You Sniff, You Swirl, You Spit: Testing Wine is Fun, and Then Some
There are five easy ways to evaluate the quality of wine. (Photo: iStock)
There are five easy ways to evaluate the quality of wine. (Photo: iStock)

You Sniff, You Swirl, You Spit: Testing Wine is Fun, and Then Some

If you thought peering into a glass of wine, swirling it around and sniffing suspiciously at it, before taking a mouthful only to spit it out was the basic to getting your wine correct, you are wrong, my friend.

There are five major elements to look out for in a wine. So before you sniff, swirl and sip; here are the five basic elements that will help you evaluate the quality of wine.

Dryness/ Sugar

Dry wine varieties include Reisling, Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc , Pinot Grogio, etc. (Photo: iStock)
Dry wine varieties include Reisling, Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc , Pinot Grogio, etc. (Photo: iStock)

So you've always been a fan of a wine that leaves a dry sensation in your mouth. But does that mean you have a thing for ‘dry wines’? Hell no! Dry wine means a wine that has no sugar and is, therefore, not sweet.

In dry wines, the grape juice is made to ferment fully until the yeast eats into all the sugar present in the juice. This causes the wine to taste bitter.

Ajit Balgi who is a wine connoisseur and has an advance certification in wine from Wine and Spirit Education Trust, London, says,

Wine can range between sugar levels of 2-400 gms per litre of wine. Most wines produced have under 10 gms and sweetness is detected at the tip of the tongue where the sweet taste buds lie.

Dry wine varieties include Reisling, Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc , Pinot Grogio, etc. Karen Frazier, California Wine Appelation Specialist says,

Wine drinkers value dry wines for their crisp flavours and easy ability to pair with foods. For example, you can drink dry white wines any time of the year, but they are especially refreshing during the warm months of summer.

Tannins

If the glass of wine you had last night gave you a headache, then it was probably rich in tannins.

Tannin adds bitterness, astringency and complexity to the wine.
Rojita Tiwari, certified wine professional from WSET, UK

The other easy way to know if your wine has tannins is when it leaves a drying sensation in your mouth.

When a wine tastes dry, what you’re tasting is the tannin. It usually occurs because of the polyphenol which are found in plants, seeds, bark, wood, leaves and fruit skins, etc.
Rojita Tiwari
What makes a wine rich in tannins is how long the grape skin and seeds are made to soak in the juice. (Photo: iStock)
What makes a wine rich in tannins is how long the grape skin and seeds are made to soak in the juice. (Photo: iStock)

Red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon are dry as they are rich in tannins. What makes a wine rich in tannins is how long the grape skin and seeds are made to soak in the juice. Red wine, thus, has more tannins since the grape skin is made to soak longer – so that it gets its characteristic red colour. So if you want to choose a wine that has less tannins – go for white!

But the upside to having red wines and more tannins is that they are rich in anti oxidants.

So the next time you think of having black tea, ditch the thought and cozy up to a glass of red wine instead!

Acidity

Many a wine gives you that tingling sensation on the front side of your tongue, making you pucker. It usually makes your mouth feel wet – as if you’ve just bitten into an apple. This is the acidity in a wine.

Acidity is a wine's ‘pucker’ or tartness and imparts that refreshing lemonade-like fizziness to wine. Just like the refreshing taste of a citrus fruit, wines with high acidity are crisp, bright and full of freshness. White wines have more acidity than the Reds.

Acidity in a wine makes your mouth feel wet – as if you’ve just bitten into an apple. (Photo: iStock; Image altered by <b>The Quint</b>)
Acidity in a wine makes your mouth feel wet – as if you’ve just bitten into an apple. (Photo: iStock; Image altered by The Quint)

Says Nikhil Agarwal, who is a Sommelier and has been in this profession for the last 20 years:

When you taste a wine and the wine itself makes you salivate, it is a sign of high acidity. Again, all wines will have different levels of acidity – and depending on how much the wine makes your mouth pucker, you can judge its acidity.

So the next time you have wine and it tastes dull and boring, you should know that it has lost its acidity.

Fruit

Many a people describe wines as tasting of raspberries, passion fruit, melon and cherries. So how do these fruits find their way into wines?

Says Ajit Balgi:

All wines have fruit aromas but the kind vary. Some have citrus fruits some tropical, some stone and some berries. It depends on the type of grape, growing temperatures and winemaking procedure. If the wine has no fruit, then it is most likely old and dead.
When tasting for the fruitiness in red wines, look out for dark fruits like blackberries and blueberries. (Photo: iStock)
When tasting for the fruitiness in red wines, look out for dark fruits like blackberries and blueberries. (Photo: iStock)

When tasting for the fruitiness in red wines, look out for dark fruits like blackberries and blueberries. And in whites – for lemon, lime or peach.

Oak

If your wine has an aroma of vanilla, cloves, cinnamon and allspice – and when drunk, has additional flavours of caramel and sometimes even butter, then you should know your wine has been aged in an oak barrel.

Many wines are matured in an oak barrel as the contact with oak softens and smooths the wine. These wines are smooth on the palate – especially in the case of reds. Many whites are matured in an oak barrel and the flavour imparted by the barrel is easy to appreciate in case of whites.

Many wines are matured in an oak barrel as the contact with oak softens and smooths the wine. (Photo: iStock)
Many wines are matured in an oak barrel as the contact with oak softens and smooths the wine. (Photo: iStock)
Should your palate feel like a toast that has been grilled for too long or like a match that has been blown out, then this would mean that the wine was aged in a heavily charred barrel or one that was toasted on the insides.

(A freelance food and fashion blogger, Pranjali Bhonde Pethe aims at getting people and their favourite food and style closer through her blog moipalate. Email her at pranjali.bhonde@gmail.com and follow her on @moipalate.)

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