How to decant old wine
Before decanting, the bottle should stay upright for a day or two to let the deposit stay at the bottom. Prepare the necessary materials: bottle, candle or light bulb and decanter. You may also use a decanting basket. Open the bottle, wipe the neck and light the candle. Place the neck of the bottle over the candle and pour the liquid into the decanter. It has to be a constant and non interrupted movement. Once you see the first particles of sediment reach the neck of the bottle, immediately stop pouring the liquid. Place the bottle upright and leave it close to the decanter, in order to identify the wine you are going to drink.
How to decant young wine
Open the bottle. Pour the liquid into an appropriate container (decanter). Place the bottle close to the decanter, in order to identify the wine you are going to drink.
What if it is an emergency?
If the bottle hasn’t had time to let the sediments settle, you may use a little trick: cover the decanter’s nozzle with a thin, white cloth or a paper napkin and pour the wine into the decanter. When you start seeing signs of sediment in the cloth, stop the operation.
Sight, smell and taste are the three senses one uses when tasting wine. Tasting is done to evaluate wine and, though it may seem complex, anyone can do it.
Start by looking at the wine and notice its colour. Then, raise the glass to your nose and feel the aromas that are been released. If you want you can slightly swirl the glass to stimulate the release of other aromas. Bring the glass to your mouth and take a sip: the flavour is the combination of what was detected by the smell with what is felt by the taste. In the mouth you will feel the wine’s structure and acidity.
Sight is the most immediate sense used in wine degustation. When we observe wine we focus on its colour and can evaluate if we are looking at a white, red or rosé wine.
When visually examining wine we should assess not only its colour, but also the clarity and transparency; the intensity, nuances, tears and effervescence.
A wine’s intensity is visible in its colour. If the colour we are looking at is concentrated and dense, the wine is likely to have richer tannins than one with a weaker colour.
Nuances help determine a wine’s age. Yellow is the leading colour in white wines and can be more or less light (even almost colourless). This is because white wines are produced with grapes that don’t ferment in contact with the skins (which is where one can find the compounds responsible for colour).
White wines may get darker with age. When excessively oxidised, they may even turn brownish.
Red wines are distinguishable by their red tones. Young reds have darker tones, sometimes even brown. With age, red wines get lighter: the characteristic red colour turns into orangish tones.
The ageing method alters the wine’s colour. When the wine is aged in wood it looses more colour than when it is aged in bottle.
Clarity and transparency
Clarity is related to the suspended particles that may be in contact with the wine. Raise the glass to a light source and check if it has particles in suspension. If necessary, remove the particles, since they are unpleasant when tasting. It is important to mention that a cloudy wine is not the same as a wine with sediment and not filtered. Cloudy wine is a consequence of inadequate processes in the production of wine.
Transparency should be evaluated against a white surface as, for instance, a sheet of paper. Place the sheet behind the glass and if you clearly understand what is written on the sheet, then the wine is perfectly transparent. Transparency is a characteristic of white and rosé wines; red wines vary in transparency according to the intensity of their colour.
A wine’s flow is visible when one slightly swirls the glass. The wine runs irregularly down the sides of the glass, forming drops which are called “tears” or “legs”. If the wine’s legs move slowly down the sides of the glass, the wine has high alcohol content. If, on the other hand, the drops quickly run down to the liquid, the wine is lighter and less alcoholic.
Carbon dioxide or effervescence
Sparkling wines have the greatest amount of carbon dioxide. Therefore, it is important to assess the quantity and persistence of the bubbles. A quality sparkling wine has small, numerous, persistent bubbles. Many times, in white, rosé and young red wines, one does not see or even taste the gas.
Smell is very important in assessing wine. The olfactory receptors (located in the upper part of the nasal cavity) are very sensitive to the aromas and are directly connected to our brain’s image archive. When we smell wine, we access our image bank (which is more or less extensive, according to our experience) and try to describe the wine’s components.
There are two ways of assessing a wine’s aromas: one with the wine resting on the glass and another slightly swirling the glass. The aromas released help assess the wine’s intensity (low, medium, pronounced), phase of evolution (young, old, tired, oxidised) and character (fruity, floral, vegetable, etc). The wine’s aromas can also be assessed with an empty glass. The assessment of the glass bottom evaluates the persistence of the aromas when they are not in contact with alcohol.
The so-called wine aroma wheel helps one describe the aromas found in a wine. It consists of a coloured circle divided into three sections: in the centre are the general terms, which become more specific as one reaches the circle’s perimeter (for instance, fruity, tree fruit, apple). The aroma wheel presented fits to wines produced in Portugal and is only intended to help qualify a wine’s aromas. This is not an extensive aroma wheel: it only presents the most common aromas found in Portuguese wines.
A wine’s aromas can be classified as:
– primary: the aromas from the grape variety, which give a special character to the wine. Among other factors, these aromas depend on the region and the grapes’ degree of ripening.
– secondary: the aromas resulting from fermentation and the action of yeasts on the must. Such aromas are influenced by the yeasts’ compounds and fermentation conditions, such as temperature.
– tertiary: the aromas resulting from ageing, whether in wood and bottle or just in bottle. The ageing process originates complex aromas, which form the wine’s bouquet. The bouquet can have an oxidising character (during ageing, oxygen passes through the wood pores and oxidises the wine) or a reducing character (the aromas develop in the bottle, protected from air).
Some grape varieties, as, for instance, Moscatel, have intense primary aromas. Others, as Trajadura, have primary aromas of little intensity.
As a wine’s aromatic compounds are quite numerous, they were grouped into sets of aromas based on proximity. Besides the aromatic groups there are some basic terms that help characterise a wine aromatically. A wine with good aromatic characteristics can be qualified as fine, pleasant, harmonious, etc. When a wine has lesser aromatic qualities, it is qualified as: common, unpleasant, weak, defective, spoiled, etc.
The tasting of the wine ends only when we feel it through our taste. In the mouth we feel not only the wine’s flavour, but also tactile and thermal sensations. Tactile sensations derive from the wine’s acidity, flow, roughness and sugar content. Thermal sensations are divided into cold, pseudo-cold (effervescence), heat and pseudo-heat (alcohol).
In tasting, these sensations are not assessed in isolation because the balance between them is what makes the wine pleasant. Balance is also evaluated assessing the acidity, alcohol content and quality of the tannins.
Some areas in the mouth are more sensitive to certain flavours. On the tip of the tongue we taste sweet things. Salty things are tasted on the front and sides of the tongue. On the back and sides of the tongue we feel what’s acid. At the very back of the tongue, we feel what’s bitter. It is important to let the wine flow through all the areas of the mouth and let it stay there for some seconds to assess its intensity. The ideal is to slightly open the mouth and inhale some air, which will be exhaled by the nose. But you should also pay attention to the flavour that stays in the mouth after swallowing the wine, known as aftertaste. Good wines have a long finish (aftertaste).
Faults in wine
Oxidised: excessive contact with air (during fermentation, in wood or bottle) has made the wine loose its aromas and flavour.
Vinegary: because of the acetic acid in the fermentation tank or wooden barrel, the wine gets a sour smell.
Sulphurous: sulphur dioxide is used to protect wine from oxygen; however, if too much is used it will impart a spicy flavour and a smell of burnt matches.
Cork: sometimes the cork is attacked by moulds and alters the wine’s taste, making it smell like must and dust