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Off The Vine

October 18, 2005

Enjoy wine when you go tasting

When we read descriptions about certain wines and we see the words &

brilliant, clean, weighty on the palate, long finish, great bouquet,&

how do the wine writers come to these conclusions?

The art of evaluating wines is a long and sometimes frustrating road. Wine evaluation and wine appreciation are similar processes with one exception: The evaluation of wine is a more serious study, one that is used in the commercial wine business on a daily basis. The appreciation of wine, among other things, entails looking at a wine as it will go with different cuisine or if perhaps the wine will store well in the cellar.

The appreciation of wine is a wonderful, general look at a specific wine or in a variety of wines in a nonprofessional, fun manner. Evaluation of wine is the more serious cousin. Let&

s take a peek at this side of the family.

Step one: Looking at the bottle. A bottle of wine can tell a great story. If the capsule (the part that covers the cork) is recessed, this can mean a dry cork, and usually does. If the capsule is bulging we can think of leakage or a secondary fermentation going on in the wine.

When we see the label is flyspecked or has some fading on part of the paper, it could mean that the wine was subjected to sunlight. Holding the wine to the light we can also observe if there is sediment in the bottle. When the sediment is on the bottom of the bottle it means that the wine has been standing upright for some time. We can then conclude that the wine was not touching the cork.

A dry cork can indicate all kinds of problems. The correct (moist) cork seals out harmful beasties in the air that can spoil wine. The larger the airspace between the cork and the bottle, the more air will get into the wine. A telling sight is browning in the glass once the wine has been poured from the bottle. This browning will tell us that the wine is oxidized. Simply put, the wine is probably too old and has fallen apart.

Step two: Evaluating wine takes the proper wine glass. Try to find a glass with a big bowl (eight ounces or larger) with a smaller opening so that the aromas will concentrate by your sensors. Swirl the nonsparkling wine enough so that the flavors will agitate toward the nose. This causes all kinds of wine flavors to be released.

Step three: Sip and hold. Allow the wine to coat every part of the palate while taking in some air. The air will add more flavor enhancement to the wine. There are three levels of tasting: front palate, palate grip and aftertastes.

The front palate is the initial flavor gathering of the wine. These flavors are the shock troops, letting the palate know something is there. Sometimes folks will make a face when a sharper wine is put on the palate but will relax with the flavors once they hit the mid-palate, which is called the &

plate grip,&

and allow the flavors to integrate. Aftertastes are those flavors as the wine leaves the palate and the full impact of the wine has been evaluated by the mouth as a whole.

Step four: The sensing of off flavors. We don&

t need to be chemists to understand when a flavor does not agree with us. It is OK to look for off flavors, either pathogenic properties in the wine or other off flavors, such as rancid or oxidized flavors. Sometimes these flavors are not readily apparent but can be felt as the wine gets more air.

Not all wines are good, and it is best to let your senses do their job. Relax and let your eyes and mouth do their job.

Wine evaluation is no different from food evaluation. We all will chew our food, think about what we are tasting and let the aftertastes be our guide at the end of the experience. If you let the same set of tools work with wine, you have done a great job. It is that simple and that fun! See you next time.