meaning a yield four times that of European oak.

Hungarian/Slovenian Oak (Quercus petraea)

Genetically similar to French oak, however slower growth means a tighter grain and less extraction, as well as lower tannins. The oak also reacts differently to the toasting process, producing a unique set of flavours. It is priced mid-way between French and American oak and is often used to add complexity.

JC doing Syrah punch-down in wooden fermenter

Toasting

Toasting a barrel is the process of burning a wood fire in the centre of the oak staves, charring them. This process creates and releases certain desirable flavour compounds in the wood which are in turn extracted by the wine during barrel maturation. Toast is measured from light to heavy and each level results in different flavours. Oak sourced from different areas and climates respond differently to the toasting process; to judge which level of toast will most benefit the character of an individual barrel the cooper uses experience, skill and intuition.

Size

Size plays a significant role in the way wine extracts flavour – the larger the barrel the higher the ratio of wine to extractable flavour compounds and thus the more subtle the perception of oak. The most common size is the 225-litre Bordeaux barrique, although the 300- litre hogshead has also become popular of late. 500-litre barrels are also common. Large wooden vats with a capacity of more than 1 000 litres are known as ‘foudres’ and can be used for many years.

New vs Old

When a barrel is filled with wine for the first time it is called a ‘first fill’, the second time it becomes ‘second fill’ and so on. The significance of this lies in the limited supply of extract available. The first fill of a barrel absorbs about 50% of the flavour and tannin in the barrel, the second fill 25% and then less each year as the barrel ages until it is merely a storage vessel, imparting little flavour. Often the winemaker will use a mix of barrels, perhaps 30% first fill as with the Creation Syrah, with the balance being made up of wines in second and third fill barrels. The wines from the different barrels will be pumped into large tanks and blended before bottling.

Aeration

Apart from imparting flavours, oak barrels are also uniquely suited to the slow aeration and maturation of young wines. The process of racking wine from one barrel to another, leaving any sediment behind, also oxygenates the wine. Oxygen is extremely important in the tannin development and integration as it allows tannin molecules to polymerize and become less obtrusive, improving the mouth-feel of the wine.

Oxygen also interacts with certain flavour compounds to impart desirable aromas. The rate at which wine evaporates from barrels requires it to be topped up every couple of weeks, or there is a risk of too much oxygen which causes the wine to oxidise.

Barrel maturation is a vital process in the journey from grape to glass, and one which requires patience as our Syrah 2014 is about to find out. It will spend the next 14 months in the cool, slightly humid stillness of the 500-litre barrel maturation cellar, visible through glass inserts in the floor as you enter the tasting room at Creation as a neat collection of French oak barriques, stacked four high. During their stay they will switch barrels three times, each time becoming clearer and approaching readiness to drink as they leave sediment behind and develop rich aromas and supple structures. 

Wine and the Mechanics of Flavour

By creation, April 10th, 2014, | No Comments »

Taste and flavour are concepts which we understand through experience, and which undoubtedly contribute to our enjoyment of life on a regular basis. Each meal we prepare is seasoned to our personal taste and we experiment with exotic ingredients and new techniques to improve the way our food tastes, journeying on culinary voyages of discovery.

The ability of scents and flavours to conjure up memories is uniquely powerful among the various senses, making deep impressions that can flash to life with just one familiar whiff. The perception of flavour is one of the most complex processes and in the wine industry much depends on it; it is a critical element in any purchase decision made by a wine lover and as such it is an important factor to understand.

Taste itself is a fairly simple concept, but one which has rather complicated implications. The palate can only detect five individual tastes: bitter, sour, sweet, salt and umami – but this doesn’t explain the ability to differentiate thousands of individual flavours. Smell is literally the binding of an odour molecule to a neuron receptor, which carries a message to our olfactory bulb which is then processed by the cortex.

In the human retro-nasal cavity we can detect scents from our oral cavity, and it is here that flavour is formed. These scents are processed by different parts of the brain: the frontal cortex and emotion centres, explaining to some extent the huge impact that food has on culture and society. Also, perceiving the location of the scents to be inside the mouth makes the brain combine smell and taste to create flavour, aided by the wide, open shape of the human retro-nasal cavity.

Aroma is of course an important factor in our ability to taste wine; wine in turn, changes and evolves over time. Once a wine has been bottled it is in a reductive environment – it has no access to oxygen. Over time the various flavour carrying molecules react in different ways and develop into new flavours. When the time arrives for the wine to be consumed, the cork is removed and oxygen is suddenly re-introduced to the new flavour molecules.

Some of these will dissipate into the air and disappear, while others which are volatile will be extremely noticeable. However, these volatile molecules often bind to the oxygen and become too large to escape the liquid.

Other molecules will become noticeable only once they have been exposed to oxygen, and so become more prominent over time in the glass or decanter. Oxygen also interacts with tannins in wine, polymerising them until they are too complex to bind readily with protein, causing the wine to be softer on the palate.

Syrah represents one of the largest plantings on the Creation estate, situated on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge in the Walker Bay district.

The blocks are planted on the highest slopes of the farm, facing west; with a north-south row direction, on 450-million-year-old heavy clay derived Bokkeveld shale soils. The continentality that results from the 300 m elevation is a unique feature of the Ridge, differing significantly from the lower lying areas and resulting in a wide diurnal range with a cool night index of 12 degrees Celsius.

The difference between day and night time temperatures during ripening season has a marked effect on the concentration of the fruit and helps to retain natural acidity. Other major influences are the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, just 9 km across the Kleinrivier Mountains, and the cooling south-westerly sea breezes and thermic winds that funnel up in the valley.

In the vineyard Syrah can be a prolific producer if not managed. It is a strong grower with a low susceptibility to disease, although the correct rootstock is essential to avoid chlorosis. Lower cropping clones 22F and 9C were chosen for their restrained production. Being virus-free clones (as with all vines planted on Creation) they are not sensitive to Shiraz Decline disease.

In the cellar

The Syrah grapes are harvested at optimal physiological ripeness, with sugar, tannin and acidity in balance. The bunches are 100% de-stemmed before fermentation, which lasts about 7 days. There is skin contact up to 2 weeks, the wine is then pressed to remove it from the skins and racked into 225-litre French oak barriques, 30% new, with the balance 2nd and 3rd fill. This is where secondary or malolactic fermentation takes place. The wine is racked again until it is clear, and bottled 14 months from harvest.

The Creation Syrah exhibits typical cool climate minerality and excellent natural acidity. Because of the long, slow ripening conditions present on the Ridge the tannin structure of the wine is supple without being overripe or jammy, affording it a silky mouth-feel but with the structure to age gracefully.

For more information on Creation Syrah click here.  

Chardonnay occupies a unique position in the world of wine, both because of the wide spectrum of styles to which it easily and successfully adapts and because of the intensity and complexity that are hallmarks of the finest examples of this widely produced variety.

The potential for truly exceptional pairings with Chardonnay is attractive, but the complexity and range of styles can also make it a daunting task. With a focus on food-friendly wines and producing a multi-award winning Chardonnay, Creation Wines has compiled the following points to make pairing Chardonnay as simple and successful as possible:

1. Progression

Progression is one of the central precepts of any pairing exercise – it is the process of moving from lighter, less complex wines to heavier, more complex wines as the meal progresses. The following rules cover most situations when progression order is being established:

          White wine before red

          Light-bodied before full-bodied

          Low alcohol before high alcohol

          Dry wine before sweet wine

          Younger wine before vintage wine

          Simpler wine before complex wine

          Humble wine before grand wine

Chardonnay, especially oaked Chardonnay, tends to have a fuller bodied palate and many layers of aroma and flavour – often evolving and developing new aspects in the glass, over time. For this reason Chardonnay, especially vintage Chardonnay, is usually the last wine served before moving on to red wines and can be served with rich and complex dishes quite easily.

2. If it grows together it goes together

Another great tip when pairing food to wine is the idea that regional dishes tend to work perfectly with wines and wine styles that are endemic to that region. For instance, what could be better with the Creation Chardonnay 2013 than a fresh crayfish from Walker Bay, simply yet deliciously cooked.

3. Let your senses guide you

Pairing food to wine is not always a simple matter of looking for similar flavour profiles to complement the wine. Several senses are stimulated and factors such as weight, volume and texture are integral to the way your palate interprets the wine’s mouth-feel. There is also the dichotomy between traditional horizontal pairing (where one seeks to layer similar flavours) and the more radical, vertical pairing which seeks to use contrast (whether it be contrast in taste, texture, temperature – even colour) to effect a pairing.

4. The perfect temperature

The main effect of temperature on a liquid is the volatility of the aromatic compounds. This determines how many aroma molecules reach our nose and can thus be smelled. The colder, the slower and less volatile they are, the less aromatic a wine will be.


At the other end, when too warm, many of the enjoyable molecules are gone before you can smell them, and alcohol becomes the dominant smell.

Taste and texture notably affect the perception of tannin in wine – the cooler a wine the more astringent the tannins are perceived to be – hence the serving of white wines (which almost entirely lack tannin) at a cooler temperature than red wines which are rich in tannins.

Acidity on the other hand is more noticeable at higher temperatures. High acid whites are thus better served cooler than low acid red wines. The effect of temperature on the perceived balance of tannin, acid and consequently the perception of fruit flavours is thus pivotal in our perception of a wine’s structure.

Luckily all wine types are similarly affected by temperature, which means that it is possible to make the following a guideline when determining the best temperature: the heavier the wine’s tannin structure and the lower its acidity, the warmer it should be served. Low tannin, higher acid wines are best served colder to maximise refreshment. The range is generally from about 8° C for the higher acid white wines up to about 18º C for the seriously complex and older reds – which is slightly cooler than the average home or restaurant.

Top flight Chardonnays exhibiting incredible nuance, complexity and intensity (often having undergone extended barrel maturation) should therefore be served at a similar temperature to red Burgundy – around 12° C.

Chardonnay is not only a malleable and versatile grape that lends itself to a wide range of winemaking styles, it also has the potential to pair beautifully with food and flavours from across the culinary spectrum.

Celebrating Chardonnay this March, Creation’s kitchen team led by Warwick Taylor have been happily experimenting with interesting combinations that complement the Creation Chardonnay 2013.

“On the nose glorious layers of sun-kissed pear and peach are enhanced by fresh minerality and a hint of piquant vanilla. The full-bodied palate is in perfect harmony: generously fruity and subtly spicy, with well-judged acidity contributing excellent balance and a lively, lingering aftertaste.”

With this in mind the innovative team of chefs set out to encompass the spirit of Creation Chardonnay in the following four recipes:

 

Crayfish Ravioli, Pineapple, Basil, Pan-Fried Cucumber, Chardonnay, Coconut and Vanilla Sauce

Warwick Taylor

In this recipe the aim was to take a classic Chardonnay pairing – crayfish – and give it a fresh twist.

Serves 4

Ravioli

Ingredients

250 g “OO’ flour

3 whole eggs

2 egg yolks

1 tbls olive oil

1 pinch salt

1 egg white for brushing pasta

1 tail cooked crayfish cubed

½ tail crayfish raw

50 ml cream

salt to season

 

Method

1.    In a bowl, mix the flour, salt and olive oil.

2.    Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks.

3.    Mix to form dough.

4.    Knead until a smooth texture is achieved.

5.    Place in the fridge for 1 hour.

6.    Blend the raw crayfish with the cream and season.

7.    Mix into cubed crayfish.

8.    Roll into four 80 g balls.

9.    Roll out pasta, cut out 8 circles of 12 cm diameter and brush with egg white.

10.Place crayfish in the middle of four of the pieces of pasta.

11.Overlay the second piece of pasta and pinch sides together, trying to exclude as much air as possible.

12.Poach in salted water. When it rises to the top it is done.

 

Sauce

Ingredients

200 ml Creation Chardonnay

60 ml cream

50 ml coconut milk

1 pod vanilla

20 g butter

salt to season

 

Method

1.    Reduce the Chardonnay in a pot to half.

2.    Add coconut milk and reduce further.

3.    Add cream and split vanilla pod.

4.    Season and whisk in butter.

 

 

Garnish

Ingredients

300 g chopped pineapple

3 broad basil leaves

10 ml olive oil

12 batons cut cucumber as per photograph

 

Method

1.    Heat cucumber in a pan with olive oil and season.

2.    Heat pineapple with olive oil, season with salt and add basil.

Plate as per photograph.

 

Warwick Taylor

 

Fresh Valley Mushroom Salad with a Wholegrain Mustard and Chardonnay Grape Juice Dressing

Jaco Grové

A deliciously earthy and rustic salad with a real touch of class: local mushrooms from the Hemel-en-Aarde with fresh juice from Chardonnay grapes harvested on Creation as a dressing.

Serves 2

For the salad

·       fresh king oyster mushroom thinly sliced

·       fresh shitake mushroom thinly sliced

·       any tomato – deseeded and thinly sliced

·       cucumber peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise

·       pea shoots

·       red onion thinly sliced

·       rind of one lemon

·       finely chopped curly parsley

Mix the salad together and sprinkle the parsley and lemon rind over with some maldon salt and olive oil.

For the dressing

·       1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

·       1 small bunch curly parsley

·       2 bunches Chardonnay grapes

·       2 teaspoons honey

·       juice of ½ lemon

·       salt to taste

·       ½ cup oil

Blend all the ingredients in a blender until smooth and strain through a fine sieve.

Jaco Grové

 

Butternut Fritters

Charlene Pie

This scrumptious recipe offers two variations: Toasted Almond and Coconut and Cinnamon Sugar.

Makes 20 teaspoon sized fritters.

You need 1 whole butternut and a deep fryer or medium-sized pot filled halfway with cooking oil.

Toasted Almond and Coconut Fritters

50 g toasted almonds

50 g toasted desiccated coconut

15 g chopped parsley

pinch ground cloves

pinch ground cardamom

2 pinches ground aniseed

5 g baking powder

75 g cake flour

10 g castor sugar

5 g salt

 

Cinnamon Sugar Fritters

100 g cinnamon sugar mix

5 g baking powder

75 g cake flour

10 g cinnamon sugar mix

5 g salt

 

Method

Heat deep frying oil to about 175° C.

Place whole butternut in the oven at 180° C for about 1 hour or till it is easily pierced with a knife.

Remove from oven, cut in half lengthwise and allow to cool.

Scoop out the flesh and divide into two bowls.

Bowl 1 should contain 10 g almonds, 10 g desiccated coconut, 5 g chopped parsley and the rest of the ingredients from ground cloves to the salt. The rest of the almond, parsley and coconut can be mixed and placed in a bowl.

Bowl 2 should include the ingredients from baking powder to salt. The 100 g cinnamon sugar can be placed in a separate bowl.

When these two mixtures have been mixed, start with one or the other by dipping two teaspoons in the oil to prevent the fritter mix from sticking.

Scoop out some mixture and use the second teaspoon to help the mixture off the other spoon into the oil.

Only do about 5 fritters at a time.

When in the case of the cinnamon sugar fritters they are a nice golden colour, you can strain them out with a slotted spoon onto paper towel and then roll them in the bowl with cinnamon sugar.

Garnish as seen in the photograph. 

Charlene Pie

 

Pear Flan with Pear and Toasted Almond Sorbet

Eleanor Niehaus

Delicious on its own, this yummy flan is a sensation when paired with the Creation Chardonnay 2013.

Serves 4

Flan Ingredients

Today shortcrust pastry

Frangipane

170 g castor sugar

170 g salted butter

3 eggs

140 g ground almonds

30 g cake flour

2 fresh pears, cored and sliced thinly

Method

Line the mould that you are going to use with shortcrust pastry and prick with a fork.

Blind bake for 15 minutes.

Take out baking beans and bake for another 7 minutes.

Cool down and remove the pastry from the mould.

Mix ground almonds and cake flour together.

Place sugar, butter and eggs in a mixer and mix till smooth.

Add this to the flour mix, only mix till combined and place in piping bag.

Pipe the frangipane mix into the shortcrust mould till it is filled halfway.

Fan out sliced pears onto your frangipane and brush with sugar syrup.

Bake at 175° C for 20 to 25 minutes.

Sorbet and Puree Ingredients

3 fresh pears, cored, peeled and cut into blocks.

200 g castor sugar

200 ml water

50 g toasted almonds

 

Method

Place all the above ingredients in a pot, cover with foil and cook on medium heat till liquid has reduced by half and pears are soft.

Blend in a bar blender till smooth and pass through a fine strainer.

Place 1/3 of your puree on the side for garnish and the rest in the sorbet machine till it can be scooped out and place in the freezer.

Dried Pear Ingredients

1 pear (thinly sliced whole pear)

100 ml water

100 g castor sugar

 

Method

Dissolve the sugar over low heat.

Add thinly sliced pear to the sugar syrup.

Eleanor Niehaus

Chardonnay is undoubtedly one of the great wine producing grapes of the world, with statistics showing that it is the 5th most planted cultivar globally (second if you exclude red wine cultivars).

It is popular with producers and consumers alike – demonstrated by the facts that it is planted in more grape growing areas than any other grape and is the most widely recognisable cultivar internationally.

From the winemaker’s perspective Chardonnay is easy to work with and has the potential to produce excellent, quality focussed wines in a wide range of styles, while remaining terroir-expressive. Jean-Claude Martin, owner, cellarmaster and viticulturist of Creation Wines, says of Chardonnay:

“Chardonnay is generally regarded as quite a neutral cultivar and this is why the terroir seems to impact more on Chardonnay than on other white cultivars, which have very specific characteristics, such as the fragrant nose of Viognier or the tropical fruit tones of Sauvignon Blanc.

Chardonnay is most expressive of site which has an impact on the minerality of a wine.” On the hotly debated subject of minerality Jean-Claude says: “For us it is the effect of terroir which influences the growth pattern of the vine and therefore has an impact on the quality of the grapes as well as the winemaking style.” (It may be interesting to note that ‘site’ includes altitude, aspect, weather and soil conditions, while ‘terroir’ covers site, vineyard practice and winemaking.)

Chardonnay is prolific, with potentially high yields and vigorous canopy growth, so vineyard maintenance is a priority, although site and clone selection can go a long way towards managing vigour in the foundation phases. Lower yields result in noticeable concentration of flavour, especially from vines producing smaller berries.

It is an early budding variety but enjoys an even and slow growing season as found on the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. Short spells of intense heat can lead to excessive sugar accumulation,but the cool night index and cooling influences of the Atlantic Ocean as well as the southwesterly seabreezes delay ripening here by up to two weeks compared to nearby areas.

In the cellar, Chardonnay presents the winemaker with a number of options, most of which it responds to extremely well, being a malleable cultivar which easily adopts the personality of the winemaker and its terroir. Although Chardonnay traditionally benefits from oak maturation, un-oaked Chardonnay has become popular of late, ranging in style from leaner steely mineral-driven styles to riper tropical fruit-led wines (especially from warmer climates).

Oaked Chardonnay can also be lean and minerally in style, but oak adds texture, richness, complexity and in many cases allows for extended bottle ageing. In-barrel contact with lees (the dead yeast cells left over after primary fermentation) acts as a natural preservative and can lend an appealing creaminess to the mid-palate without compromising freshness and structure. It can also add autolytic flavours – this can be encouraged by batonage, the process of stirring up lees in the barrels as the wine undergoes oak maturation.

Malolactic fermentation – the conversion of aggressive malic acid (present in the grape at harvest time) to mild acid called lactic acid – occurs during secondary fermentation.This process lowers the perceived acidity of the wine, making it rounder on the palate. Some winemakers believe that it can also mitigate the harshness associated with new oak, softening its dominance and allowing for better integration.

The Creation Chardonnay 2013 seeks to balance the richness and depth of judicious oak maturation with excellent acidity and generous fruit. It was produced from three Dijon clones planted on east and southeast facing slopes:

76 – Medium bunch weight; balanced and restrained wines. Good quality and regular production.

95 – Medium bunch weight; fuller richer aromatic wines. Performs well in most situations.

96 – Leaner wines structurally with good acidity, good quality and regular production.

All three clones are quality focussed and suited to heavier soils like the clay derived Bokkeveld shale soils of the Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge which are 450 million years old. Thanks to soils lending structure and considered clonal choices helping to control vigour, Creation Chardonnay has quickly established itself as a wine of rare elegance, balance, distinction and finesse. Barrel fermented in 30% new oak, the 2013 vintage was aged for 8 months in barrel with fortnightly batonage. 

Starting a Wine Club: Where do I Begin?

By creation, February 19th, 2014, | No Comments »

How to start a wine club

Who do I invite?

You may already have a fair idea of who you would like to join you in establishing a wine club. Friends and family are the easiest place to start and wine tasting is a great after-hours team building social activity for work colleagues.

Use social networks such as Twitter or Facebook as a platform to test the waters and generate some interest. Get a feel for what appeals to people and see how it fits in with your own vision of a wine club. Although it may be tempting to throw a big party with lots of wine, it’s best to start small with about 6 – 10 eager oenophiles – there will be plenty of time to expand it as your interest in wine grows.

Location, Location, Location

Most wine clubs meet once a month, with the location rotating so that each member gets a chance to host the meeting. Private homes are usually preferable to meeting in restaurants or hiring a venue, however once your wine club becomes more serious it is great fun to have an intimate food and wine pairing evening at your favourite local restaurant.

The venue should have adequate comfortable seating, good natural light and facilities for chilling wine.  

 

What else do I need?

Once you have decided on a time and a place, it is best to start planning your wine club well in advance to avoid any unnecessary stress and to ensure that you can relax and enjoy the experience on the day. There are a few basic items and ideas that will help you avoid any pitfalls.

Theme:

It is always a good idea to decide on a theme for the tasting – this will help you to choose the wines as well as set the mood. There is so much variety that the list of possible themes is endless, here are some ideas:

-       Cool climate vs warm climate

-       Interesting and unusual varietals

-       Wines from a certain area

-       A specific cultivar from different areas

-       Vertical tastings

Assessment Forms:

Creation has provided you with wine assessment forms so that you can record your impressions and evaluate the wines you taste professionally. These can then be filed and used as a reference. Our assessment form also includes a tasting wheel, which will help you to describe the wines you taste and assess them professionally.

Equipment:

-       Stemware (see below the importance of stemware)

-       Crackers or cheese

-       Ice water and water glasses

-       Pens/pencils

-       Corkscrew

-       Decanter

-       Spittoons

Preparations on the day:

Make sure that your glasses are clean, free of aromas and polished. Set them out with white wine glasses on the left and red wine glasses on the right. Wine should be opened a few hours before the tasting to allow it to breathe. You may also want to decant the wine if you don’t have a lot of time beforehand to allow the wine to breathe.

 

How to Taste Wine

Although tasting wine may seem a simple matter of raising a glass to your lips and taking a sip, there are a number of processes that take place, and understanding these is a vital part of tasting wine. Remember that the palate can only distinguish a few basic tastes: salt, sweet, bitter, sour and umami.

Our sense of smell, however, can pick out millions of unique scents, and it is the combination of these two as well as the mouth-feel of the wine that determines the overall flavour profile. So here are the 3 simple steps to follow when assessing wine:

 

1. Colour and Clarity

The best way to do this is to tilt the glass against a white background and inspect the colour, from the rim to the centre, and take note of the clarity and opacity of the wine.

Assess colour:

White Wine ranges from pale lemon to deep yellow

Red Wine ranges from deep purple to pale garnet

 

2. Aroma

Our sense of smell is critical in analysing a glass of wine. While there are only 5 different taste receptors, the bouquet of a wine can have thousands of different interpretations.

3. Taste

Finally! Start with a small sip and let it roll around in your mouth, reaching every part of the palate.

You will find that there are three distinct stages that the wine will go through on the palate.

Your first impression. This stage is influenced by alcohol content, tannin levels, acidity and residual sugar. These four factors affect the structure of the wine – how it feels in the mouth. They all work together to make the wine feel heavy or light, fresh or creamy, dry or sweet. This also gives a good impression of the intensity and complexity of the wine. Ideally these components will be well-balanced: one component will not be more prominent than the others. Note that you have not yet started looking for specific flavours.

The second stage is the evolution of the wine and takes place on the mid-palate. This is the wine’s actual taste. In this phase you can discern the flavour profile of the wine. In red wine you may start noting fruit – berry, plum, prune or perhaps some spice – pepper, clove, cinnamon and maybe some earthiness or oak or smokiness. In white wines you will find tropical or citrus fruits and floral notes like peach blossoms or rose petals.

The third and final stage is called the finish. This is how long the flavour of the wine lasts after it is swallowed, and the flavour of the aftertaste. This can also indicate other factors such as how dry the wine is or whether it is light (the texture of water) medium-bodied (the texture of milk) or full-bodied (the texture of cream).

  

Tasting Wheel (Get a PDF of the tasting wheel here